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A peasant is a pre-industrial agricultural laborer or farmer with limited land ownership, especially one living in the Middle Ages under feudalism and paying rent, tax, fees, or services to a landlord.In Europe, three classes of peasants existed: slave, serf, and free tenant. Peasants hold title to land either in fee simple or by any of several forms of land tenure, among them socage, quit-rent, leasehold, and copyhold.
In a colloquial sense, "peasant" often has a pejorative meaning that is therefore seen as insulting and controversial in some circles, even when referring to farm laborers in the developing world [ clarification needed ] In 21st-century English, the term includes the pejorative sense of "an ignorant, rude, or unsophisticated person". The word rose to renewed popularity in the 1940s–1960s as a collective term, often referring to rural populations of developing countries in general – as the "semantic successor to 'native', incorporating all its condescending and racial overtones".; as early as in 13th-century Germany the word also could mean "rustic," or "robber," as the English term villain.
The word peasantry is commonly used in a non-pejorative sense as a collective noun for the rural population in the poor and developing countries of the world.[ citation needed ] Via Campesina, an organization claiming to represent about 200 million farm-workers' rights around the world, self-defines as an "International Peasant's Movement" as of 2019 [update] . The United Nations and even its Human Rights Council prominently uses the term "peasant" in a non-pejorative sense, just like in its Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas adopted in 2018. In general English-language literature, the use of "peasant" has been in steady decline since 1970.
More precise terms that describe current farm laborers without land ownership are farmworker or campesino, tenant farmer, and sharecropper.
The word "peasant" is derived from the 15th-century French word païsant, meaning one from the pays, or countryside; ultimately from the Latin pagus, or outlying administrative district.
Peasants typically made up the majority of the agricultural labour force in a pre-industrial society. The majority of the people in the Middle Ages were peasants.
Though "peasant" is a word of loose application, once a market economy had taken root, the term peasant proprietors was frequently used to describe the traditional rural population in countries where smallholders farmed much of the land. More generally, the word "peasant" is sometimes used to refer pejoratively to those considered to be "lower class", perhaps defined by poorer education and/or a lower income.
The open field system of agriculture dominated most of northern Europe during medieval times and endured until the nineteenth century in many areas. Under this system, peasants lived on a manor presided over by a lord or a bishop of the church. Peasants paid rent or labor services to the lord in exchange for their right to cultivate the land. Fallowed land, pastures, forests, and wasteland were held in common. The open field system required cooperation among the peasants of the manor.It was gradually replaced by individual ownership and management of land.
The relative position of peasants in Western Europe improved greatly after the Black Death had reduced the population of medieval Europe in the mid-14th century: resulting in more land for the survivors and making labor more scarce. In the wake of this disruption to the established order, later centuries saw the invention of the printing press, the development of widespread literacy and the enormous social and intellectual changes of the Enlightenment.
The evolution of ideas in an environment of relatively widespread literacy laid the groundwork for the Industrial Revolution, which enabled mechanically and chemically augmented agricultural production while simultaneously increasing the demand for factory workers in cities, who became what Karl Marx called the proletariat. The trend toward individual ownership of land, typified in England by Enclosure, displaced many peasants from the land and compelled them, often unwillingly, to become urban factory-workers, who came to occupy the socio-economic stratum formerly the preserve of the medieval peasants.
This process happened in an especially pronounced and truncated way in Eastern Europe. Lacking any catalysts for change in the 14th century, Eastern European peasants largely continued upon the original medieval path until the 18th and 19th centuries. Serfdom was abolished in Russia in 1861, and while many peasants would remain in areas where their family had farmed for generations, the changes did allow for the buying and selling of lands traditionally held by peasants, and for landless ex-peasants to move to the cities.Even before emancipation in 1861, serfdom was on the wane in Russia. The proportion of serfs within the empire had gradually decreased "from 45–50 percent at the end of the eighteenth century, to 37.7 percent in 1858."
In Germany, peasants continued to center their lives in the village well into the 19th century. They belonged to a corporate body and helped to manage the community resources and to monitor community life.In the East they had the status of serfs bound permanently to parcels of land. A peasant is called a "Bauer" in German and "Bur" in Low German (pronounced in English like boor).
In most of Germany, farming was handled by tenant farmers who paid rents and obligatory services to the landlord—typically a nobleman.Peasant leaders supervised the fields and ditches and grazing rights, maintained public order and morals, and supported a village court which handled minor offenses. Inside the family the patriarch made all the decisions, and tried to arrange advantageous marriages for his children. Much of the villages' communal life centered on church services and holy days. In Prussia, the peasants drew lots to choose conscripts required by the army. The noblemen handled external relationships and politics for the villages under their control, and were not typically involved in daily activities or decisions.
Information about the complexities of the French Revolution, especially the fast-changing scene in Paris, reached isolated areas through both official announcements and long-established oral networks. Peasants responded differently to different sources of information. The limits on political knowledge in these areas depended more on how much peasants chose to know than on bad roads or illiteracy. Historian Jill Maciak concludes that peasants "were neither subservient, reactionary, nor ignorant."
