Pacification commissioners (xuanfushi 宣撫使) were originally high military officials supervising the peace in border regions. Their bureau was called xuanfushi si 宣撫使司. The office was created by the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) in 728 for Yuwen Rong 宇文融 (d. 730), military supervisor of the circuit (dao 道) of Hebei. It was only of temporary nature, and taken over by high officials from the central government. The full term was then xuanwei anfu shi 宣慰安撫使 or xuanfu chuzhi shi 宣撫處置使. The nature of the office remained the same under the Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279). Pacification commissioners inspected a circuit and controlled the performance of local officials. In the course of the 11th century the office became a permanent one, as the highest military official (junshui tongshuai 軍事統帥) of a circuit. Counsellor-in-chief Wen Yanbo 文彥博 (1006-1097) for instance, was in 1048 dispatched to suppress a rebellion in the prefecture of Beizhou 貝州.
The first military official who was appointed pacification commissioner was Vice Military Affairs Commissioner (shumi fushi 樞密副使) Di Qing 狄青 (1008-1057) in 1052. Occasionally, eunuchs like Tong Guan 童貫 (1054-1126) took over the job. In 1131 General-in-chief (dajiang 大將) Liu Guangshi 劉光世 (1086-1142) was a pacification commissioner, and a year later Li Guang 李光 (1078-1159), who was actually Minister of Personnel (libu shangshu 吏部尚書). Both were high officials, but not members of the central government. The Southern Song 南宋 (1127-1279) created the office of commander-in-chief (dudu junshi 都督軍事), as the highest military official in a circuit. This lowered the status of pacification commissioners. On the other hand, they were given a permanent bureau of its own, with a deputy (xuanfu fushi 宣撫副使) and an assistant (xuanfu panguan 宣撫判官).
The Jin empire 金 (1115-1234) also made use of the office of pacification commissioner, yet their area of command was restricted to the southern regions, where they took over operative functions in the war against the Southern Song empire. The Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368) appointed ten pacification commissioners, each of which had also civilian jurisdiction. In that respect, the office of xuanfushi was blended with that of anfushi 安撫使, but was somewhat lower than the latter.
In the late Yuan and during the Ming 明 (1368-1644) and Qing 清 (1644-1911) periods, the designation of xuanfushi (rank 4B) was commonly bestowed to native chieftains (tusi 土司) in the southwestern border regions, making them part of the system of indirect rule over native tribes (jimi 羈縻). The title was hereditary.