Rafe de Crespigny

The Administrative Structure of Later Han

A Biographical Dictionary of later Han to the Three Kingdoms (23-220 AD)

This summary of the government organisation of Later Han is designed to provide background and context for the official careers and activities of the men and women discussed in the biographies.

Some fragments of contemporary sources on the government of Later Han survive, notably the now anonymous Hanguan or Hanguan mulu 漢官目錄, the Xiaoxue Hanguan pian 小學漢官篇 by Wang Long with commentary by Hu Guang, Hanguan dianzhi yishi xuanyong 漢官典職儀式選用 and other works by Cai Zhi, and Hanguan yi 漢官儀 and other works by Ying Shao. Most material, however, is found in the Treatise on the Bureaucracy 百官志, HHS 114/24-118/28, taken over from the Xu Han shu by Sima Biao of the third century. MBeck 90:197-226 criticises Sima Biao's compilation for many omissions and a number of misinterpretations, and for presenting "essentially fluid subject-matter in static, somewhat impracticable terms." As he points out, the Treatise must be expanded and interpreted in the light of information from the annals and biographies of Hou Han shu and other texts.

In his comprehensive account of The Bureaucracy of Han Times [Bn 80], Bielenstein renders official titles according to the system established by Dubs, and I have followed the same formula in earlier publications. For the present work, however, partly due to a need for brevity, but also for the sake of clarity, I have made changes to that pattern. In the discussion which follows, I give Bielenstein's renderings in brackets, and I attach a table of cross-references based upon the transcription of Chinese titles. 1


The Emperor (皇帝 huangdi) held supreme power in the state and was the sacral intermediary between the forces of Heaven and Earth and the world of men. During Later Han, his authority was all but absolute: the ruler might consult with his ministers or hold a full court conference, but his final decision was accepted without question. Most notably in time of crisis, documents prepared by the Imperial Secretariat and endorsed by the emperor were normally sufficient to remove even the highest and most powerful ministers from their positions. 2

In contrast to many other royal and imperial states, formal arrangements for succession to the throne of Later Han were clear and generally accepted. 3 During his lifetime, the ruler could name any of his sons as Heir (太子 taizi; Heir-Apparent), and the ceremony of accession was held as soon as he died and in the presence of the late sovereign's corpse. If an emperor died without naming an Heir, his Empress (皇后 huanghou), now Dowager (皇太后 huang taihou; Empress Dowager) could choose any of his sons or any male member of the imperial clan. 4 In carrying out this responsibility, the Dowager had no obligation to consult with or take the advice of any particular official, no matter how high: the decision was frequently taken within the private apartments 定策禁中.

Should a new ruler be under age, the Dowager became regent for the duration of his minority. 5 She took part in the affairs of court (臨朝 lin zhao), ruling with the same authority as an emperor. 6 In practice, a regent Dowager commonly involved a senior male member of her family, father or brother, in the government, frequently with title as General-in-Chief (大將軍 da jiangjun). The General-in-Chief and some other senior officials could have "control of the Imperial Secretariat" (錄尚書事 lu shangshu shi), which gave administrative command of government, but the regent Dowager had ultimate power, and could defy her male kinsmen. 7


Where Former Han reached a total of ten grades of imperial concubines, Later Han had only three ranks below the Empress: Honoured Lady (貴人 guiren; Honourable Lady), Beauty (美人 meiren; Beautiful Lady) and Chosen Woman (采女 cainü; Chosen Lady). This did not indicate any restriction on the number of women who could be engaged, and it is said that during the 160s Emperor Huan had more than six thousand. 8

There was a general selection for the harem in the eighth month of each year, when palace officials, including a eunuch and a physiognomist, were sent about the region of the capital to review virgins of respectable family 9 between the ages of thirteen and twenty sui [twelve to nineteen by Western count]. Candidates were graded on a scale of nine according to their physical attractions and their character, and were then placed at one or another rank in the harem. Women of leading families, or those who were well-connected, could also be recommended and accepted, and any concubine could be promoted by the emperor's wish or by other influence. It was generally expected that the Empress would be chosen from among women of high family, though this was not always the case, and in such a highly political matter the emperor had rather less power of decision. 10

Within the harem, known as the Lateral Courts (掖庭 yiting), the separate apartments of the Empress were designated as the Palace of Prolonged Autumn (長秋宮 Changqiu gong); those of the Dowager were known as the Changle Palace 長樂宮, the Palace of Prolonged Joy, and on occasions when the emperor was brought to the throne from outside and his natural mother came to the capital, her apartments were styled the Yongle Palace 永樂宮, of Perpetual Joy. The head of the Empress's household, known as the Grand Prolonger of Autumn (大長秋 da changqiu), was a eunuch 11 with rank/salary of 2000 shi. 12 He commanded a large staff of officials, servants and slaves, responsible for all such matters as provisions, clothing and furnishing, horses and carriages, and secretaries for records and correspondence. A corps of bodyguards was commanded by the Supervisor of the Retinue of the Empress (中宮黃門宂從僕射 zhonggong huangmen rongcong puye; Supervisor of the Extra Retinue of the Attendants of the Yellow Gates of the Empress).

The head of the household of the Dowager, the Steward of the Changle Palace (少府 shaofu; Privy Treasurer), was normally a full man. Reflecting the senior status of his mistress, the Steward's rank was higher than that of the Grand Prolonger of Autumn, and was equal to that of a Minister in the outside court. The most senior eunuch official was the Coachman (太僕 taipu), while the Commandant of the Guards (衛尉 weiwei) was normally a full man. Depending upon circumstances, the Commandant was responsible either for the Dowager's protection or for holding her under house arrest. 13 Stewards of the Yongle Palace were full men, while other officials of the household were eunuchs; the natural mother of the emperor had neither the political nor the ritual status of the Dowager and the Empress, and her establishment was correspondingly less important.

The ladies of the harem were naturally attended by female servants, and overall administration was controlled by the eunuch Prefect of the Lateral Courts (掖庭令 yiting ling), subject to the separate establishments of the Empress and the Dowagers; his staff included full men as well as eunuchs. Within such a closed and cloistered environment, with personal and family fortune depending upon favour and childbirth, there was predictably fierce competition for the emperor's interest and affection. Intrigue was endemic, quarrels were frequent, witchcraft and magic were often brought into service, and murder was not unknown. The Lateral Courts had their own prison (掖庭獄 yiting yu), while the Drying House (暴室 bushi), so named because it had traditionally been used for the preparation of silk, contained the harem hospital and also a private place of confinement. Several empresses died there, ostensibly of grief 以憂死.

After an emperor's death, it was normal practice for the women of his harem to leave the palace and be placed as notional guardians of his tomb; a few, more fortunate, were able to remain at the palace, 14 and some, who had not received the ruler's personal attentions, were perhaps able to resume a life outside.

The emperor's own private apartments, closed to the public areas of the palaces by yellow doors, were managed by the Prefect of the Yellow Gates (黃門令 huangmen ling), and there was also a eunuch Prefect of the Palace Gardens (鉤盾令 goushun ling; Prefect Intendant of the Imperial Palace Gardens). Each of these officials, responsible for the day-to-day supervision of very large staffs, had rank/salary of 600 shi, as did the Supervisor of the Retinue (中黃門宂從僕射 zhong huangmen rongcong puye; Supervisor of the Extra Retinue of the Palace Attendants at the Yellow Gates), who commanded guards and escorts. There was also a eunuch office of Palace Internuncios (中謁者 zhong yezhe), which was responsible for communication between the emperor in his private apartments. During the latter part of the dynasty, at least from the time of eunuch power under Emperor Huan, the Northern Prison of the Yellow Gates (黃門北寺獄 huangmen beisi yu; Prison of the Northern Office of the Yellow Gates) was used for political prisoners, particularly for enemies of the imperial eunuchs.

Besides these specific offices, there were two more general sets of eunuch officials. Firstly, at the beginning of Later Han, Emperor Guangwu appointed a number of Attendants at the Yellow Gates (小黃門 xiao huangmen; Junior Attendant at the Yellow Gates), who served as imperial messengers to the outside court from the private apartments of the palace. Their number was initially no more than ten, but increased considerably in later reigns; their rank/salary was 600 shi, equal to that of the administrative Prefects, but they were independent agents of the ruler.

Second, and growing in importance through the dynasty, were the Regular Attendants (中常侍 zhong changshi; Regular Palace Attendants), also agents and confidants of the emperor. 15 Their rank/salary was at first 2000 shi, briefly reduced to 1000 shi, then made permanent at Equivalent to 2000 shi; their numbers were originally restricted to four, but later raised to ten and even higher. This level was comparable to that of a Minister in the outside court, and though the Regular Attendants had no formal subordinates they were generally recognised as leaders of the eunuchs in the palace.

Formally speaking, the officials of the private imperial apartments and the harem were responsible to the Minister Steward, 16 but their close and intimate connection to the emperor meant that they were effectively independent of the hierarchy of the outer court, and during the second century they became a major political power.


It was a basic principle, established early in Former Han, that the title of King ( wang; sometimes as "Prince") should be granted only to members of the imperial Liu family. At the beginning of Later Han some royal titles were awarded to leaders of the successful rebellion against Wang Mang, and the warlord Cao Cao was named King of Wei early in the third century, but these were both exceptional times, when the Han emperor did not have full control.

In the first part of Former Han, royal powers had been considerable, but they were removed during the course of the dynasty, and by the end of the first century BC kings had become no more than figure-heads. The tradition was maintained by Later Han, and though an imperial kinsman might be named as a king, he had no influence in the affairs of his nominal state; indeed, just because of their close relationship to the throne, kings were held under tight control. A royal state or kingdom (王國 wangguo), usually of commandery size, was governed by a Chancellor ( xiang), who was appointed by the central government. There was a Tutor ( fu), also an imperial official, supervising personal conduct, and all members of the court were likewise appointed from the capital; none were answerable to the nominal ruler. A pension was paid, based upon the tax collected from the state, and kings were generally extremely wealthy, but they had no political power.

For the most part, kings were expected to stay on their fiefs, and came to the imperial capital only by permission. Some emperors were lenient, and allowed their brothers to reside at Luoyang, where life was a good deal more interesting than in the provinces. For the most part, however, kings led a comfortable life well out of the way of the government, and we learn of their activities only through the records of an occasional scandal involving sex, murder or, far more dangerous, dabbling in witchcraft. 17

It was customary for the eldest son of a king by his principal wife to inherit his father's fief, while his brothers received county marquisates. 18 Later generations and cadet lineages could be awarded less valuable fiefs, and if a royal line failed for lack of heirs, a cousin could be adopted across and enfeoffed to maintain the ancestral sacrifices.

Below the level of the kings, there was a complex system of noble ranks, in twenty grades, which could be awarded to any commoner either individually or by a general proclamation. Each rank gave certain privileges, notably relief from conscription and a degree of protection from the law, as a penalty might be commuted by sacrifice of one or more ranks. 19 The two highest ranks, received only by direct grant from the emperor, were held by marquises ( hou) and secondary marquises (關内侯 guannei hou). 20

The major difference between the full marquises and the secondary marquises was that full marquises were normally granted a territorial fief and could expect to hand their honour to the next generation, while secondary marquises received only a pension, and inheritance was less common. At the beginning of Later Han, moreover, a number of the supporters of Emperor Guangwu were awarded marquisates of title: the Grand Tutor Zhuo Mao, for example, was named Marquis Who Proclaims Virtue, with a pension from the revenue of two thousand households; but this practice was gradually ended, and such awards were normally given only to non-Chinese. 21

As a courtesy to the traditions of the past, Later Han gave titles to identified representatives of ancient royal and noble houses, including descendants of the rulers of Shang/Yin / and of Zhou , both of whom were named as Dukes ( gong) and of Confucius, whose family received a marquisate. 22 These fiefs were evidently maintained until the end of the dynasty.