In his seminal book Peasants into Frenchmen: the Modernization of Rural France, 1880–1914 (1976), historian Eugen Weber traced the modernization of French villages and argued that rural France went from backward and isolated to modern and possessing a sense of French nationhood during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.He emphasized the roles of railroads, republican schools, and universal military conscription. He based his findings on school records, migration patterns, military-service documents and economic trends. Weber argued that until 1900 or so a sense of French nationhood was weak in the provinces. Weber then looked at how the policies of the Third Republic created a sense of French nationality in rural areas. The book was widely praised, but some argued that a sense of Frenchness existed in the provinces before 1870.
Farmers in China have been sometimes referred to as "peasants" in English-language sources. However, the traditional term for farmer, nongfu (农夫), simply refers to "farmer" or "agricultural worker". In the 19th century, Japanese intellectuals reinvented the Chinese terms fengjian (封建) for "feudalism" and nongmin (农民), or "farming people", terms used in the description of feudal Japanese society. These terms created a negative image of Chinese farmers by making a class distinction where one had not previously existed. Anthropologist Myron Cohen considers these terms to be neologisms that represented a cultural and political invention. He writes:
This divide represented a radical departure from tradition: F. W. Mote and others have shown how especially during the later imperial era (Ming and Qing dynasties), China was notable for the cultural, social, political, and economic interpenetration of city and countryside. But the term nongmin did enter China in association with Marxist and non-Marxist Western perceptions of the "peasant," thereby putting the full weight of the Western heritage to use in a new and sometimes harshly negative representation of China's rural population. Likewise, with this development Westerners found it all the more "natural" to apply their own historically derived images of the peasant to what they observed or were told in China. The idea of the peasant remains powerfully entrenched in the Western perception of China to this very day.
Modern Western writers often continue to use the term peasant for Chinese farmers, typically without ever defining what the term means.This Western use of the term suggests that China is stagnant, "medieval", underdeveloped, and held back by its rural population. Cohen writes that the "imposition of the historically burdened Western contrasts of town and country, shopkeeper and peasant, or merchant and landlord, serves only to distort the realities of the Chinese economic tradition".
In Latin America, the term "peasant" is translated to "Campesino" (from campo – country person), but the meaning has changed over time. While most Campesinos before the 20th century were in equivalent status to peasants – they usually didn't own land and had to make payments to or were in an employment position towards a landlord (the hacienda system), most Latin American countries saw one or more extensive land reforms in the 20th century. The land reforms of Latin America were wide-reaching socialist, nationalist and bolivarian-motivated government initiatives that redistributed lands from large land holders to former peasants – farm workers and tenant farmers. Hence, many Campesinos in Latin America today are closer small holders who own their land and don't pay rent to a landlord – rather than peasants who don't own land. The international organization Via Campesino, with millions of members in South America still refers to itself as an "international peasants' movement".
In medieval Europe society was theorized as being organized into three estates: those who work, those who pray, and those who fight.The Annales School of 20th-century French historians emphasized the importance of peasants. Its leader Fernand Braudel devoted the first volume—called The Structures of Everyday Life—of his major work, Civilization and Capitalism 15th–18th Century to the largely silent and invisible world that existed below the market economy.
Other research in the field of peasant studies was promoted by Florian Znaniecki and Fei Xiaotong, and in the post-1945 studies of the "great tradition" and the "little tradition" in the work of Robert Redfield. In the 1960s, anthropologists and historians began to rethink the role of peasant revolt in world history and in their own disciplines. Peasant revolution was seen as a Third World response to capitalism and imperialism.
The anthropologist Eric Wolf, for instance, drew on the work of earlier scholars in the Marxist tradition such as Daniel Thorner, who saw the rural population as a key element in the transition from feudalism to capitalism. Wolf and a group of scholarscriticized both Marx and the field of Modernization theorists for treating peasants as lacking the ability to take action. James C. Scott's field observations in Malaysia convinced him that villagers were active participants in their local politics even though they were forced to use indirect methods. Many of these activist scholars looked back to the peasant movement in India and to the theories of the revolution in China led by Mao Zedong starting in the 1920s. The anthropologist Myron Cohen, however, asked why the rural population in China were called "peasants" rather than "farmers", a distinction he called political rather than scientific. One important outlet for their scholarly work and theory was The Journal of Peasant Studies .
Feudalism was a combination of legal, economic, military and cultural customs that flourished in Medieval Europe between the 9th and 15th centuries. Broadly defined, it was a way of structuring society around relationships that were derived from the holding of land in exchange for service or labour. Although it is derived from the Latin word feodum or feudum (fief), which was used during the Medieval period, the term feudalism and the system which it describes were not conceived of as a formal political system by the people who lived during the Middle Ages. The classic definition, by François-Louis Ganshof (1944), describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations which existed among the warrior nobility and revolved around the three key concepts of lords, vassals and fiefs.
