An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

sansi 三司, the Three Financial Bureaus

Feb 25, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

The Three Financial Bureaus (sansi 三司) consisted 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). The trinity was the centre of the financial administration of the Song empire 宋 (960-1279), in lieu of the usual Ministry of Revenue (hubu 戶部).

Over the ages, the designation sansi referred to different institutions. During the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE), it included the dignitaries Defender-in-chief (taiwei 太尉), Minister of Education (situ 司徒), and Minister of Works (sikong 司空). During the Tang period 唐 (618-907), it meant the offices of the Censorate (yushitai 御史臺), the Palace Secretariat (zhongshusheng 中書省), and the Chancellery (menxiasheng 門下省). The Jurchen Jin dynasty 金 (1115-1234) usually followed the administrative structure of the Song empire, but the Census Bureau was called quannongsi 勸農司. The Tangutan Western Xia 西夏 (1038-1227) also created a similar organisation. During the Ming period 明 (1368-1644), the term sansi was reserved for three institutions on the provincial level, namely the regional military commission (du zhihuishi si 都指揮使司), the provincial administration commission (buzhengshi si 布政使司), and the provincial surveillance commission (anchashi si 按察使司).

The founder of the Northern Song 北宋 (960-1126) reorganized the central administration thoroughly and eliminated the household revenue section (hubu) from the Imperial Secretariat (shangshusheng 尚書省). The section was split into the above-mentioned three units. It was headed by a state finance commissioner (sansishi 三司使) and a vice state finance commissioner (sansi fushi 三司副使), while each of the three bureau was separately headed by a commissioner, like salt-and-iron monopoly commissioner (yantieshi 鹽鐵使) and vice commissioner (yantie fushi 鹽鐵副使).

The Salt-and-Iron Monopoly Bureau was in charge of the control of various industries perceived as public work, including the production and distribution or merchandise of salt (see salt gabelle), as well as the production of weaponry. The Tax Bureau was master over state revenue and expenditure and controlled the transport and distribution of tribute grain. The Census Bureau took over the registration of households and tax registers and thus organized taxation and corvée (or replacement in money), as well as special monopolies like that on the production of alcoholic beverages and yeast.

Each Bureau was divided into several sections (an 案):

Table 1. Organisation of the Three Financial Bureaus (sansi 三司)
Salt-and-Iron Monopoly Bureau (yantiesi 鹽鐵司)
兵案 bing'an military section
冑案 zhou'an armaments section
商稅案 shangshui'an market tax section
都鹽案 duyan'an capital supply section
茶案 cha'an tea section
鐵案 tie'an iron section
設案 she'an special preparations section
Tax Bureau (duzhisi 度支司)
賞給案 shangji'an gifts and presentations section
錢帛案 qianbo'an coins and silk section
糧料案 liangliao'an grain supplies section
常平案 changping'an price stabilisation fund section
發運案 fayu'an transport section
騎案 ji'an horses section
斛斗案 hudou'an state grain section
百官案 baiguan'an officials section
Census Bureau (hubusi 戶部司)
戶稅案 hushu'an summer tax section
上供案 shanggong'an prefectural remittances section
修造案 xiuzao'an palace construction section
曲案 qu'an yeast section
衣糧案 yiliang'an clothing and rations section

In the hierarchy of institutions, the Three Financial Bureaus had a lower position than the "two bureaus" (er fu 二府), namely the Bureau of Military Affairs (shumiyuan 樞密院, shufu 樞府) and the Palace Secretariat (zhifu 知府), but it was dubbed the "accountancy department" (jisheng 計省), and its head the "accountant counsellor" (jixiang 計相).

During the reforms under Counsellor-in-chief Wang Anshi 王安石 (1021-1086) between 1069 and 1076 (see Wang Anshi reforms), the Three Financial Bureaus were controlled by the new Finance Planning Commission (zhizhi sansi tiaoli si 制置三司條例司) under the Palace Secretariat, and were then subordinated to the revenue section of the Imperial Secretariat (shangshu hubu 尚書戶部), where the administration of financial matters remained throughout the Song and Yuan 元 (1279-1368) periods. The organisation was finally abolished with the foundation of the Ming dynasty, when the Ministry of Revenue was formally created.

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Titles according to Hucker, Charles O. (1985). A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China (Stanford: Stanford University Press).