During Former Han, a full marquis had regularly received the territorial fief of a county, but Later Han adopted a more flexible system, and fiefs were frequently granted in smaller units, rising in rank from village ( ting; commune) to chief village (都亭 duting), district (鄉 xiang) and chief district (都鄉 duxiang). 23 The value of a marquisate was usually related to the size of the fief, but there are many cases where the revenue is defined in terms of a number of taxable households, and some senior marquises received revenue from more than one county.

As with kings, marquises of Later Han had no control over the administration of their nominal fiefs. Counties designated as marquisates were governed in the same fashion as any other, the only difference being that the magistrate was described as a Chancellor ( xiang) rather than as a ling or a zhang . 24 In theory, like the kings, a marquis could be expected to reside on his fief, but since many such feudatories, at least in the first generation, had been rewarded for their work at the court or in the administration, this provision was not always enforced. In particular, a marquis with supplementary title as a Servant at [the Spring and Autumn] Court (奉朝請 fengchao qing) was permitted to remain at the capital and held high rank at court conferences; during Later Han there were three grades of these Servants: Specially Advanced (特進 te jin) followed by Marquis at Court (朝廷侯 chaoting hou) and Marquis Attending Sacrifices (侍祠侯 shici hou). A feudatory who fell from favour, however, could be promptly exiled to his fief.

While it appears to have been the exception rather than the rule for a secondary marquisate to be transferred from father to son, full marquisates were generally hereditary, and there are a number of occasions that a fief was transferred to a cadet branch after the direct lineage had died out. Each succession, however, had to be approved and recorded, and the imperial government could exact a fine or fee at the time of transfer. This was certainly done by the regent Dowager Deng at a time of financial crisis early in the second century, 25 while there were a number of occasions that noble ranks were put on sale. The Han made some distinction between fiefs awarded for meritorious service and those that came from the grace and favour of the sovereign, notably to imperial relatives by marriage and, particularly in the second century, to palace eunuchs, but it was, as now, always a matter of judgement, and judgement was not always good.

It was rare for a woman to be enfeoffed in her own right. The sisters or daughters of an emperor were given title as Princess (公主 gongzhu), ranking equal with a marquis, and could be promoted to Senior Princess ( chang gongzhu), ranking with a king. Each was granted a county as an estate ( yi), their husbands held rank as marquises, and their eldest sons inherited the fief. Daughters of kings also received title as Princesses, but their fiefs were districts and villages, and they were not passed down to their sons. Outside the imperial family, a few women were enfeoffed as Ladies ( jun), with county fiefs, primarily because they were related to the emperor by marriage. 26 Emperor An honoured two of his wet-nurses, Song E and Wang Sheng, but this was predictably disapproved of. 27


The rank of any official was defined by his nominal salary, ranging through eighteen ranks from Ten Thousand shi (萬石 wanshi) for the very highest officials, through Fully 2000 shi (中二千石 zhong erqian shi), 2000 shi (erqian shi) and Equivalent to 2000 shi ( bi erqian shi), down to the most junior officers at 100 shi or less. Salaries were paid partly in grain and partly in cash, in varying proportions and graded according to the official's position in the hierarchy, but the annual value was not identical to that indicated by his rank. Allowing for frequent donations and special grants, which could increase a man's income by half as much again, Bielenstein has calculated that all but the very lowest officers received an adequate income from the state; any corruption came rather from greed than from necessity. 28

In the discussion which follows, it may be borne in mind that high officials held rank/salary in the range of 2000 shi, while the head of a bureau at the capital or the magistrate of a medium-size county in the provinces was ranked at 600 shi.


At the beginning of each reign one distinguished official was named Grand Tutor (太傅 taifu). His status was higher than any other, and he could hold formal control of the Imperial Secretariat, but the office was normally a position of honour rather than of substance. When the incumbent died, the position fell into abeyance until the following reign. 29

For most of Former Han, the highest official of the government was the Imperial Chancellor (丞相 chengxiang), assisted by the Imperial Counsellor (御史大夫 yushi dafu; Grandee Secretary), who held censorial responsibilities. In 8 BC, however, this dual structure was replaced by three officials: the Grand Commandant 太尉 taiwei), the Grand Excellency over the Masses (大司徒 da situ) and the Grand Excellency of Works (大司空 da sikong); they were known as the Three Excellencies (三公 san gong). The new arrangement was followed by Emperor Guangwu of Later Han, with the most senior official styled as Grand Marshal (大司馬 da sima; Commander-in-Chief). In 51 AD the Grand Marshal was renamed Grand Commandant, while the prefix da "Grand" was dropped from the title of the situ and the sikong. 30

The Excellencies had general supervision over all aspects of the imperial government, and each had a small staff to assist him. The Grand Commandant was nominally the most senior, but all three were equal at Ten Thousand shi, so that, unlike Former Han, no one man held unmatched power. For active emperors such as Guangwu and his immediate successors, this arrangement ensured their control of government, but danger came when later rulers were neither so energetic nor so competent as their predecessors.

Below the Excellencies and ranked at Fully 2000 shi were nine Ministers ( qing), responsible for the bulk of the regular administration. The first three, formally under the supervision of the Grand Commandant, were the Minister of Ceremonies (太常 taichang; Grand Master of Ceremonies), the Minister of the Household (光祿勳 guangluxun; Superintendent of the Imperial Household), and the Minister of the Guards (衛尉 weiwei; Commandant of the Guards). The Minister Coachman (太僕 taipu; Grand Coachman), the Minister of Justice (廷尉 tingwei; Commandant of Justice) and the Minister Herald (大鴻臚 dahonglu; Grand Herald) were under the Excellency over the Masses, while the Minister of the Imperial Clan (宗正 zong zheng; Director of the Imperial Clan), the Minister of Finance (大司農 da sinong; Grand Minister of Agriculture) and the Minister Steward (少府 shaofu; Privy Treasurer) were supervised by the Excellency of Works. 31

The Minister of Ceremonies was responsible for the relations between the sovereign and the supernatural. He was in charge of worship at the imperial ancestral temples and the suburban altars, and responsible for the care of the imperial tombs and for such ceremonies as the Great Archery and Serving the Aged which were held each year at the Hall of the Circular Moat. One of his major subordinates was the Court Astronomer (太史令 taishi ling; Prefect Grand Astrologer), ranked at 600 shi, whose office maintained observations of the heavens, prepared the calendar, recorded portents, and advised on auspicious and ill-omened days. The Court Astronomer was also in charge of the literacy test which was administered to candidates for entry to the Imperial Secretariat or the Censorate; they were required to know some nine thousand characters and be able to write all recognised styles of calligraphy. 32

The Minister of Ceremonies also supervised the Imperial University (太學 taixue; Academy), including some thirteen Academicians (博士 boshi; Erudits) holding chairs for each of the five Confucian classics of the New Text school. 33 Academicians were Equivalent to 600 shi and the head of the University, the Libationer (祭酒 jijiu), ranked at 600 shi; despite the official emphasis on scholarship, this was no higher than any other regular bureau of general administration. The role of the University as a comparatively minor route of entry into the commissioned imperial service is discussed below.

The Minister of the Household was responsible for guarding the emperor within the public areas of the palace and when he was outside; the walls and gates of the palace were in the charge of the Minister of the Guards, while the harem was protected by eunuchs: in this way, no single officer had full control of the ruler's security.

The work of protection was carried out by gentleman cadets ( lang), organised in five corps, each commanded by a General of the Household (中郎將 zhonglang jiang; General of the Gentlemen of the Household). 34 The General of the Household for All Purposes (五官 wuguan zhonglang jiang), of the Left ( zuo zhonglang jiang) and of the Right ( you zhonglang jiang) were in charge of men who were essentially civilians: they had been nominated by their commanderies and were serving a period of probation before being appointed to substantive office in the civil service; 35 the numbers of these three corps (三署 sanshu) could total between 700 and 2000. The other two units, Rapid as Tigers (虎賁 huben) and the Feathered Forest (羽林 yulin), were of more practical use. The Gentlemen Rapid as Tigers, some 1500 strong, appear to have held their positions by hereditary right, but the 1700 men of the Feathered Forest were recruited from the sons and grandsons of soldiers who had died in battle and also from respectable families of Liang province. 36 The Feathered Forest corps provided guards for the imperial horse-parks of the northwest, and some of them may have been officer cadets for the army.

Counsellors (大夫 dafu), who took part in debate at court and provided advice to the emperor, were also subordinates of the Minister of the Household. They included the Household Counsellors (光祿 guanglu dafu; Imperial Household Grandee) at Equivalent to 2000 shi, the Palace Counsellors (太中 taizhong dafu; Grand Palace Grandee) at 1000 shi, and the Attendant Counsellors (中散 zhongsan dafu; Palace Attendant Grandee) and Counsellors Remonstrant (諫議 jianyi dafu; Grandee Remonstrant and Consultant), both at 600 shi. Any of these, and particularly the high-ranking Household Counsellors, could receive special commissions as investigators or messengers on behalf of the emperor. Also at 600 shi were the Consultants (議郎 yilang; Gentleman Consultant); though nominally the most junior of the Counsellors at court, this position was frequently used as a holding appointment for a man in waiting for substantially higher office.

Under the general aegis of the Minister of the Household there was also provision for a number of special Commandants (都尉 duwei; Chief Commandant), appointed under one of three titles. In time of peace these military offices were effectively sinecures, but their incumbents were capable of command in war. There could be as many as ten Commandants of Cavalry ( ji duwei), five of Attendant Cavalry (鮒騎 fuji duwei) and three Commandants of the Equipage (奉車 fengju duwei); all were ranked at Equivalent to 2000 shi.

The Internuncios (謁者 yezhe), also formally under the Minister of the Household, are discussed in the section below on the Imperial Agencies.

The Minister of the Guards was responsible for the guards and patrols at the gates and walls of the two imperial palaces at Luoyang. He had some three thousand men under his command, of which the ordinary troops were conscripted for a year. They were carefully divided among a number of patrol units and guard-posts, with Prefects of the Guards (衛士令 weishi ling) for the Northern Palace and for the Southern Palace, and a Prefect of the Majors for Official Carriages (公車司馬令 gongju sima ling). The two Gates for Official Carriages (公車門 gongju men), one at each palace, accepted memorials to the throne and received special nominees for office. The three Prefects ranked at 600 shi, but there was a Major (司馬 sima), at 1000 shi, in charge of each separate gate to the palace, and entrance was strictly controlled by a system of passports and tallies.

The Minister Coachman had two areas of responsibility. Firstly, his office was in charge of the carriages and horses of the imperial stables of Luoyang, for use by the emperor and appropriate members of his harem and his court. Secondly, and far broader in scale, he was in charge of the breeding and supply of horses for the army and for the manufacture of military equipment. Former Han had established great horse-parks in the northwest, and Later Han continued the system, the most important being the Liuma pasture 流馬苑 of "Roaming Horses" in Hanyang commandery. Towards the end of the first century, after the triumph over the Northern Xiongnu, some of the breeding grounds were reduced or abandoned, but a few years later, as fighting increased against the Qiang and other non-Chinese of the north and northwest, new parks were established southwest in Yi province, away from the now troubled region of Liang province.

The Minister of Justice was the chief legal officer of the empire. Assisted by a Director ( zheng) and a staff of about 150, he was in charge of the administration of the law, could recommend changes, codifications and amnesties, and decided on cases submitted from the provinces. The Ministry maintained an Imperial Prison (詔獄 zhaoyu) at Luoyang, 37 and the Minister was responsible for death sentences each year.

The Minister Herald had charge of visitors to the imperial capital, including members of the imperial clan and non-Chinese embassies, and his officers guided people to their places at time of court ceremonies or imperial sacrifices. With a comparatively small staff, his office received messengers from provinces and commanderies and kings, and the Minister supervised the inheritance of hereditary titles and fiefs; this last presumably in conjunction with the Minister of the Imperial Clan. It is probable that the Ministry had a small bureau of interpreters.

The Minister of the Imperial Clan, as his title implies, supervised the conduct of all members of the extended imperial family, including kings, marquises and princesses. Again with a small staff, usually less than fifty, his office maintained a register and, in particular, reported on occasions that an imperial kinsman committed a crime, so that the ruler could consider what level of penalty should be applied. As a matter of principle, the Minister was a member of the imperial Liu clan.