Manorialism or seignorialism was an organizing principle of rural economies which vested legal and economic power in a lord of the manor. If the core feudalism is defined as a set of legal and military relationships among nobles, manorialism extended this system to the legal and economic relationships between nobles and peasants. Each lord of the manor was supported economically from his own direct landholding in a manor, and from the obligatory contributions of a legally subject part of the peasant population under his jurisdiction and that of his manorial court. These obligations could be payable in several ways, in labor, in kind or in coin.
Serfdom was the status of many peasants under feudalism, specifically relating to manorialism, and similar systems. It was a condition of debt bondage and indentured servitude, which developed during the Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages in Europe and lasted in some countries until the mid-19th century.
A vassal is a person regarded as having a mutual obligation to a lord or monarch, in the context of the feudal system in medieval Europe. The obligations often included military support by knights in exchange for certain privileges, usually including land held as a tenant or fief. The term is also applied to similar arrangements in other feudal societies.
A tenant farmer is one who resides on land owned by a landlord. Tenant farming is an agricultural production system in which landowners contribute their land and often a measure of operating capital and management, while tenant farmers contribute their labor along with at times varying amounts of capital and management. Depending on the contract, tenants can make payments to the owner either of a fixed portion of the product, in cash or in a combination. The rights the tenant has over the land, the form, and measures of payment varies across systems. In some systems, the tenant could be evicted at whim ; in others, the landowner and tenant sign a contract for a fixed number of years. In most developed countries today, at least some restrictions are placed on the rights of landlords to evict tenants under normal circumstances.
Corvée is a form of unpaid, unfree labour, which is intermittent in nature and which lasts limited periods of time: typically only a certain number of days' work each year.
Examples of feudalism are helpful to fully understand feudalism and feudal society. Feudalism was practiced in many different ways, depending on location and time period, thus a high-level encompassing conceptual definition does not always provide a reader with the intimate understanding that detailed historical examples provide..
Folwark is a Polish word for a primarily serfdom-based farm and agricultural enterprise, often very large.
The term "serf", in the sense of an unfree peasant of the Russian Empire, is the usual translation of krepostnoi krestyanin which meant an unfree person who, unlike a slave, could be sold only with the land he or she was "attached" to. Historic legal documents of the epoch, such as Russkaya Pravda, distinguished several degrees of feudal dependency of peasants.
The Serfdom Patent of 1 November 1781 aimed to abolish aspects of the traditional serfdom system of the Habsburg Monarchy through the establishment of basic civil liberties for the serfs.
In the Kingdom of England from the 12th to 15th centuries, a franklin was a member of a certain social class or rank. In the Middle English period, a franklin was simply a freeman; that is, a man who was not a serf. In the feudal system under which people were tied to land which they did not own, serfs were in bondage to a member of the nobility who owned that land. The surname "Fry", derived from the Old English "frig", indicates a similar social origin.
A villein, otherwise known as cottar, crofter, is a serf tied to the land in the feudal system. Villeins had more rights and social status than those in slavery, but were under a number of legal restrictions which differentiated them from the freeman.
The serfdom in Tibet controversy is a prolonged public disagreement over the extent and nature of serfdom in Tibet prior to the incorporation of Tibet into the People's Republic of China (PRC) in 1951. The debate is political in nature with the ultimate goal on the Chinese side of legitimizing Chinese control of the territory now known as the Tibet Autonomous Region or Xizang Autonomous Region. The pro-PRC argument is that Tibetan culture, government, and society were barbaric prior to the Chinese takeover of Tibet and that this only changed due to Chinese influence in the region. The pro-Tibetan independence movement argument is that this is a misrepresentation of history created as a political tool in order to justify the Sinicization of Tibet. This argued distortion of history is believed by those seeking Tibetan independence to prove that Chinese claims to the region are not legitimate.
From the 1680s to 1789, Germany comprised many small territories which were parts of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Prussia finally emerged as dominant. Meanwhile, the states developed a classical culture that found its greatest expression in the Enlightenment, with world class leaders such as philosophers Leibniz and Kant, writers such as Goethe and Schiller, and musicians Bach and Beethoven.
Feudalism as practised in the Kingdom of England was a state of human society which was formally structured and stratified on the basis of land tenure and the varieties thereof. Society was thus ordered around relationships derived from the holding of land. Such landholdings are termed "fiefdoms, traders, fiefs, or fees".
The Brenner debate was a major debate amongst Marxist historians during the late 1970s and early 1980s, regarding the origins of capitalism.
Serfdom in Poland became the dominant form of relationship between peasants and nobility in the 17th century, and was a major feature of the economy of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, although its origins can be traced back to the 12th century.
Like slavery, serfdom has a long history that dates to ancient times.
State serfs or state peasants were a special social estate (class) of peasantry in 18th–19th century Russia, the number of which in some periods reached half of the agricultural population. In contrast to private Russian serfs, state serfs were considered personally free, although attached to the land. They were liberated in 1866.
French peasants were the largest socio-economic group in France until the mid-20th century.
The word could also imply criminality, as in thirteenth-century Germany where '"peasant"' meant 'villain, rustic, devil, robber, brigand and looter.'
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