Jun 11, 2019 in Management

The Mutual Responsibility System

The concept of mutual responsibility is significant to the Chinese civilization. Most of the Chinese people, including the contemporary scholars, view this hypothesis as the root value of socialism. This approach of mutual responsibility system (baojia) by China has been the main root of communism for the last decades (Simon 74). People viewed responsibility towards a neighbor as an important matter. They regarded others as friends, people they could rely on in the village or any other significant area. People demonstrated the spirit of togetherness by assisting each other in the duties of protecting their communities. In case a family fell sick, the neighbors intervened by supporting them and wishing them a quick recovery. Therefore, the system was the rudder directing advancement towards a socialist economy, especially in traditional China. During these ancient times, a significant number of systems functioned as mutual responsibility system. The major one was baojia system, developed by Wang Anshi of the Song Empire (Ebrey 186). The government utilized it to govern people since the system guaranteed efficiency in the law enforcement and public regulation. With this system, the government grouped people into units of roughly ten households and then assembled these units into greater units, and so on. These were in increasing levels up to the domain (xian). The leaders incorporated this system during the massive reform of the Chinese government from early 1069 to 1076 (Simon 74). This paper evaluates the mutual responsibility system of the traditional Chinese government, its major issues, and influences on society. 

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Who Developed the System and when was It Written?

The mutual responsibility system (baojia) was established in the course of the Ming regime to provide self-safety and public protection in local society (Ebrey 186). The Qin dynasty amended and broadened the system’s overall policies. It was a community-based structure promoting mutual assistance and civic regulation. The traditional political elders incorporated it during the Wang Anshi’s massive amendment of the ancient Chinese government, termed as the New Policies. 

The system was composed at the beginning of 1069 and it became operational until 1076. It was a time when the Chinese government attempted to control people to make them capable of governing (Simon 75). Although the baojia system existed ever since the Qin and Han dynasties, the resurgence of the Song dynasty was significant. It standardized this system to maintain regional order and regulate civil projects. The baojia structure had distinct household structures for facilitating collective societal responsibilities. The system classified the family units into groups of ten. The government separately grouped each of this unit into a larger unit up to the state level of administration.

Why was the System Developed?

The baojia system was designed to promote efficiency in governing people at the county level. Zhen Dexiu, while a civil officer of Pucheng County in the Fujian region, emphasized that the role of the mutual responsibility system at the county level was limited to handling perpetual theft and preventing negligence (Ebrey 187). For instance, in case a thief robbed a particular family of valuable assets, the members of the family would find it hard to catch the thief. However, if the entire community participated in searching the robber, he would have no room to hide. Additionally, in case a house accidentally caught fire, family members would find it difficult to extinguish the fire alone. If the neighbors collaborated in putting out the same fire, they would certainly extinguish the fire. This situation suggests that mutual responsibilities are essential for societal accomplishment and development.

Promoting division of labor to the societal roles was another noteworthy cause for coming up with baojia system (Ebrey 187). Military tasks, including fighting against rebels from foreign and enemy nations, will be the obligation of the army, the called up soldiers, and interstate guard. This amendment implies that the Chinese administration will not need the people to execute such duties. The system would lessen the government’s dependence on mercenaries, and instead it would designate the obligation of law enforcement to these civic societies. Most predominantly, the leaders utilized the baojia structure essentially in 1548 when the Ming dynasty was still in power but its integral system was not mandatory (Simon 75).

Providing mechanisms for signing up for responsibilities is another compelling reason. The system would ensure that only one man per household is needed to enlist for duty. It will overlook the people who are unhealthy either mentally or physically. For instance, destitute scholars with no one to look after them and elderly single men are relieved from duties. The government representative will conduct a roll call for every five days to record an estimated count of the number of participating people. Occasionally, they would be summoned to check the region, but in most cases, it will not be mandatory. Zhen Dexiu emphasized that the baojia system was to safeguard society, not bother them and that society should not be fearful of its legislation (Ebrey 187).

Issues Regarding the baojia System

The appointed agents lacked adequate community support for effective action. The baojia structure is closely linked their regional identity, their readiness, and their capacity to uphold local interest (Lu 59). In addition, the ruler of the dynasty anticipated the intermediate agents to regulate their interest with those of state government, especially when imposing taxes or enlisting labor activities. These tasks usually ran against the interests of their neighboring community members. Moreover, the Chinese government significantly increased military expenses after the nation engaged in endless wars against the alien powers (Lu 59). Regarding increasing its revenue and meeting military expenses, the local government urged for additional substantial extraction from traditional China. Hence, the regional authoritative figures had to endure the cost of social injunctions such as separation from their fellow neighbors as the local leaders gave way to the national government. Some had to turn down their officially designated duties due to local unrest. Because the baojia system included tax collection, those responsible for imposing levies became corrupt. For instance, the “entrepreneurial agents” who concerned with personal interests rather than mutual sanctions reinstated “protective agents” (Lu 60). They became the intermediate representatives of official bureaucracies for the governance in traditional China.

Impact of the Baojia System

The baojia system was influential to the Chinese citizens at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1919, the people of China, including marketers and students, modeled their defiance based on this system after the government had banned Japanese products (Lu 61). For instance, ten people swore a mutual oath to prohibit Japanese goods, and they made sure that the other nine people of their group stood by their promise. Each group member had a significant role in converting nine outsiders to the same cause. The members would form roughly ten groups that would merge with a group of one hundred individuals. Concerning the ancient baojia system, each group chose a member to become a leader. The leader was influential to the boycott of Japanese goods since he presided the overall boycotting activities.

The system was instrumental in the later era of the Republic of China. The civic and military leader of the Republic of China, Chiang Kai-shek, proposed the revival of the baojia system (Lu 63). He emphasized that society should use the system as the basis for the change from a mercenary to a mandatory military service. Although restoration of the system experienced some success, there were many challenges in searching for skilful and willing Biao Zhang since the rank was unpaid.

The baojia system was useful in the Republic of Japan. The Japanese government restored the system (Tonarihumi) in the state of Manchukuo in 1933 (Fairbank and Goldman 97). During this time, its primary role was to monitor and govern the Chinese citizens. For instance, the government enacted a Lian Zuo penalty system, in which offences committed by a clan in pai would lead to a severe penalty for all ten clans in that pai. This situation promoted the efficiency of the paizhang in monitoring the other clans in their pai. The Tonarihumi system served as a self-protection and a control unit. Nevertheless, it lasted until 1937, when there was an outbreak of war in East Asia (Lu 60). This situation compelled the Japanese government to opt for alternative control systems that were more direct and centralized.


In conclusion, the baojia system was significant for governing people in traditional China. The system guaranteed efficiency in activities of law enforcement and civic control. The government grouped people into families of ten households; a leader managed each unit. The government designed this system precisely for handling issues of continuous theft and negligence at the county level. The baojia system ensured the division of labor in societal roles. Thank to this, the duties of the people were distinct from the responsibilities of the recruited soldiers. It became apparent that people were not to participate in military activities. The leaders established the system to safeguard the people, not to distract them, and because of this, society embraced it. However, the concept of mutual responsibility in contemporary Chinese society has considerably changed with the spread of capitalism. The recent issues of corruption, greed, and negligence of political leaders have damaged collective responsibilities of the social structures. The government together with the people should ensure that socialism incorporates all quest for unity among people, between individuals and the surrounding nature. Hopefully, modern Chinese society and its neighbors will restore the mutual responsibility system in their government structure.


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