The Minister of Finance was the government Treasurer. During Former Han he shared responsibility for funding with the Minister Steward, who had control of the privy purse, but during Later Han all financial matters were placed under one ministry. 38 Officials of the Minister of Finance had charge of the treasury, the imperial mint and the great government granaries. They supervised and audited the collection of taxes, and implemented the policies of price control and government monopoly applied during the dynasty. To a very large degree, however, Later Han decentralised such financial matters, so that the production of salt and iron was entrusted to the governments of commanderies and kingdoms: and the great Ao Granary 敖倉, for example, which collected the grain brought from the east of China by the Vast Canal 鴻溝 network, was under the local control of the Intendant of Henan, the capital commandery. 39

The Minister Steward was in charge of all aspects of the emperor's personal life, including his food and drink, his health and entertainment, the maintenance of his harem and the imperial palaces and parks. The staff of the ministry was naturally extremely large, though several offices which were formally under the Steward's jurisdiction were in practice independent or attended the ruler personally: these included the eunuchs of the harem and the private apartments, discussed in a section above, and the Imperial Secretariat and the Censorate, discussed below.

Among officials directly involved with serving the emperor, one may note the Court Provisioner (太官令 taiguan ling; Prefect Grand Provisioner), who had charge of all aspects of imperial food and drink, including the kitchens and the supply of grains and meat, with special offices for delicacies, fruits and wine, and the Court Physician (太醫令 taiyi ling; Prefect Grand Physician). There were also officials for the wardrobe, valets, stationery, a storehouse and pay office, and for sacrifices within the palace; several of these were eunuchs.

The offices of the Eastern and Western Gardens (東園 dong yuan and 西園 xi yuan) lay apart from the main palace compounds but were directly related to the emperor. The Eastern Garden included workshops for ritual and funerary objects, including the celebrated jade shrouds, which could also be issued to members of the close imperial clan. The Western Garden, in contrast, was a pleasure park, much favoured by Emperor Ling, who also maintained personal treasuries there, funded by the sale of offices and titles, and by forced transfers from the public holdings of the Ministry of Finance. In 188 he established a private army, under eight Colonels of the Western Garden, of whom the chief was the eunuch Jian Shi, to assist in dealing with the general troubles of the empire.

Though the eunuch Prefect of the Palace Gardens was responsible for pleasure parks and gardens, there were also a number of hunting grounds outside the capital. Among them were the Vast Pond (鴻池 hongchi), the Shanglin Park (上林苑 shanglin yuan; Park of the Supreme Forest), and the Guangcheng Park (廣成苑 guangcheng yuan; Park of Extending Achievement). 40 Each was administered by a Prefect, and provided not only exercise and entertainment for the ruler but also birds and beasts for the imperial table.

The Prefect of Insignia and Credentials (符節令 fujie ling), responsible for issuing official seals and other emblems of authority, fell under the jurisdiction of the Minister Steward, as did the imperial libraries (祕書 bi/mishu) for most of the dynasty. 41 The Orchid Terrace (蘭臺 lantai), evidently the headquarters of the Censorate [on which see below], held official documents and archives, while the Eastern Pavilion (東觀 dongguan) held a similar collection which was used most notably for the on-going compilation of Dongguan Hanji, the history of Later Han itself. Both these buildings were in the Southern Palace, but there was a further collection in the Hall of All-Embracing Brightness (宣名殿 xuanming dian) of the Northern Palace; while the Stone House (石室 shishi), whose site is unspecified, housed the apocryphal texts strongly favoured by Emperor Guangwu.

Palace Attendants (侍中 shizhong), ranking at 2000 shi or its Equivalent, and Gentlemen at the Yellow Gates (黃門侍郎 huangmen shilang; Gentlemen-in-Attendance of the Yellow Gates), at 600 shi; 42 were under the Minister Steward. Palace Attendants frequently escorted the emperor; and for most of the first century they had full right of access to the palace; though the privilege was withdrawn by Emperor He the office remained one of high honour. Gentlemen at the Yellow Gates acted as liaison between the palace and the outside world, and served as ushers at formal gatherings of the court. There were also two sets of supernumerary appointments, Serving within the Yellow Gates (給事黃門 jishi huangmen) and Serving within the Palace (給事中 jishi zhong), which granted trusted access to the sovereign and were probably under the Minister Steward; full men held both offices, but eunuchs could be appointed as Serving within the Yellow Gates. 43

We have already observed that the Minister of the Household was responsible for the emperor's security within the public areas of the palace and outside, and the Supervisor of the Retinue for his protection within the harem, while officers under the Minister of the Guards controlled the gates of the palaces themselves. Besides these three commands, however, two further senior officials, again with separate units, guarded the capital. The Bearer of the Mace (執金吾 zhijinwu; Bearer of the Gilded Mace) was in charge of police in the city of Luoyang, outside the imperial palaces, while the Colonel of the City Gates (城門校尉 chengmen xiaowei) was responsible for the garrisons at each of the twelve gates of the capital. Both officials were ranked at Equivalent to 2000 shi, comparable to but below the Ministers.

The Court Architect (將作大匠 jiangzuo dajiang), ranked at 2000 shi, again close to that of a Minister, was responsible for the construction, maintenance and repair of imperial and official buildings, and for roads about the capital. Most buildings were made of wood with tiled roofs, so dilapidation was constant, and fires were also frequent. Maintenance and repair were thus a considerable task and there was constant refitting and refurbishing. Some special projects required large-scale labour: the restoration of the Imperial University under Emperor Shun in the early 130s, for example, occupied more than a hundred thousand workmen for a year; Emperor Huan was known for building work, particularly his luxurious restoration of the Garden of the Shining Dragon (濯龍園 zhuolong yuan; Garden of the Sleek Dragon) in the Northern Palace; and during the 180s Emperor Ling engaged in a vastly extravagant and wasteful program.

One must assume that skilled workmen were hired when necessary, but a great part of the work was carried out by convicts controlled by the Prefect of the Enclosure of the Left (左校令 zuoxiao ling); in 124 an additional unit was set up under the Prefect of the Enclosure of the Right. There are a number of references to high officials who fell into disgrace and were sentenced to a term in the Enclosure on the Left.

The imperial capital and the region about it were administered in essentially the same way as any other territory in the empire, and the general system of local administration is discussed below. Because of the importance of the territory, however, and the nobles and high officials who lived there, there were some special arrangements.

The city and county of Luoyang was in the charge of a Prefect ( ling), while the surrounding commandery of Henan was administered by an Intendant ( yin; Governor). The rank/salaries of the two officials were no higher than their counterparts in the provinces, though their duties were certainly more complicated. Besides the possibility of friction with people of position and influence, the Intendant of Henan was responsible for a number of markets about the city, and also for the great Ao Granary, the collection and distribution centre for supplying the capital. The Prefect of Luoyang had considerable authority to deal with criminals, including those of high rank, and had charge of an important Imperial Prison (朝獄 zhaoyu).

The capital province was governed by the Director of Retainers (司隷校尉 sili xiaowei; Colonel Director of Retainers). 44 His territory included seven commanderies: Henan, Henei and Hedong north of the Yellow River; Hongnong; and the so-called Three Adjuncts (三輔 sanfu) about the former capital of Chang'an, being Jingzhao, Youfufeng and Zuopingyi. 45 Though Inspectors of regular provinces ranked only at 600 shi, the Director of Retainers was Equivalent to 2000 shi, and he had special authority to supervise and if necessary impeach all officials in the capital province. 46


At the beginning of Later Han, as Emperor Guangwu appointed Xuan Bing his Palace Assistant Imperial Clerk (御侍中丞 yushi zhongcheng; Palace Assistant Secretary), he arranged for him to take a separate place at court with the Director of the Retainers and the Director of the Imperial Secretariat; closely associated with the throne, they became known as the holders of the Three Special Seats (三獨坐 san duzuo). The direct contact of the emperor with these lower officials, together with the division of the highest position of the bureaucracy between the Three Excellencies, gave the ruler another means to influence the government. 47

The Imperial Secretariat (尚書 shangshu) was formally under the Minister Steward, and the Director ( ling; Prefect of the Masters of Writing) ranked at 1000 shi. He was assisted by a Deputy Director (僕射 puye; Supervisor) at 600 shi, with individual Masters of Writing (shangshu), also at 600 shi, responsible for one of six Bureaus ( cao), each with a skilled staff of Gentlemen ( lang) in various ranks and Foreman Clerks (令史 lingshi). 48 The bureaus dealt variously with correspondence and documents relating to the senior ministers, the heads of provincial administration, memorials and petitions from common people, and non-Chinese states and tribes.

As the essential source for any official documents, including commissions and appointments to office, the Secretariat had great potential power, already reflected in the right to control the Secretariat (lu shangshu shi), which had been held by some high officials during Former Han and which continued during Later Han. 49 Its position became increasingly influential in the course of the dynasty, so that during the second century the Secretariat was heavily involved in policy and had a pivotal position in any coup d'état. 50

The title of the Palace Assistant Imperial Clerk reflected the original position of the office as one of two chief assistants to the Imperial Counsellor under Former Han. At the beginning of Later Han, however, the position was set up in similar fashion to the Secretariat: ranking at 1000 shi, the Palace Assistant Imperial Clerk was formally subordinate to the Minister Steward, but his close association to the emperor made it largely independent of that ministry. Most notably, the Palace Assistant and his subordinates, the Imperial Clerks (侍御史 shiyushi: Attending Secretaries), were responsible for checking memorials for possible offences and for supervising the conduct of state ceremonies. They could raise any matter of concern, could charge any official with an offence, and the most senior and experienced, the Imperial Clerks Preparers of Documents (治書 zhishu shiyushi), advised the ruler on cases referred by the Minister of Justice.

In this regard, though the Excellencies still exercised general supervision over the affairs of state, and the Secretariat could be called upon to investigate and adjudicate accusations of crime or lese-majesty, 51 the Imperial Clerks had the right to take the initiative, and their office thus performed the essential functions of an Imperial Censorate.

The library of the Orchid Terrace, with a skilled staff of Foreman Clerks, evidently served as the headquarters of the Palace Assistant Imperial Clerk, and until 159 his office held general charge of all the imperial libraries; the duties were then transferred to a new Custodian of the Private Library. 52

Besides their attendance on the emperor, the Imperial Clerks also acted as his agents abroad, representing the ruler at a funeral or an enthronement, reporting on local problems, or taking action on his authority. From the time of Emperor An, moreover, Clerks and the Palace Assistant could be found in command of troops, frequently in circumstances where disorder was so widespread that the imperial forces needed a high level of co-ordination to deal with the problem; their use and effectiveness varied, and such duties were more regularly entrusted to professional military commanders, but Imperial Clerks appear in various campaigns until the last years of effective government.

Slightly below the Imperial Clerks, without their censorial powers but also agents of the emperor, were the Internuncios, whose rank was Equivalent to 600 shi, and who were headed by a Supervisor at Equivalent to 1000 shi. Chosen for commanding presence and a powerful voice, they took part in ceremonies at the capital, acted as envoys for the emperor to feudatories and non-Chinese peoples, and could be allocated to supervise and control potential dissidents. Besides this, however, Internuncios were sent on a wide range of special expeditions and projects, undertaking water control of the Yellow River and supervising frontier defence-works. A reserve and training camp established at Liyang in Wei commandery was under the permanent command of an Internuncio, and on occasion, like Imperial Clerks, Internuncios could lead troops in the field.

During Former Han and under Wang Mang, Special Commissioners clad in Embroidered Garments 繡衣直指 had been sent out with high censorial powers to review the administration of the provinces. This program was not maintained by Later Han, 53 and the closest parallel was the Special Commission of Eight, headed by Zhou Ju and Du Qiao, which was sent out by Emperor Shun in 142; it was unique to the dynasty, and achieved only limited success.

