An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

hubu 戶部, the Ministry of Revenue

Jun 9, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

The Ministry of Revenue (hubu 戶部) was one of the traditional Six Ministries (liubu 六部) of the imperial Chinese state. It originated in the "section for the people" (mincao 民曹) of the Imperial Secretariat (shangshu 尙書) of the early Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). The administration of finances in earlier ages was in the hands of the "terrestrial offices" (diguan 地官), concretely, the "director of the multitudes" (situ 司徒) and the "director of agriculture" (sinong 司農). State revenue and expenditure was until the 6th century CE administered by the Minister of Revenue (duzhi shangshu 度支尚書); while the "Left Minister for the People" (zuomin shangshu 左民尙書) was responsible for household registers (huji 戶籍), the "Right Minister for the People" (youmin shangshu 右民尙書) administered field cadastres of public and private land.

The Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) created a unified "Ministry for the People" (minbu 民部) with three sections, namely the Revenue Section (duzhi 度支), the Treasury Bureau (jinbu 金部), and the Granaries Section (cangbu 倉部). In order to avoid a character from the personal name of Emperor Taizong 唐太宗 (r. 626-649) of the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907), Li Shimin 李世民, the agency was renamed "Household Ministry" (hubu 戶部). This new ministry ranked second among the Six Ministries and was divided into four sections (si 司), namely the "Principal Section" (bensi 本司) or "Head Section" (tousi 頭司), and the "child sections" (zisi 子司) of Revenue (duzhi), the Treasury (jinbu), and the Granaries (cangbu). The Ministry was occasionally called Agricultural Ministry (nongbu 農部). It was headed by one Minister (shangshu 尚書) and two Vice Ministers (shilang 侍郎), the sections by directors (langzhong 郎中) and vice directors (yuanwailang 員外郎).

The multitude of duties related to financial matters made it necessary that there were some institutions outside of the Ministry concerned with financial affairs, like taxation, money, or the transport of goods needed by the court of the central government, or such related with finance, for instance, salt.

The organization of revenues fell into the hands of the Court of the Imperial Granaries (sinong si 司農司) and the Court of the Imperial Treasury (taifu si 太府寺), and more and more to the local financial institutions. Between 662 and 670 the Ministry was called siyuan 司元, and Empress Wu Zetian 武則天 (r. 690-704), going back to the terminology of antiquity, named it diguan 地官 "Terrestrial Office".

In the mid-8th century, commissioners took over financial duties outside the capital, for instance, salt-and-iron commissioners (yantieshi 鹽鐵使) and transport commissioners (zhuanyuanshi 轉運使). The outsourcing of duties went so far that the central Ministry lost many of its function in the late Tang period.

The Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279) therefore created three different institutions responsible for the state revenue, namely the units of the State Finance Commission (sansi 三司), consisting of the Salt-and-Iron Monopoly Bureau (yantiesi 鹽鐵司), the Census Bureau (hubusi 戶部司), and the Tax Bureau (duzhisi 度支司).

Emperor Shenzong 宋神宗 (r. 1067-1085) abolished them and laid financial matters into the hands of the Left and Right Section of the Ministry of Revenue (hubu zuocao 戶部左曹, hubu youcao 戶部右曹). Both sections were headed each by a one director and one vice director. The Left Section was responsible for household registers, field cadastres and taxation, and the Right Section regulated the ever-normal granaries (changping cang 常平倉), corvée labour (yaoyi 徭役) and substitutional payment (see mianyifa 免役法), and market conditions and the administration of guilds (fangchang 坊場). The former three bureaus duzhi, jinbu and cangbu were subordinated to the two sections. The Southern Song dynasty 南宋 (1127-1279) followed this arrangement, but the posts of Minister and Vice Minister of Revenue were often concurrently occupied by a sectional director.

Qubilai Qaɣan (Emperor Shizu 元世祖, r. 1260-1294) of the Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368) first created the unified Three Ministries to the Left (zuo sanbu 左三部), namely that of Personnel, that of Revenue, and that of Rites, but in 1268 gave the Ministry of Revenue more responsibility. It was from 1301 on headed by three Ministers (shangshu). Quite specific for the Yuan administration were the sections, consisting of the Imperial Money Vault (wanyi baoyuan ku 萬億寶源庫), the Imperial Treasures Vault (wanyi guangyuan ku 萬億廣源庫), the Imperial Cloth Vault (wanyi qiyuan ku 萬億綺源庫), and the Imperial Silk Vault (wanyi fuyuan ku 萬億賦源庫). In the administrative hierarchy, the ministries were subordinated to the Imperial Secretariat.

The Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644) abolished the Secretariat in 1380 and subordinated the Ministry of Revenue directly to the sovereign's command. It was headed by one Minister (shangshu) and a Left and a Right Vice Minister (zuo shilang 左侍郎, you shilang 右侍郎). The Ministry was divided into four sections, namely the General Bureau (zongbu 總部), the Bureau of General Accounts (duzhibu 度支部), the Treasury Bureau (jinbu 金部), and the Granaries Bureau (cangbu 倉部). Yet soon the administration of the Ministry was split into twelve bureaus (qinglisi 清吏司), responsible for the revenue of the provinces, whose number was in 1453 enlarged to thirteen. They also controlled the revenue from the two capitals Nanjing 南京 and Beijing 北京 and the two provinces "attached" to the capitals, Nanzhili 南直隸 and Beizhili 北直隸. The sections were each headed by a director (langzhong) and a vice director (yuanwailang), and two chief secretaries (zhushi 主事) who managed the paperwork.

The Ministry regulated questions of soil ownership, household registration, land reclamation, money, all various types of taxes and fees, transport of tribute grain (caoyun 漕運), the regulation of the salt monopoly by issuing salt certificates, storage of grain, disaster relief, the salaries of state officials and the military pay for troops in the border garrisons, and of course, all other types of expenditure. The number of agencies was large and included, among others, the Supervisorate of Paper Money (baochao tijusi 寶鈔提舉司), the Currency Supply Service (chaozhiju 鈔紙局), the Plate Engraving Service (yinchaoju 印鈔局), the Treasury for the Benevolent Issuance of Paper (baochao guanghui ku 寶鈔廣惠庫), the *Clerics Office (guangjiku 廣積庫), the Depository (zangfaku 贓罰庫, a kind of evidence vault for forged money), the *Silks Store (guangyinku 廣盈庫), the *Outer Storehouse (wai chengyun ku 外承運庫), the *Palace Storehouse (chengyunkuxingyongku 行用庫), the National Silver Vault (taicangyin ku 太倉銀庫), the Imperial Hay Barn (yumacang 御馬倉), and the Arsenal (junchuku 軍儲倉).

The Manchus created a Ministry of Revenue as early as 1631. It was headed by an imperial prince (beile 貝勒) and mananged by an executive (chengzheng 承政), a vice executive (canzheng 參政) and clerks (qixinlang 啟心郎) and recorders (ezhe 額哲). From 1638 on the Executive was the head of the Ministry, and was supported by left and right vice executives, clerks, administrators (lishiguan 理事官), and so on. In 1644 these posts were renamed according to the pattern of the Ming administration. In 1648 the court decided that the post of Minister was occupied twice, once by a Manchu, and once by a Chinese, and the same became common for the Vice Directors from 1658 on. The individual ministerial agencies could be headed by members of the imperial family, Manchus, Mongols, Chinese Bannermen (hanjun 漢軍), or common Chinese. The Ministry was divided into fourteen provincial bureaus corresponding with the administration commissioners (buzhengshi 布政使) in each province. Thoroughly new was the duty of the Ministry to care for the salaries and the welfare of the members of the Eight Banners (baqi 八旗), as well as for part of their military equipment.

Apart from that, the names and functions of the agencies was much different from that of the Ming period. There was the Banner Revenues Section (jingtianke 井田科), the *Salaries Bureau (fengluchu 俸餉處), the Judicial Office (xianshenchu 現審處), the Meal Allowance Office (fanyinchu 飯銀處), the Contributions Office (juannachu 捐納處), the General Services Office (siwuting 司務廳), the *Control Office (ducuisuo 督催所), the Seals Office (jianyinchu 監印處), the Coinage Office (qianfatang 錢法堂), the Imperial Mints of the Capital (baoyuanju 寶泉局, baoyuanju 寶源局), the Palace Granary (neicang 內倉) and the silver, silks and miscellany vaults (yinku 銀庫, duanku 緞庫, yanliaoku 顏料庫) and the Capital Granaries Bureau (cangchang yamen 倉場衙門).

In 1906 the Ministry was split in two. The Ministry of the Interior (minzhengbu 民政部) was responsible for census taking, and the Ministry of Finance (duzhibu 度支部) for the collection of duties and taxes, the supervision of transportation, the storage of grain, mints and banks. In 1912 the "modern" name Ministry of Finance (caizhengbu 財政部) was chosen for the latter.

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