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A History of China by Wolfram Eberhard

As central statistical authority


first ten centuries of gentry

society were not despots: it can be proved that in some fields the responsibility for governmental action did not lie with the emperor but with some of his ministers. Secondly, the emperor was bound by the law code: he could not change it nor abolish it. We know of cases in which the ruler disregarded the code, but then tried to "defend" his arbitrary action. Each new dynasty developed a new law code, usually changing only details of the punishment, not the basic regulations. Rulers could issue additional "regulations", but these, too, had to be in the spirit of the general code and the existing moral norms. This situation has some similarity to the situation in Muslim countries. At the ruler's side were three counsellors who had, however, no active functions. The real conduct of policy lay in the hands of the "chancellor", or of one of the "nine ministers". Unlike the practice with which we are familiar in the West, the activities of the ministries (one of them being the court secretariat) were concerned primarily with the imperial palace. As, however, the court secretariat, one of the nine ministries, was at the same time a sort of imperial statistical office, in which all economic, financial, and military statistical material was assembled, decisions on issues of critical importance for the whole country could and did come from it. The court, through the Ministry of Supplies, operated mines and workshops in the provinces and organized the labour service for public constructions.
The court also controlled centrally the conscription for the general military service. Beside the ministries there was an extensive administration of the capital with its military guards. The various parts of the country, including the lands given as fiefs to princes, had a local administration, entirely independent of the central government and more or less elaborated according to their size. The regional administration was loosely associated with the central government through a sort of primitive ministry of the interior, and similarly the Chinese representatives in the protectorates, that is to say the foreign states which had submitted to Chinese protective overlordship, were loosely united with a sort of foreign ministry in the central government. When a rising or a local war broke out, that was the affair of the officer of the region concerned. If the regional troops were insufficient, those of the adjoining regions were drawn upon; if even these were insufficient, a real "state of war" came into being; that is to say, the emperor appointed eight generals-in-chief, mobilized the imperial troops, and intervened. This imperial army then had authority over the regional and feudal troops, the troops of the protectorates, the guards of the capital, and those of the imperial palace. At the end of the war the imperial army was demobilized and the generals-in-chief were transferred to other posts.

In all this there gradually developed a division into civil and military administration. A number of regions would make up a province with a military governor, who was in a sense the representative of the imperial army, and who was supposed to come into activity only in the event of war.

This administration of the Han period lacked the tight organization that would make precise functioning possible. On the other hand, an extremely important institution had already come into existence in a primitive form. As central statistical authority, the court secretariat had a special position within the ministries and supervised the administration of the other offices. Thus there existed alongside the executive a means of independent supervision of it, and the resulting rivalry enabled the emperor or the chancellor to detect and eliminate irregularities. Later, in the system of the T'ang period (A.D. 618-906), this institution developed into an independent censorship, and the system was given a new form as a "State and Court Secretariat", in which the whole executive was comprised and unified. Towards the end of the T'ang period the permanent state of war necessitated the permanent commissioning of the imperial generals-in-chief and of the military governors, and as a result there came into existence a "Privy Council of State", which gradually took over functions of the executive. The system of administration in the Han and in the T'ang period is shown in the following table:


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