On many occasions, however, officials were sent out with a Staff of Authority ( jie), 54 giving them special status in addition to their substantive rank. The staff itself was six feet in length, with ribbons at the top, and the authority it conferred varied with the commission. Some messengers with the Staff had only a minor duty, as to grant promotion to a general in the field or serve as an envoy to a state, but at other times the Staff of Authority conferred wide-ranging powers, including the right to make senior appointments and to carry out executions without prior reference to the throne. It was commonly used in time of emergency, or where the local situation was too distant and complex for the normal procedure of submitting reports and receiving instructions.


The Later Han empire was divided into thirteen provinces ( zhou), 55 supervising more than a hundred commanderies ( jun) or equivalent units, which in turn governed almost 1200 counties ( xian), including marquisates and other fiefs. At the time of census about 140 the population was some 48 million individuals in 9.5 million households.

The administrative system of Han was notable for the manner in which it maintained checks and balances, so that, as we have seen, the protection of the emperor was in the hands of the eunuchs of the harem, the Minister of the Household and the Minister of the Guards, while other officers, commanding separate troops, controlled the gates of the palace and of the city, and the precincts within. The same technique and policy was applied in the territories outside the capital, where a complex structure of executive authority, balanced by supervision, restrained local independence and official corruption over the vast area of empire.

We have noted that the capital province was governed by the Director of Retainers, with rank at Equivalent to 2000 shi, and special powers to deal with high officials and the nobility. At the beginning of the dynasty, other provinces were similarly ruled by Governors ( mu; Shepherds), at the same rank, with executive authority. In 42, however, and for a century and a half thereafter, regular provinces were placed under Inspectors (刺史 cishi), whose rank was only 600 shi, and who did not have direct authority over the commandery units within their territory. The Inspector reported each year on the affairs of his province, but he could only advise of wrong-doing; action was the prerogative of the central government.

There were two exceptions to this rule. Firstly and generally, when banditry or other disturbance was greater than could be dealt with by the resources of a single commandery, the Inspector was authorised to raise troops throughout the province, and he took command of the united forces. Second and specifically, because the region of Jiaozhi in the far south of the empire was distant from the capital, the Inspector held the Staff of Authority and could act on his own initiative. 56 In 188, moreover, shortly before the death of Emperor Ling and the collapse of central power, the system of Governors was in part restored; Governors and Inspectors were then appointed to one province or another according to circumstance.

In spectors and Governors were appointed by the central administration, but their staff was recruited locally, and the chief of them were known as Assistant Officers (從事 congshi; Attendant Clerks). At the centre were the Registrar (主簿 zhubu; Master of Records), the Attendant Officer (別駕 biejia congshi; Aide-de-Camp) and the Headquarters Officer (治中 zhizhong congshi; Attendant Clerk for the Bureau of Headquarters); the Headquarters Officer was responsible for local appointments and recommendations of individuals to the imperial capital. Other Assistant Officers were sent to supervise each commandery unit in the province.

The core of local government was the commandery, ruled by an Administrator (太守 taishou; Grand Administrator), whose rank was 2000 shi, with an Assistant ( cheng); in commanderies on the frontier the Assistant was styled a Chief Clerk (zhangshi 長史). Also on the frontier, and in commanderies within the empire when there was continuing serious trouble, a Commandant (都尉 duwei; Chief Commandant) was appointed to deal with military affairs; in some cases more than one, each in charge of a different region ( bu). All these officials were appointed by the central government, and if the post of Administrator was vacant either the Assistant or the Commandant could act in place.

There was no real difference between the administration of a kingdom and that of a commandery: a kingdom was a commandery unit which had been made the fief of a member of the imperial house, but the king had no authority within his nominal state. A kingdom was headed by a Chancellor ( xiang) rather than an Administrator, aided by a Chief Clerk rather than an Assistant and, unlike the commanderies, all kingdoms had a Commandant of the Capital (中尉 zhongwei).

The head of a commandery unit was responsible for all aspects of government within his territory, and he had a large number of locally-appointed officers ( li), ranging from high-level assistants in charge of specialised departments or bureaus, through clerks to yamen runners and policemen. Senior local members of staff included the head of the Bureau for All Purposes (五官曹 wuguan cao), the Registrar (主簿 zhubu; Master of Records) and the Officer of Merit (功曹 gongcao; Officer of the Bureau of Merit). Like the Headquarters Officer in a province, the Officer of Merit was responsible for local appointments and for nominations to the capital; he was respected, trusted and influential.

The titles of other commandery bureaus could vary from one jurisdiction to another, but the basic pattern was the same, with officers in charge of grain storage, population registers, legal matters and banditry, ritual ceremonies and schools. Later Han, moreover, had largely abolished the state monopolies and the central control of major resources, so that salt, iron, silver, lead and other minerals, together with special products such as cloth, fine stone and fruits, were now dealt with locally.

To check the conduct of subordinate counties, the commandery sent out Investigators (都郵 duyou), in the same fashion as the Assistant Officers of the province. Like the provinces, the commanderies were required to send annual reports and accounts, including information from the counties; and when a new Administrator took over he was obliged to report upon the conduct of his predecessor and, if appropriate, impeach him for his faults.

At this level, moreover, there were two strong policies. The first, the rule of avoidance, forbade commissioned officials to hold appointments within their native provinces, and the so-called San-hu 三互 regulations extended this prohibition to a connection by marriage. 57 The second prevented the head of a commandery from taking any action outside his official territory. It was for this reason that command of broader military operations within a province was entrusted to Inspectors, to commissioned generals or to other agents of the emperor; commandery troops could be used, but they were under external control. 58

Former Han established a number of Dependent States (屬國 shuguo) to supervise non-Chinese peoples subordinate to the empire but whose territory was not yet fully incorporated into the commandery system. Later Han followed the same policy, with Dependent States at both county and commandery level. On several frontiers, however, notably to the west in Yi province and to the northeast in You province, the establishment of a dependent state indicated a loosening of imperial control rather than expansion: in both those areas, dependent states covered territory which had been part of a regular commandery during Former Han. 59

A dependent state at commandery level was headed by a Commandant ranking at Equivalent to 2000 shi, just below his neighbouring Administrator, and the functions of his regime were similar; the establishment of a dependent state often represented an extension and separation of a region ( bu) within a commandery which had likewise been controlled by a Commandant. County-level units were commonly known as marches ( dao), and the same name could also be applied to counties within regular commanderies which had large numbers of non-Chinese.

The county was the lowest unit of local administration to be ruled by an official appointed by the central government. Formally speaking, counties of more than ten thousand households were headed by a Prefect ( ling), with rank at 1000 shi; smaller had Chiefs ( zhang) at 500 shi or at 300 shi; while the fief of a county marquis was governed by a Chancellor ( xiang) The distinction between a Prefect and a Chief was not always strictly observed, however, and in the present work I refer to the generality of heads of counties as magistrates. 60

A county magistrate had an Assistant, and also one or more Commandants (here as wei ), for basic police and anti-banditry operations. Otherwise the administrative structure of a county reflected that of a commandery, though on a lesser scale and with smaller salaries for the local officers. There were official bureaus and schools, while subordinate districts and villages were supervised and controlled; their chiefs and headmen were formally appointed by the local government officer, but were normally men recognised by the community.

A county magistrate was certainly a commissioned officer of the imperial service, and in theory the assistants and commandants were too, but in practice these officials could gain their places though a direct imperial commission rather than by the full route of nomination, probation and appointment described below. 61 There are also a number of cases recorded where the position of a county magistrate was filled, at least for the short term, by local appointment: such a brevet magistrate (守令 shouling or 守長 shouzhang) would be a man of distinction, generally with experience at headquarters. 62


Both Former and Later Han distinguished between commissioned and non-commissioned members of the imperial service, and this was particularly noticeable in local government. Inspectors, Administrators, county magistrates and their chief assistants were commissioned officials, appointed from outside the territory they controlled, while their subordinate officers, recruited locally, had no immediate right to further promotion. At the capital, the distinction was less obvious, but certain positions, notably those ranked at 600 shi or above, were held only by commissioned officials, while many clerks and other lower officers had no expectation of advancement.

The essential principle, as for a military commission in many armies of the present day, was that the man concerned should receive formal recognition from the imperial government. Only when that was done could he expect to embark upon a career which would bring substantial responsibility and might lead to high office.

In essence, the process by which a man was chosen for commission followed three stages: nomination, probation, and examination. Depending upon circumstances, however, some men could by-pass one or more of these stages. The most common patterns are summarised below.

Commandery nomination as Filial and Incorrupt (孝廉 xiaolian; Filially Pious and Incorrupt) gave entry to one of three civilian corps of gentleman cadets ( lang) under a General of the Household. The candidate undertook a period of probation there, while also serving as a largely decorative guard to the emperor under the authority of the Minister of the Household. The cadets were in three ranks, Equivalent to 300 shi, to 400 shi and to 600 shi; it is likely that the normal period of probation was three years, with promotion by one rank each year. 63 At the end of that period, and at intervals during it, each man was assessed by the Minister of the Household and could be given substantive commissioned office, often as a county magistrate.

Following a system established by Former Han, for the first part of Later Han each commandery unit was required to nominate two Filial and Incorrupt candidates each year. In 92, more flexibly, it was ordered that one candidate should be presented for each 200, 000 households of population, discounted for commanderies of smaller size. The average entry in either case was some 200 candidates each year, and one of the major duties of the Officer of Merit in a commandery was to find suitable nominees. They were chosen from men of good family or scholarly repute, frequently but not necessarily from those who had held local office.

There were some checks on the suitability of Filial and Incorrupt candidates: until 126 the head of a commandery unit had to have held office for a full year before he could make a nomination, and in 132 it was ordered that candidates should be more than forty and should take an examination. This latter restriction can have lasted only a few years, and it is in general hard to judge how effective such restraints could be: it was ultimately essential that the imperial government should have an adequate number of officials, and the procedures for getting them were not always ideal. 64

Each New Year, as a commandery submitted its annual report, a local officer was sent to present them at the capital. This Reporting Officer (上計吏 [shang] jili; Official in Charge of Accounts) was able to provide direct information on his territory, and for several years, from 102 to 163, he received appointment as a probationary cadet in the same fashion as a man nominated Filial and Incorrupt.

There were also annual nominations of men of Abundant Talent (茂才 maocai or moucai), made by the Inspectors of provinces, by the Three Excellencies, and by the Minister of the Household; some seventeen candidates in any year. 65 Candidates of Abundant Talent had more prestige than those who were Filial and Incorrupt, and while they were sometimes required to present a memorial for assessment, they normally received immediate substantive appointment. 66

Some candidates and probationary officers were designated First Class (高第 gaodi), a distinction which frequently led to appointment as an Imperial Clerk, Inspector of a province, or similar trusted and censorial office. 67

Besides the right to nominate men of Abundant Talent, the Excellencies controlled an important route to commission within their own offices. If a gentleman was invited to appointment in the office of an Excellency ( pi fu), he would take a place as a Senior or Junior Clerk ( yuan or shu) in a bureau. The rank was low and there was an element of probation, but the position gave access and insight to the procedures of government, and excellent opportunity for promotion to higher office. The number of these clerkships was limited, each Excellency having between twenty and thirty, but appointment and promotion may have been comparatively swift. A substantial number of men began their careers in this way, and many rose to high rank. 68

After three years service at the rank of 2000 shi or above, high officials gained the ren privilege of appointment for their sons or other close kin. This allowed entry to the corps of gentleman cadets, on probation for commissioned rank. The same privilege could also be the subject of a special imperial grant, and there are a number of occasions that entry to the corps of cadets was awarded directly.

The imperial government could also call for particular nominations, identifying in an edict the officials who could present names and the qualities which the candidates should possess; these latter were usually couched in quite general terms, such as Worthy and Good, Sincere and Upright (賢良方正 xianliang fangzheng), Capable of Speaking Directly (能直言 neng zhiyan), Understanding the Classics (明經 mingjing) and Knowing the Way (有道 youdao). Nominees were brought to the capital, often in a special official carriage; they might present a memorial for assessment or undergo a formal examination; and they could then receive appointment as an executive official or an imperial adviser, sometimes at very high rank.

