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Chinese History - Tang Empire Government, Administration, and Law

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The political system of the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) stood in the tradition of a central bureaucracy that was already created during the Han period 漢 (206 BC - 220 AD). The effectiveness of the Tang governmental and administrational system was so much admired that it was copied by the Korean kingdoms Baekche 百濟, Silla 新羅 and Goguryeo 高句麗 and a reformist group at the Asuka court 飛鳥 in Japan. But unlike the Han system, the Tang administration did not bestow semi-independent kingdoms (wangguo 王國) to the imperial princes.
The central government was located in the capital of Chang'an 長安 (modern Xi'an 西安, Shaanxi), with a secondary capital in Luoyang 洛陽 (modern Luoyang, Henan), according to the ancient example of the Zhou dynasty 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE). The central government was led by the Department of State Affairs (shangshusheng 尚書省) with its Six Ministries (liubu 六部) for Personnel (libu 吏部), Revenue (hubu 戶部), Rites (libu 禮部), War (bingbu 兵部), Justice (xingbu 刑部) and Works (gongbu 工部). Two other departments handled the huge flow of governmental documents: the Secretariat (zhongshusheng 中書省) and the Chancellery (menxiasheng 門下省) with their respective directors, called "Grand Counsellors" (zaixiang 宰相). These three institutions are also called the Three Departments (sansheng 三省). The Three Preceptors (sanshi 三師) and Three Dukes (sangong 三公) were the nominal heads of the government, but their posts were often left vacant. As an independent surveillance of the officialdom, the Censorate (yushitai 御史臺) was established and headed by a Censor-in-Chief (yushi dafu 御史大夫). The local bureaus of the censorate were called duchayuan 都察院 and headed by a local censor (jiancha yushi 監察御史) who inspected the local officialdom and assessed their work. Agencies for special services like sacrifices, entertainment, national granaries and the imperial treasuries, the Nine Courts (jiusi 九寺) had the task to maintain the private imperial affairs. The Five Directorates (wujian 五監) were charged with the task of imperial manufactories, palace buildings, waterways, and so on. They were also responsible for recruiting academicians to the official ranks. The recruitment system was not yet as developed as in later times, but already during the Tang period, graduated scholars (jinshi 進士) were able to be given posts after passing an examination. The state examinations were guided by the emperor himself and included mainly tests on the interpreting of Confucian Classics. The studied academicians of the officialdom were located in the Hanlin Academy (hanlinyuan 翰林院), other officials had graduated in the National University (taixue 太學). This literate bureaucracy was seen as a counterpart to the court eunuchs, the clans of the empresses and to the traditional aristocracy families. In the later half of Tang, the palace eunuchs (huanguan 宦官, neishi 內侍), organized in the Palace Domestic Service (neishisheng 內侍省) and the Palace Secretariat (shumiyuan 樞密院), gained more and more influence on political affairs and controlled the capital guards.
The local administration was patterned like a small copy of the central government. The prefectures (zhou 州) were governed by prefects (cishi 刺史), the districts (xian 縣) were administered by magistrates (ling 令). In regions of critical military importance, prefectures were called "area command" (dudufu 都督府) and were headed by commanders (dudu cishi 都督刺史). All units were grouped to inspection circuits (dao 道). Of special importance were the protectorates (duhufu 都護府) that were founded in the newly conquered territories and were therefore mostly inhabited by Non-Chinese tribes at the borders of Tang China, like the Western Territories. At the northern frontier, but later throughout the empire, a special administrative unit was created, the military district (fanzhen 藩鎮) under the command of a military commissioner (jiedushi 節度使). To implement the policies of the central government, investigating commissioners (anchashi 安察使) had to travel around and to control the local governors. There were even commissioners who had to look for a special task, like the salt monopoly.
The legal system based upon a new law codex, the Tanglü shuyi 唐律疏義 with its two parts, the penal codex ( 律) and the administrative codex (ling 令).
Traditionally, the military of the Northern Dynasties 北朝 (386-581) was marked by an aristocratic cavalry that led a privileged group of professional soldiers (fubing 府兵). From the Sui period 隋 (581-618) on, the infantry was staffed by recruited peasants. During peacetime, these peasants worked the fields, during times of warfare, they served in the military. Defending their own piece of land at the frontiers, this kind of peasant soldiers was far more motivated than payed militia-men. But the offensive war strategy of China was mainly based upon horse-mounted troops. After the central government had lost its grip on Inner Asia, it became more and more complicated to build up an effective cavalry because horses were mainly bought from the west and not raised in central China.
Although there were capable emperors under every dynasty, there was no real need for a strong emperor in the Chinese bureaucracy. Court politics were made by consort clans, eunuchs and scholarly bureaucrats, and imperial politics were decided by the effective central administration.


2000 ff. © Ulrich Theobald · Mail

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