By Rafe de Crespigny

The Chung Chi Journal, Vol.6:1  (1966)

Introduction: After the civil war which brought the destruction of Wang Mang and the restoration of the Han dynasty, the government of Later Han made a conscious effort to maintain and restore the institutions of their predecessors. The problems of empire remained the same, for although Emperor Kuang-wu had destroyed his opponents in battle and had reconquered the lands ruled by the Former Han dynasty, his government could only survive with the support and acceptance of the people . The system of recruitment for the imperial bureaucracy had been developed over the centuries of Former Han to give opportunity for government service to the natural leaders of the empire, and the rulers of Later Han followed and extended the successful methods of the past.

Under Later Han, the bureaucracy was headed by the Three Dukes, with nominal salaries of Ten Thousand Piculs, being the Grand Commandant, the Minister over the Masses and the Minister of Works. Their offices were divided into departments, and these were responsible for the supervision and general control of the government, with a Department Head in charge of each department and a Subordinate Clerk as his assistant . The ranks of these clerical officers were not high, but they played a considerable part in the day-to-day workings of the administration and they had good chances of promotion.

At the beginning of Later Han, however, Emperor Kuang-wu had concentrated the chief imperial power in the office of the Masters of Writing, which was the imperial secretariat . The tendency towards centralisation of power continued throughout the dynasty, with the result that the three dukes became titular figureheads and the shang-shu became the effective source of imperial authority, and an official needed to have the right to `take part in the affairs of the shang-shu’ in order to exercise any real power in the highest levels of the government. Thus the three dukes had declined in authority and the government was generally carried on through the shang-shu and the Nine Ministers, whose nominal salary was Fully Two Thousand Piculs; nevertheless, the offices and departments of the dukes were still important to the workings of the administration and the dukes retained their right of appointment.

Outside the capital, the local government of the empire was carried on by the major administrative divisions, commanderies and kingdoms, which were divided into prefectures. A commandery was headed by a Grand Administrator and a kingdom by a Chancellor, but although the titles of the two offices were different, in the time of Later Han their administrative duties were the same. Prefectures were headed by Prefects or Chiefs, depending on the population of the prefecture, and in certain cases, where a marquis had been given the prefecture as a fief, the administrative head was also called Chancellor, again without any real difference in function . The salary of a Grand Administrator or Chancellor of a kingdom was ranked at Two Thousand Piculs and the salary of a Prefect or Chief varied from One Thousand to Three Hundred Piculs. Above the commanderies and kingdoms, the empire was divided into thirteen provinces, generally headed by an Inspector with a salary of Six Hundred Piculs. As their salary implies, Inspectors ranked below the heads of commanderies and kingdoms and even below the heads of some prefectures, but while they could not give orders to these officials of the local government they were empowered to supervise their administration and to report any misconduct direct to the capital.

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