On occasion, moreover, the emperor would issue a specific invitation to a man of exceptional reputation, often someone known for his scholarly achievements who had chosen the life of a hermit. This often entailed a complex pattern of offer, rejection and acceptance, for to attract such an individual could enhance the reputation of the court, while the man himself gained prestige from such imperial attention. Not all invitations were successful, and several gentlemen who came to the capital under these auspices failed to live up to their reputation; in effect, the process was often rather a matter of political show than a serious attempt to fill a senior post. 69

The Imperial University was an additional source of recruitment to senior ranks of the civil service, but not a particularly large one. A number of Academicians went on to further appointments, some as imperial advisers, rising as high as Palace Attendant, while a few rose to become commandery Administrators or Ministers in the central government. Such promotions were more common in the formative years under the founding Emperor Guangwu, who was personally concerned with the re-establishment of the University; in later years most Academicians appear to have contented themselves with a career in scholarship.

During Former Han and under Wang Mang, as many as a hundred students of the University had been able to gain entry to the imperial service through a system of annual examinations, but though Later Han maintained examinations for University purposes, they no longer served as a route to commissioned office. 70 A series of edicts from the later 140s, as the regent Liang family demonstrated its patronage of scholarship, provided new opportunities, but they were few compared to those offered by other routes, while the number of students soon afterwards reached thirty thousand. 71 Attendance at the University could be useful for a man to establish his name and obtain nomination or appointment elsewhere, but it did not normally give direct entry to office. 72

We have already discussed the Three Corps under the Generals of the Household for All purposes, of the Left and of the Right, and noted that they were occupied by gentleman cadets on probation for commissioned appointments. There was also a lesser category of officials-in-waiting, the Members of the Suite of the Heir (太子舍人 taizi sheren). A designated Heir had a considerable household, but even when there was no Heir some cadets on probation were still given title as Members of the Suite. With nominal salary of only 200 shi, they ranked below the gentleman cadets; and during all of Later Han, no senior official is recorded as having gained entry to the imperial service solely by such an appointment. 73

Besides the three civilian corps of gentlemen, however, there may have been a parallel corps of military cadets. The Gentlemen Rapid as Tigers was apparently a hereditary unit, perhaps in the style of the later Manchu banners, but the Gentlemen of the Feathered Forest, recruited from the kinsmen of soldiers who had died in battle and from respectable families of the northwest, received their appointments as a reward for good conduct and some may have been destined for higher things.

Evidence on this question is slight, for the texts have few records of men at this low level. There are, however, two examples which may support the thesis. Firstly, during Former Han, the noted general Zhao Chongguo 趙充國 served what was evidently an apprenticeship as a member of the Feathered Forest troop; and second, in Later Han, the future usurper Dong Zhuo was a member of the Feathered Forest before he achieved commissioned appointment as a Major. 74 We may note, moreover, that there appears no other means by which men could be trained and assessed for substantial rank in the army, and it is difficult to believe that all officers were promoted directly from the ranks.

Finally, we may note abnormal forms of entry to the commissioned imperial service. The sale of offices had been used by Emperor Wu of Former Han to finance his great campaigns against the Xiongnu; his example was followed by the regent Dowager Deng at the time of the great Qiang rebellion in 109, and in 161 by Emperor Huan. All these, however, related to comparatively low positions in the guards, minor posts in the ministries and some noble ranks, though Emperor Huan did sell secondary marquisates. From 178, however, Emperor Ling put more substantial positions on the market, and by the mid-180s he had a system of fines for all officials taking a new post; the money went to his private treasury in the Western Garden. 75

At the same time, Emperor Ling was also arranging for graduates of his special School at the Gate of the Vast Capital (鴻都門學 hongdu men xue), skilled in calligraphy and literary composition, to enter the civil service. The program was bitterly opposed, and fell into oblivion in the chaos which followed the death of the ruler. Both these initiatives of Emperor Ling must be seen as aberrations.


An army on campaign was commonly commanded by a General (將軍 jiangjun), sometimes, most frequently during the civil wars at the beginning of Later Han, by a Chief General (大將軍 da jiangjun). Later in the dynasty, title as da jiangjun could be awarded to a senior male relative of the Empress or regent Dowager: holders were Dou Xian, Deng Zhi, Geng Bao, Liang Shang, Liang Ji, Dou Wu and He Jin. Of these, only Dou Xian commanded troops in the field, and he owed his position to kinship. In such circumstances, to distinguish these political appointments at the capital from more regular holders of command, I render da jiangjun as General-in-Chief. 76

With the vast expansion of armies during time of civil war, many generals were appointed with flowery or slogan titles, such as General Who is Firm and Majestic (武威 wuwei jiangjun) or General Who Exterminates Rebels (討逆 taoni jiangjun). For most of the dynasty, however, the recognised titles were General of Chariots and Cavalry (車騎 juji jiangjun), General of Agile Cavalry (驃騎 piaoji jiangjun), General of the Guards ( wei jiangjun), General on the Left or Right ( zuo or you jiangjun), General of the Van ( qian jiangjun) and General of the Rear ( hou jiangjun); like the General-in-Chief, these were usually court appointments and none were maintained consistently. During the course of the dynasty special designations were given for specific campaigns, such as General Who Subdues the West (征西 zhengxi jiangjun) and there was a long-term establishment of the General on the Liao (度遼 du-Liao jiangjun) on the northern frontier; this last is discussed in the section below dealing with non-Chinese peoples.

Below full generals, lieutenant-generals (偏將軍 pian jiangjun) and major-generals (裨將軍 pi jiangjun) could be appointed and, as noted above, Commandants of Cavalry (騎都尉 ji duwei) and of Attendant Cavalry (鮒騎都尉 fuji duwei), and Commandants of the Equipage (奉車都尉 fengju duwei), normally sinecures at court, could also take command in the field; so on occasion did Generals of the Household and imperial agents with special commissions.

At the core of the military establishment of Later Han were the five regiments ( bu) of the Northern Army (北軍 beijun), 77 each commanded by a Colonel (校尉 xiaowei) at Equivalent to 2000 shi. Stationed at encampments ( ying) near Luoyang, they were the Chang River Regiment (長水 Changshui), the Elite Cavalry (越騎 yueji; Picked Cavalry), the Garrison Cavalry (屯騎 tunji), the Archers Who Shoot at a Sound (射聲 shesheng) and the Footsoldiers (步兵 bubing). 78 Second-in-command were Majors (司馬 sima) at 1000 shi, while an Adjutant (北軍中候 beijun zhonghou; Captain of the Centre of the Northern Army), with a small staff, was responsible for inspection and supervision. Following the common practice of Han, the Adjutant ranked at 600 shi, well below the colonels and the majors.

Each regiment of the Northern Army had up to 750 men and 150 junior officers, for a total of some 4200. This was the central strategic reserve of the empire, and though their numbers were not large, the regiments were composed of professional soldiers, trained to a very high standard, who acted as stiffening for other conscripts and levies. 79 Colonelcies of the regiments were often awarded to lesser imperial relatives by marriage, but this does not appear to have affected their competence: in action they were presumably commanded by their majors.

The bulk of the imperial military forces was composed of volunteers and convicts ( tu), including those whose sentences had been commuted in exchange for military service (弛刑 chixing), and commandery levies, notably from the frontier territories. Unlike Former Han, there was no provision for general conscription or training in the inner commanderies of the empire. 80 Men could be summoned for military service in time of emergency, but they were not skilled soldiers, and most commuted their regular liability by payment of the gengfu 更賦 tax, a form of scutage which contributed substantially to the revenues of the imperial government.

There were two grades of Major, the regular officer (sima or 軍司馬 jun sima) and the Senior Major (部別司馬 biebu sima; Major with a Separate Command), either of which could command a regiment. Below them were Captains ( hou) in command of companies ( qu); lower ranks and units are mentioned in the frontier strips of the northwest, but seldom appear in the histories. 81 Acting appointments ( jia) as Major or Captain were made in time of emergency; the officer concerned was generally expected to impress his own troops from able-bodied men of the region.

The staff of a general included a Chief Clerk (長史 zhangshi), who could in some circumstances hold command of troops (將兵 jiangbing changshi). A Protector of the Army (護軍 hujun; Commissioner over the Army), an office which appears briefly under various guises during Former Han, served as a senior assistant with particular attention to military discipline. 82 Towards the end of the dynasty there are references to Advisers to the Army (参軍事 can junshi), a term which may initially have been a general description of counsellors or staff officers, but was later formalised as a regular appointment.

The officers described above normally held rank on campaign. More static forces were under a Commandant (都尉 duwei). We have observed the role of a Commandant within a frontier commandery or as head of a dependent state, but such officers also held charge of garrisons and fixed encampments: two important appointments were the Commandants of the Camp at Yong 雍營 in Youfufeng, and of the Tiger Tooth Encampment (虎牙營 huya ying) at Chang'an, established against the threat from the non-Chinese Qiang in 110. 83 There were also Commandants in charge of the passes which led to central Asia, and at the time of the Yellow Turban rebellion in 184 Commandants were stationed to guard the passes about Luoyang. 84 Their subordinate officers were majors and captains, as elsewhere. 85

Towards the end of Later Han there are increasing references to officers with the character du in their title. Some served as senior staff officers, but by the early 200s we find Controllers or Chief Controllers (都督 dudu) holding command of major divisions in a field army. 86 Later again the term dudu was used for a high-ranking officer with wide authority over a contested frontier, and this became the established usage; in that context I render it as Area Commander. 87


Many of the minor non-Chinese peoples with whom the empire had to deal were managed by the system of dependent states or by formal incorporation of their territory within the local government of commanderies and provinces. Along the northern frontier and in central Asia, however, the situations were more complex and required special handling.

During Former Han officials had been appointed to deal with the Wuhuan tribes of the northeast and the Qiang of the northwest. At the urging of Ban Biao, Emperor Guangwu likewise established a Protector of the Qiang (護羌校尉 hu-Qiang xiaowei; Colonel Protecting the Tibetans) and then a Protector of the Wuhuan (護烏桓校尉 hu-Wuhuan xiaowei). With the Staff of Authority, rank at Equivalent to 2000 shi, and wide-ranging powers across commandery and provincial borders, the Protectors were responsible for dealings with the non-Chinese peoples of their frontier region, including the Di in the west and the growing power of the Xianbi 鮮卑 in the northeast. Each had a small civilian staff, and relied chiefly upon negotiation, but they could raise troops and command in the field when necessary. The Protector of the Wuhuan maintained a regular market at his headquarters in Shanggu commandery, trading particularly in horses and furs.

At the beginning of Later Han the Xiongnu were committed and dangerous enemies of the new Chinese state, but during the late 40s a succession quarrel caused the claimant Shanyu Bi to turn for support to China. He came with his followers to the Ordos region, kowtowed to the imperial representative, and established a puppet court at Meiji in Xihe commandery. He and his descendants, the Southern Shanyu, were supervised by an Emissary (使匈奴中郞將 shi Xiongnu zhonglang jiang; General of the Gentlemen of the Household in Charge of the Xiongnu), whose rank was Equivalent to 2000 shi, and who was accompanied by a troop of guards.

A few years after this initial settlement, there was concern lest the two rival parties should seek to re-unite, and in 65 the office of General on the Liao (度遼將軍 du-Liao jiangjun; General Who Crosses the Liao River) was established on the northern loop of the Yellow River in Wuyuan commandery, to guard against such contacts, and to serve as a strike force against the Northern Xiongnu. 88 There were now only a limited number of Chinese settlers in this region, and it appears that the Trans-Liao army obtained most of its soldiers from the Camp at Liyang in Wei commandery, the chief recruitment and training centre for the North China plain.

The Chinese were involved in central Asia from the time of Emperor Wu in Former Han, and during the first century BC a Protector-General of the Western Regions (西域都護 xiyu duhu) had charge of dealing with the various oasis states of present-day Xinjiang. He was accompanied by Wu and Ji Colonels (戊己校尉 wuji xiaowei), and aided by a Chief Clerk (長史 changshi) and a Senior Colonel.(副校尉 fu xiaowei) 89

Later Han did not regain interest in central Asia until the 70s, and it was twenty years before Ban Chao established Chinese dominance in the territory and was rewarded with title as Protector-General. Contact was then disrupted by the rebellion of the Qiang in the early second century, and though some influence was regained, particularly though Ban Chao's son Ban Yong in the 120s, he held only the position of Chief Clerk. The office of Protector-General was not restored, and in later years a marginal control was exercised not by senior officers on the spot but by the Administrator of Dunhuang and the Inspector of Liang province. 90


The Table below lists Chinese titles cited in the discussion of the Administrative Structure of Later Han. Arranged according to transcription, they are followed by the renderings used in the present work, and then [in brackets] by some variants which have been used by Dubs, Bielenstein, Loewe and the Cambridge History of China [Cambridge 86]. Though opinions and methods vary, there is still general consensus among scholars in the field, and differences are not so great as to render one system incomprehensible to those who are accustomed to another. 91

beijun 北軍 Northern Army
beijun zhonghou 北軍中候 Adjutant of the Northern Army [Captain of the Centre]
bi erqian shi 比二千石 Equivalent to 2000 shi (rank/salary)
biebu sima 部別司馬 Senior Major [Major with a Separate Command]
biejia congshi 別駕從事 Attendant Officer [Aide-de-Camp]
boshi 博士 Academician [Erudit]
bu 部 regiment: see also ying
bu 部 regional division: see also zhou
buping 步兵 Regiment of Footsoldiers
bushi 暴室 Drying House
cainü 采女 Chosen Woman [Chosen Lady] (imperial concubine)
can junshi 参軍事 Adviser to the Army
cao 曹 Bureau or Department
chang gongzhu 長公主 Senior Princess
Changle shaofu 長樂少府 Steward of the Changle Palace [Privy Treasurer]
Changle taipu 長樂太僕 Coachman of the Changle Palace
Changle weiwei 長樂衛尉 Commandant of the Guards of the Changle Palace [Superintendent]
Changqiu gong 長秋宮 Palace of Prolonged Autumn
Changshui 長水 Chang River Regiment
chaoting hou 朝廷侯 Marquis at Court [Marquis Admitted to Court]
cheng 丞. Assistant
chengmen xiaowei 城門校尉 Colonel of the City Gates
chengxiang 丞相 Imperial Chancellor [Chancellor]
chixing 弛刑 convict with a commuted sentence
cishi 刺史 In spector
congshi 從事 Assistant Officer [Attendant Clerk]
da changqiu 大長秋 Grand Prolonger of Autumn [Empress'Chamberlain]
da honglu 大鴻臚 Minister Herald [Grand Herald; Superintendent of State Visits]
da jiangjun 大將軍 Chief General (on active service)
da jiangjun 大將軍 General-in-Chief (political appointment)
da sikong 大司空 Excellency of Works [Grand Excellency of Works]
da sima 大司馬 Grand Marshal [Commander-in-Chief; Marshal of State]
da sinong 大司農 Minister of Finance [Grand Minister of Agriculture; Superintendent of Agriculture]
da situ 大司徒 Excellency over the Masses [Grand Excellency over the Masses]
dafu 大夫 Counsellor
dao 道 march
diyi 笫一 Number One
dong yuan 東園 Eastern Garden
dongguan 東觀 Eastern Pavilion
du Controller
dudu 都督 Chief Controller; later Area Commander
du-Liao jiangjun 度遼將軍 General on the Liao [General Who Crosses the Liao River; General, Trans-Liao Command]
duting 都亭 chief village
duwei 都尉 Commandant [Chief Commandant]
duxiang 都鄉 chief district
duyou 都郵 In vestigator
erqian shi 二千石 2000 shi (salary)
fengchao qing 奉朝請 Servant at [the Spring and Autumn] Court
fengju duwei 奉車都尉 Commandant of the Equipage [Chief Commandant; Commandant, Imperial Carriages]
fu 傅 Tutor
fuji duwei 鮒騎都尉 Commandant of Attendant Cavalry [Chief Commandant]
fujie ling 符節令 Prefect of Insignia and Credentials
fu xiaowei 副校尉 Senior Colonel [Lieutenant-Colonel]
gaodi 高笫 First Class
Gengfu 更賦 military tax
gong 公 Duke
gongcao 功曹 Officer of Merit [Officer of the Bureau/Department of Merit]
gongju men 公車門 Gates for Official Carriages
gongju sima ling 公車司馬令 Prefect of the Majors for Official Carriages
Gongzhu 公主 Princess
goushun ling 鉤盾令. Prefect of the Palace Gardens [Prefect Intendant of the Imperial Palace Gardens]
guanglu dafu 光祿大夫 Household Counsellor [Imperial Household Grandee; Counsellor of the Palace]
guangluxun 光祿勳 Minister of the Household [Superintendent of the Imperial Household; Superintendent of the Palace]
guannei hou 關内侯 secondary marquis [Marquis Within the Passes or Marquis Within the Imperial Domain or Noble of the Interior or Lesser Marquis]
guiren 貴人 Honoured Lady [Honourable Lady] (concubine)
Henan yin 河南尹 Intendant of Henan [Governor]
hongdu men xue 鴻都門學 School at the Gate of the Vast Capital
hou 侯 marquis [noble/nobility]
hou 候 Captain
houguan 候官 company [on garrison duty]
hou jiangjun 後將軍 General of the Rear
huang taihou 太皇后 Dowager [Empress Dowager]
huangdi 皇帝 Emperor
huanghou 皇后 Empress
huangmen beisi yu 黃門北寺獄 Northern Prison of the Yellow Gates [Prison of the Northern Office of the Yellow Gates]
huangmen ling 黃門令 Prefect of the Yellow Gates
huangmen shilang 黃門侍郎 Gentleman at the Yellow Gates [Gentleman-in-Attendance of the Yellow Gates]
huben 虎賁 Rapid as Tigers/Rapid as a Tiger (imperial guards unit)
hujun 護軍 Protector of the Army [Commissioner over the Army]
hu-Qiang xiaowei 護羌校尉 Protector of the Qiang [Colonel Protecting the Tibetans; Colonel Protector]
hu-Wuhuan xiaowei 護烏桓校尉 Protector of the Wuhuan [Colonel Protecting the Wuhuan; Colonel Protector]
huya ying 虎牙營 Tiger Tooth Camp at Chang'an
ji duwei 騎都尉 Commandant of Cavalry [Chief Commandant; Commandant, Cavalry]
jia 假 acting appointment
jiangbing changshi 將兵長史 Chief Clerk in Command of Troops
jiangjun 將軍 General
jiangzuo dajiang 將作大匠 Court Architect
jianyi dafu 諫議大夫 Counsellor Remonstrant [Grandee Remonstrant and Consultant; Advisory Counsellor]
jie 節 Staff of Authority
jijiu 祭酒 Libationer
jili 計吏 Reporting Officer [Official in Charge of Accounts]
Jingzhao yin 京北尹 In tendant of Jingzhao [Governor]
jishi huangmen 給事黃門 Serving within the Yellow Gates
jishi zhong 給事中 Serving within the Palace
juji jiangjun 車騎將軍 General of Chariots and Cavalry
jun sima 軍司馬 Major
jun 君 Lady (with a fief)
jun 郡 commandery
lang 郎 Gentleman/Gentleman Cadet
lantai 蘭臺 Orchid Terrace [Lantai Depository]
liangjia 良家 respectable family [blameless family; well-established family]
ling 令 county magistrate [Prefect]; see also zhang
lingshi 令史 Foreman Clerk
liubo shi 六百石 600 shi (rank/salary)
Liuma yuan 流馬苑 Pasture/Horse-park of Roaming Horses
lu shangshu shi 錄尚書事 authority over the Imperial Secretariat
Luoyang ling 洛陽令 Prefect of Luoyang
maocai 茂才 Abundant Talent
meiren 美人 Beauty [Beautiful Lady] (imperial concubine)
mishu jian 祕書監 Custodian of the Private Library
mingjing 明經 Understanding the Classics
mu 牧 Governor [Shepherd; Regional Commissioner]
neng zhiyan 能直言 Capable of Speaking Directly
pi jiangjun 裨將軍 Major-General
pi 辟… fu 府 In vited to appointment in the office (of an Excellency)
pian jiangjun 偏將軍 Lieutenant-General
piaoji jiangjun 驃騎將軍 General of Agile Cavalry [Cavalry on the Alert]
puye 僕射 Supervisor or Deputy Director (in the Imperial Secretariat)
qian jiangjun 前將軍 General of the Van
qing 卿 Minister [Minister of State]
qu 曲 company [in a field army]
ren 任 privileged appointment
san duzuo 三獨坐 Three Special Seats [the Palace Assistant Imperial Clerk, the Director of the Retainers and the Director of the Imperial Secretariat
san gong 三公 Three Excellencies
sanfu 三輔 Three Adjuncts (commanderies about Chang'an)
sanshu 三署 the three corps (of cadet Gentlemen of the Household)
shangshu 尚書 [office] Imperial Secretariat
shangshu 尚書 [official] Master of Writing
shangshu ling 尚書令 Director of the Imperial Secretariat [Prefect of the Masters of Writing]
shangshu puye 尚書僕射 Deputy Director of the Secretariat
shaofu 少府 Minister Steward [Privy Treasurer; Superintendent of the Lesser Treasury]
shesheng 射聲 Regiment of Archers Who Shoot at a Sound [Archers under Training]
shi Xiongnu zhonglang jiang 使匈奴中郞將 Emissary to the Xiongnu [General of the Gentlemen of the Household in Charge of the Xiongnu]
shici hou /侍祠侯 Marquis Attending Sacrifices
shishi 石室 Stone House
shiyushi 侍御史 Imperial Clerk [Attending Secretary; Secretary in Attendance]
shizhong 侍中 Palace Attendant
shouling 守令 brevet magistrate
shouzhang 守長 brevet magistrate
shu 屬 Junior Clerk in the office of an Excellency [Associate]
shuguo 屬國 dependent state
sikong 司空 Excellency of Works
sili xiaowei 司隸校尉 Director of Retainers [Colonel Director of Retainers; Colonel, Internal Security]
sima 司馬 Major
situ 司徒 Excellency over the Masses
taichang 太常 Minister of Ceremonies [Grand Master of Ceremonies; Superintendent of Ceremonial]
taifu 太傅 Grand Tutor [Senior Tutor]
taiguan ling 太官令 Court Provisioner [Prefect Grand Provisioner]
taipu 太僕 Minister Coachman [Grand Coachman; Superintendent of Transport]
taishi ling 太史令 Court Astronomer [Prefect Grand Astrologer; Director, Astronomy]
taishou 太守 Administrator [Grand Administrator; Governor]
taiwei 太尉 Grand Commandant [Supreme Commander]
taixue 太學 Imperial University [Academy]
taiyi ling 太醫令 Court Physician [Prefect Grand Physician; Director of the Physicians-in-Chief]
taizhong dafu 太中大夫 Palace Counsellor [Grand Palace Grandee; Grand Counsellor of the Palace]
taizi 太子 Heir [Heir-Apparent]
taizi sheren 太子舍人 Member of the Suite of the Heir
taoni jiangjun 討逆將軍 General Who Exterminates Rebels
te jin 特進 Specially Advanced
ting 亭 village [commune]
tingwei 廷尉 Minister of Justice [Commandant of Justice; Superintendent of Trials]
tongzi lang 童子朗 Junior Gentleman
tu 徒 convict
tunji 屯騎 Garrison Cavalry Regiment
wang 王 King [Prince]
wangguo 王國 kingdom/state
wanshi 萬石 Ten Thousand shi (rank/salary)
wei 尉 county commandant
wei jiangjun 衛將軍 General of the Guards [of Defence]
weishi ling 衛士令 Prefect of the Guards
weiwei 衛尉 Minister of the Guards [Commandant of the Guards; Superintendent of the Guards]
wenxue 文學 Literary Scholar/Education Officer
wuguan cao 五官曹 Bureau for All Purposes
wuguan zhonglang jiang 五官中郎將 General of the Household for All Purposes
wuji xiaowei 戊己校尉 Wu and Ji Colonels
wuwei jiangjun 武威將軍 General Who is Firm and Majestic
xi yuan 西園 Western Garden
xian 縣 county
xiang 相 Chancellor
xiang 鄉 district
xianliang fangzheng 賢良方正 Worthy and Good, Sincere and Upright
xiao huangmen 小黃門 Attendant at the Yellow Gates [Junior Attendant at the Yellow Gates]
xiaolian 孝廉 Filial and Incorrupt [Filially Pious and Incorrupt]
xiaowei 校尉 Colonel
xing du-Liao jiangjun 行度遼將軍 Acting General on the Liao
xiucai 秀才 Flourishing Talent
xiyu duhu 西域都護 Protector-General of the Western Regions
xuanming dian 宣名殿 Hall of All-Embracing Brightness
yezhe 謁者 In ternuncio [Imperial Messenger]
yezhe puye 謁者僕射 Supervisor of the Internuncios
yi 邑 estate of a Princess
yilang 議郎 Consultant [Gentleman Consultant]
ying 營 camp/encampment [regiment/division]
yiting 掖庭 Lateral Courts [Sleeping Apartments]
yiting ling 掖庭令 Prefect of the Lateral Courts
yiting yu 掖庭獄 Prison of the Lateral Courts
Yong ying 雍營 Camp at Yong in Youfufeng
Yongle shaofu 永樂少府 Steward of the Yongle Palace [Privy Treasurer]
you jiangjun 右將軍 General on the Right
you zhonglang jiang 右中郎將 General of the Household of the Right
youdao 有道 Knowing the Way
youfufeng 右扶風 Administrator of Youfufeng [Western Sustainer; Metropolitan Superintendent of the Right]
youxiao ling 右校令 Prefect of the Enclosure of the Right
youyi 尤異 Exceptional Conduct
yuan 掾 Senior Clerk in the office of an Excellency [Division Head]
yueji 越騎 Elite Cavalry Regiment [Picked Cavalry]
yulin 羽林 Feathered Forest (imperial guards unit) [Elite Yulin]
yushi dafu 御史大夫 Imperial Counsellor [Grandee Secretary; Imperial Clerk Grandee]
yushi zhongcheng 御侍中丞 Palace Assistant Imperial Clerk [Palace Assistant Secretary; Assistant to the Imperial Counsellor]
zhang 長 county magistrate [Chief]; see also ling
zhanggu 掌古 Authority on Ancient Matters [Recorder of Precedent]
zhangshi 長史 Chief Clerk
zheng 正 Director [under the Minister of Justice]
zhengxi jiangjun 征西將軍 General Who Subdues the West
zhijie 持節 Bearing the Staff of Authority/Bearing Credentials
zhijinwu 執金吾 Bearer of the Mace [Bearer of the Gilded Mace; Superintendent of the Capital]
zhishu shiyushi 治書侍御史 Imperial Clerk Preparer of Documents
zhizhong congshi 治中從事 Headquarters Officer [Attendant Clerk for the Bureau of Headquarters]
zhong changshi 中常侍 Regular Attendant [Regular Palace Attendant]
zhong erquian shi 中二千石 Fully 2000 shi (rank/salary)
zhong huangmen rongcong puye 中黄門宂從僕射 Supervisor of the Retinue [Supervisor of the Extra Retinue of the Palace Attendants at the Yellow Gates]
zhonggong huangmen rongcong puye 中宮黄門宂從僕射 Supervisor of the Retinue of the Empress [Supervisor of the Extra Retinue of the Attendants of the Yellow Gates of the Empress]
zhonglang jiang 中郎將 General of the Household [General of the Gentlemen of the Household; Leader of the Gentlemen of the Household]
zhongsan dafu 中散大夫 Attendant Counsellor [Palace Attendant Grandee]
zhongwei 中尉 Commandant of the Capital [Superintendent of the Capital]
zhong yezhe 中謁者 Palace Internuncio [Messenger]
zhou 州 province [region]; see also bu 部
zhubu 主簿 Registrar [Master of Records]
zong zheng 宗正 Minister of the Imperial Clan [Director of the Imperial Clan; Superintendent]
zuo jiangjun 左將軍 General on the Left
zuo zhonglang jiang 左中郎將 General of the Household of the Left
zuopingyi 左馮翊 Administrator of Zuopingyi [Eastern Supporter; Metropolitan Superintendent of the Left]
zuoxiao ling 左校令 Prefect of the Enclosure of the Left

1 One particular change is that I refer to the head of a commandery, 太守 taishou, as the Administrator rather than the Grand Administrator; there was no significance to the prefix in Later Han. In similar fashion I normally omit the prefix "Chief" in rendering the title 都尉 duwei, which Bielenstein and Dubs cite as Chief Commandant; it was now likewise of marginal importance. [I do include it in rendering some titles awarded to non-Chinese leaders.]

2 Notable examples of the exercise of imperial authority in this fashion are the overthrow of Dou Xian by Emperor He in 92, and the destruction of Liang Ji by Emperor Huan in 159. In 168 Dou Wu attempted to oppose the imperial orders issued at the behest of the palace eunuchs, but failed. In 189, after the eunuchs had killed the General-in-Chief He Jin, they again attempted to use the imperial authority: the orders were ignored and the eunuchs were slaughtered, but the event marked the end of organised government.

3 The succession procedures of the Xiongnu were complex, causing confusion, disagreement and division over several generations: see, for example, the biography of the Southern Shanyu Bi. In India, the death of any ruler frequently produced major conflict between his sons, whether or not he had designated an heir.

4 The right of the Dowager to determine the succession had been established during Former Han, when in 74 the Lady Shangguan 上官, Dowager of Emperor Zhao, deposed the emperor-elect Liu He 劉賀. Though the fifteen-year-old Dowager was acting under the influence of her grandfather Huo Guang 霍光, her formal authority was critical to the process [QHX: 465].

The Dowager's authority was confirmed for Later Han by the actions of the Dowager Deng Sui of Emperor He in 106, when she passed over one imperial son and chose a kinsman, Liu You, Emperor An. The authority was abused by the Lady Yan Ji, Dowager of Emperor An, in 125.

5 The Dowager Deng Sui actually ruled until her death in 121, though her protégé Emperor An had taken the cap of manhood several years before that.

6 The Duduan of Cai Yong, cited by HHS 10B:436 TC, describes how when an emperor is a minor the Dowager attends court 臨朝. She sits on the dais looking to the east, while the emperor faces her. Submissions from members of the court are presented in two copies, one to each.

7 In 168, the regent Dowager Dou refused permission to her father Dou Wu, when he wanted to purge the palace eunuchs. In 189 the regent Dowager He rejected a similar request from her brother He Jin.

At Bn 80:151-154, Bielenstein discusses the position of the Dowager and her male relatives. His description is quite correct, but I believe that he confuses the terminology by identifying all men who held title as General-in-Chief as being Regents; I reserve the term regent for the Dowager. Bielenstein also describes the authority to control the affairs of the Secretariat [ ling shangshu shi during Former Han] as an official title: Intendant of the Affairs of the Masters of Writing; I interpret it rather as descriptive.

8 Bn 80:74 notes that some former titles of concubines were restored about 170, possibly reflecting the increase under Emperor Huan.

9 A "respectable family (良家 liangjia; blameless family) was defined as one whose members had not been convicted of a crime, and were not involved in medicine , magic , trade 商賈 or any handicraft manufacture 百工 [HS 28B:1644 commentary quoting Ru Shun 如淳 of the third century]. The category was used for a number of selection processes, including recruitment to the army [see Feathered Forest guards below] and, in some circumstances, for an official career [see Wang Lie].

10 Examples of women of humble family include the Empress Yan of Emperor Shun and the Empress He of Emperor Ling. Both the Empress Liang of Emperor Shun and the Empress Dou of Emperor Huan were chosen specifically on account of their excellent family background.

11 The chief assistant to the Grand Prolonger of Autumn could be either a eunuch or a full man: see sub Liang He and Wu Kaiming.

12 On ranks and salaries measured by shi, see below.

13 The one eunuch recorded as having held this office is Cao Jie, who kept the Dowager Dou a prisoner in the late 160s.

14 See, for example, the Lady Feng I.

15 During Former Han, Regular Attendant had been a supernumerary office held by a full man; Later Han changed it to a formal position reserved for eunuchs [Bn 80:63 & 66].

16 The Minister Steward (Privy Treasurer) is discussed under the Ministers below.

17 On this last, see Liu Ying, King of Chu.

18 These lower fiefs are discussed immediately below.

19 Loewe 60 provides a comprehensive discussion of the Han system of noble ranks, summarised by Bn 67:53.

20 Renderings of these fiefdoms vary. Hou are commonly referred to as Marquises, but in QHX Loewe has adopted the term Nobles; I have followed the earlier system.

Handling of guannei hou has been even more varied. Bn 67 renders the title literally, as Marquis Within the Passes; I have previously followed Dubs'Marquis Within the Imperial Domain; Loewe QHX has Nobility of the Interior; and Cambridge 86 has Lesser Marquisate. For the present work I have adapted the last of these.

The phrase guannei is generally interpreted as referring to the Land Within the Passes, the imperial capital territory of Former Han. By tradition, subjects should not hold territorial fiefs in the region of their sovereign's domain.

21 Zhuo Mao's son Zhuo Zhong inherited his father's titular marquisate, but it was transferred to be a district fief [on which see below]. For awards to non-Chinese see Dian'an, Xushen and Yugui.

22 See Kong An, Ji Chang and Kong Zhi.

23 Duting and duxiang were apparently territories about the capital of the larger unit: so that a duting was the village where the headquarters of the district was situated, and the duxiang contained the headquarters of a county. Unless it is necessary, in the body of this work I describe these fiefs only as villages or districts.

24 On the administration of counties see below.

25 See, for example, sub Deng Kang.

26 These included the Lady Yin III, mother of Empress Deng of Emperor He, the Lady Yan Zong, mother of the Empress Yan of Emperor An, the Lady Yin V, mother of the Empress Liang of Emperor Shun, the Lady Sun Shou, wife of Liang Ji and sister-in-law of two empresses, the Lady Xuan, mother of the Empress Deng of Emperor Huan, and the Lady Xing, mother of the Empress He of Emperor Ling.

27 In 191, during his short-lived hold on power, the usurping general Dong Zhuo enfeoffed his grand-daughter Dong Bo.

28 Two sets of figures, from 50 and 106 AD, list the amounts paid to officials at each grade, in hu of unhusked grain and in cash, and Bn 80:125-131 presents detailed calculations on the salary paid.

The hu or shi was a measure of capacity, 19.968 litres [e.g. Dubs 38:276-280 and Cambridge 86:xxxviii]. It is sometimes rendered as "bushel" or, incorrectly, as "picul" (a measure of weight). Given that the actual amount of the salary was not directly related to the rank, I prefer to follow the convention which uses the transliteration rather than an attempted translation.

29 After Chen Fan was destroyed by the palace eunuchs in 168, Hu Guang took his place as Grand Tutor to Emperor Ling; this was the only time a ruler had more than one Grand Tutor.

30 Dubs renders san gong as Three Dukes, and Bielenstein has the [da] situ and the [da] sikong as [Grand] Minister over the Masses and [Grand] Minister of Works. I find it preferable to describe them as Excellencies; in particular, it is confusing that the da sinong, rendered by Bielenstein as Grand Minister of Agriculture, was of lower rank than the plain Minister over the Masses and Minister of Works.

31 For convenience and swifter recognition of the significance of these ministerial offices, I have rendered each with the prefix Minister. Loewe has used a similar system, but with the term Superintendent [e.g. Loewe 74:310 and QHX 757-765].

32 Many scholars render the character shi in this title as Historian or Scribe, notably inspired by the fact that the great historian Sima Qian 司馬遷, compiler of Shi ji 史記, held appointment as taishi ling. However, though Bielenstein fairly describes the officer as "the most versatile and technically trained official" in the government [Bn 80:19], his responsibilities for the calendar, for portents and for specialised examinations did not necessarily extend to historical records. As Bielenstein observes, the official Diaries of Activity and Repose (起居注 qiju zhu), with detailed accounts of the emperor's day-to-day life within the court and the palace, were more likely to have been entrusted to intimate scribes, including eunuchs, rather than to an outside official, now matter how talented [Bn 80:163 and Bn 54:21-22]. Similarly, though the official history of Later Han was compiled at intervals through the dynasty, no taishi ling appears as a member of the relevant committee; and the other great historian Ban Gu, chief author of Han shu, never held that office.

33 On the various schools of Later Han, see the chapter on Literary and Scholarly Works.

34 The title zhonglang jiang presents problems of rendering, for it sometimes appears in circumstances which have little to do with any corps of gentleman at the capital. For much of Later Han, for example, the chief imperial agent at the court of the Southern Xiongnu was known as the shi Xiongnu zhonglang jiang, which I render simply as Emissary: see the section on Officials dealing with Non-Chinese peoples below. On occasion, moreover, a commander in the field could hold title as zhonglang jiang, as Ren Shang in 112 and Zhu Jun in 184. And when military agricultural colonies were established at the end of Han, many were supervised by Generals of the Household in Charge of Agriculture: in that context I render the title as Commissioner for Agriculture.

35 This matter is discussed in the section on Recruitment below.

36 On respectable families (liangjia), see note 9 above.

37 There were two Imperial Prisons at Luoyang, one under the Minister of Justice, one controlled by the Prefect of Luoyang: Bn 80:50.

38 See Bn 80:46-47. In such circumstances it appears inappropriate and misleading to render the title shaofu as Privy Treasurer, and I have therefore adopted the reading Minister Steward.

39 HHS 116/26:3590 and see under Liu Zhuang, Emperor Ming, and Liu Da, Emperor He. Cf. however Bn 80:45-46 and 76:59-60.

40 The Vast Pond lay to the east of Luoyang, the Guangcheng Park to the south, and the Shanglin Park to the west. They, and others, are described by Bn 76:80-83. The Shanglin Park was the second of that name: there was a Shanglin Park outside Chang'an during Former Han, and it was still maintained and occasionally visited by the rulers of Later Han. Additional parks were established by later rulers, notably Emperor Huan and Emperor Ling.

41 The collections were formally supervised by the Palace Assistant Imperial Clerk (御侍中丞 yushi zhongcheng), head of the Censorate, but in 159 a Custodian of the Private Library (祕書監 mishu jian) was appointed under the Minister of Ceremonies.

42 Former Han huangmen lang 黃門郎 (Gentlemen of the Yellow Gates) and huangmen shilang 黃門侍郎 (Gentlemen in Attendance of the Yellow Gates), both being supernumerary positions. Under Later Han, huangmen lang were no longer appointed, while huangmen shilang became substantive officials; the character shi being sometimes omitted in the texts. I render the title as Gentleman at the Yellow Gates.

43 The office of Cavalier Attendant (散騎 sanqji), which had been supernumerary under Former Han, was not used by Later Han. In 220 the court of Wei restored the position in two grades: Cavalier Regular Attendant (散騎常侍 sanqi changshi) and Cavalier Gentleman Attendant (sanqi shi lang 散騎侍郎): SGZ 2:58, JS 14:733; Fang 52:4, and see sub Sima Fu. Fang renders the titles as Senior and Junior Chamberlains, but I cite them without distinction as Cavalier Attendants.

44 Former Han had appointed from time to time either a sili xiaowei or a sili: Bn 80:84-85. Later Han always appointed a sili xiaowei, and I use the shorter rendering. The province itself was known as Sili.

45 The heads of these commanderies took their titles from their territories, and Dubs and Bielenstein render them accordingly, as Governor of Jingzhao 京兆尹, Western Sustainer 右扶風, and Eastern Supporter 左馮翊. I describe the head of Jingzhao as Intendant, but refer to the heads of the other two units as Administrators.

46 The Directors Li Ying and Han Yan used their powers to effect against the palace eunuchs and their party in the 160s, as did Yang Qiu in the late 170s.

47 HHS 17:927; deC 81:68-69. Bielenstein also makes this point, notably in Bn 79:68-70 and 80:149, though he discounts the claims by several modern Chinese scholars that the Excellencies became all but figure-heads.

48 The fact that the office and some members of its staff are both described as shangshu can be confusing; I therefore refer to the office consistently as the Imperial Secretariat, and do not use the rendering Masters of Writing.

Though they are consistent within the Dubs/Bielenstein system, it is again confusing that the head and the second-in-command of the office are described as Prefect (ling) and Supervisor (puye), particularly as some departments of the government were headed by a puye. Rather than explain their role each time, I render the two as Director and Deputy Director, and I usually refer to their subordinate staff in generic terms.

49 See above at note 7.

50 See, for example, the activities of Yu Xu and Zuo Xiong in the time of Emperor Shun, and the coup of the eunuchs against Dou Wu and Chen Fan in 168.

51 Two examples of the Secretariat in that role are the cases of Xiang Kai in 166 and Cai Yong and Cai Zhi in 178.

52 See above at note 41.

53 There is one reference to a Commissioner in Plain Clothes 微服使者, Chang Feng, who was sent to review and report upon feelings among the people; there may have been others.

54 Such officials are frequently described as Bearing the Staff of Authority (zhijie 持節) and the phrase may be rendered as Bearing Credentials.

55 This includes the capital province under the Director of Retainers. During Former Han, and sometimes still in Later Han, provinces were also referred to as Regional Divisions (bu ).

56 See Dongguan Hanji, quoted by commentary to HHS 118/28:3618.

57 See Shi Bi, and also the objection to the system presented by Cai Yong.

58 In similar fashion, the head of a territorial unit was required to remain within his jurisdiction unless he had special permission: see, for example, the situation of Huangfu Gui and Hu Fang in 166.

59 On the establishment of commandery-level dependent states in the time of Emperor An of Later Han, see deC 84:445-449. In the far north-western frontier of Liang province, however, dependent states which had been established by Former Han were retained by Later Han. On this region, see Loewe 67A:162.

60 For the heads of certain counties such as Luoyang, because of their special status, I still use the term Prefect.

61 Sun Jian, for example, became a county Assistant on the basis of an imperial letter (朝書 zhaoshu).

62 Among several examples, we may cite Du Ji of Jingzhao, Li Yi of Zangke, Liu Yao of Dongping and Man Chong of Shanyang. Note, however, that the phrase shouling does not always indicate a brevet magistrate; it can be used as a general compound to refer to administrators (taishou) and magistrates (ling).

63 There are limited details on the procedures, which varied in the course of two centuries; they are discussed by Bn 80:24 and 134-136.

64 For reforms, see sub Zuo Xiong and Huang Qiong and, on the question of age, HHSJJ 6:269, where Hou Kang cites particularly the stele biographies of Wu Ban and Wu Rong. For evidence of favouritism and corruption, see sub Tian Xin; there are many others.

65 During certain periods, the General-in-Chief shared with the Excellencies to right to nominate men of Abundant Talent. The title of this nomination had been Flourishing Talent (xiucai) in Former Han, but it was changed to avoid taboo on the personal name of the founding Emperor Guangwu.

66 The style Exceptional Conduct (youyi 尤異) was normally used as a comment upon local administration, with potential for accelerated promotion, but it sometimes served as a form of provincial nomination: see Miao Tong.

67 The term First Class, which also appears as 第一 Number One, was also used for the assessment of an official's performance of his duties, and could lead to accelerated promotion.

68 As with nomination for Abundant Talents, some Generals-in-Chief had the right to open an office and make clerical appointments in the same fashion as an Excellency.

69 An example of this process is the case of Fan Ying: see also Vervoorn 90:157-164. His experience was not satisfactory, but the appointment of He Chun, other hand, appears to have been a success.

70 There are a few references to appointments of Junior Gentlemen (童子朗 tongzi lang), apparently available to boys of twelve or thirteen, of good family and scholarly bent. The position gave early entrance to the University and probation for a commissioned post in the civil service.

71 In 148 provision was made for thirty-one successful examinees to be given appointment to senior rank among the gentleman cadets, the next seventeen became members of the Suite of the Heir [on which, see below] and the next seventeen were appointed to the court of a king. In 156 a new system allowed candidates to take examinations in an increasing number of classics over a period of years, and to rise with each success, so that it became possible to obtain a substantive post in the bureaucracy; it would, however, have taken as many as eight years of academic success: deC 66B:73-74.

72 Bielenstein argues that entry by examination was available throughout Later Han [Bn 80:140 and 202-203], but I do not find his argument conclusive. The edicts of the 140s, providing for limited entry, indicate that the system had not been in operation up to that time, while there are no records of anyone entering the bureaucracy by such a route. Examinations were indeed maintained, as Bielenstein points out, but it does not appear that they led to anything more than possible promotion within the University itself.

73 After the changes of the late 140s, some students of the University who passed the examinations in the third class received appointment as Literary Scholars (文學 wenxue) or Authorities on Ancient Matters (掌古 zhanggu) in commanderies and kingdoms. These offices, which also could be gained by other routes, presumably dealt with matters of scholarship and education, but again there are no cases recorded where they proved to be the beginning of a great career.

74 HS 69:2971; HHS 72/62:2319, SGZ 6:171. Naturally enough, the histories are concerned primarily with commanders of high rank, who normally came from the great families of the empire, well connected to the throne; middle-ranking officers are seldom cited, and their background is given even less often. Archaeological texts, on the other hand, notably the strips from the northwest as studied by Loewe 67, deal chiefly with the lowest ranks.

75 See Bn 80:141-142, deC 89:516-518.

76 The General-in-Chief at the capital had at least nominal authority over the regiments of the Northern Army; many of the colonels were also members of the clan of imperial relatives by marriage.

77 During Former Han, guards within the capital and at the palaces, notably the cadets under the Generals of the Household, had been collectively known as the Southern Army, but the term was not used by Later Han.

78 The Northern Army is sometimes referred to as wuying 五營, the Five Regiments.

79 The Chang River Regiment was composed of volunteer cavalrymen recruited from the Wuhuan people of the northeast; see sub Haodan.

80 On this question, see deC 84:48-50, and Lewis 2000, but cf. Bn 80:114.

81 On these units and servicemen, see Loewe 67A, 76-77.

82 See HS 19A:737, discussed by deC 81:62.

83 As described above, however, the recruitment and training camp at Liyang in Wei commandery was controlled by an Internuncio.

84 On the passes of the northwest, see Loewe 67A:61; on the passes about Luoyang, see HHS 8:348; deC 89:550.

85 HHS 114/24:3564 identifies the command of a Captain as a qu , and this is followed by Bn 80,120, who renders it as "company." The strips from Juyan in the far northwest have 候官 houguan [Loewe 67A:76; also as "company"], while there are places called Houguan or similar in the northwest, the northeast and in the southeast, no doubt taken from military garrisons [deC 84:457-458]. It seems likely that qu was the name of a unit in a mobile army, and houguan indicated a static position.

86 As, for example, under Yuan Shao in 200 [HHS 74/64:2391; deC 96:254] and under Sun Quan in 208 [SGZ Wu 2:1118; deC 96:395].

87 JS 24:729; deC 91:152.

88 The position was initially qualified as xing:"Acting" and was not made substantive until 110.

Despite its title, the Trans-Liao command had no connection to the river of that name in present-day Manchuria. There had been a general of that style under Former Han, who indeed operated in the northeast, but the incumbent during Later Han was entirely concerned with the northern steppe.

89 Most scholars render the title fu xiaowei as Lieutenant-Colonel. It seems clear from the contexts in which it is used, however, that this officer ranked above regular Colonels; the character fu should be interpreted as indicating a position as chief assistant and deputy to the Protector-General or other superior officer.

90 The Western Regions in Later Han are discussed by deC 2006A.

91 In A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China, Stanford UP 1985, Charles O Hucker provided a list of titles through all Chinese dynasties. I have not, however, found his renderings for the Han period reliable or acceptable.

Rafe de Crespigny