The translation of Han dynasty government titles into English varies within the academic community. This page is a reference to compare renderings of Chinese official titles by different sinologists.
The first specialist reference for the English renderings of Chinese official titles was written in 1878 by a British legate to the Chinese government in Beijing, William Frederick Mayers. The most common terms used today in translation of official titles date back to Homer H. Dubs's translation of the Book of Han and Book of the Later Han from 1938 to 1955.
Dubs's translation lacked a published glossary of titles, but a list of titles used by Dubs was compiled by Rafe de Crespigny and published in 1967. In the interim, Wang Yuquan (王毓銓) published An Outline of the Central Government of the Former Han Dynasty in 1949. The next major systematising work on Han dynasty government was The Bureaucracy of Han Times written by Hans Bielenstein in 1980, drawing upon Dubs's and de Crespigny's work as its major source of translation for titles.
In 1985, Charles Hucker completed his Dictionary of Official Titles of Imperial China, a collection of nearly 8,300 titles and government offices and associated translations for every dynasty from the Zhou to the Qing, the most complete specialist literature of its type. During the 1980s and 1990s another list of proposed translation for Han dynasty titles was circulating in the University of Washington, where Jack Dull headed the Han Dynasty Project. Long after Dull's death, this list was made available as part of his collection of unpublished papers, available online from University of Oregon. Dull's list of Official Titles of the Han Dynasty also mainly follows Dubs.
Two comprehensive biographical dictionaries have also added to these reference aids: Michael Loewe's 2000 Biographical Dictionary of Qin, Former Han, and Xin Periods, and Rafe de Crespigny's 2007 Biographical Dictionary of Later Han to the Three Kingdoms, both published by Brill and intended to complement each other. De Crespigny's translation of titles mainly follow Dubs with some alterations, whereas Loewe's tend to be his own original renderings.
In 2007 Rafe de Crespigny published online a collection of his papers, among them An Outline of the Military Organisation of the Later Han Empire and An Outline of the Civil Administration of the Later Han Empire. Each of these includes an appendix listing a number of titles along with the translation de Crespigny has adopted, which he calls "slightly modified, varying from the system established by H.H. Dubs...".
The Dubs school of title translation has the longest pedigree of any schema for title translation and has broad acceptance in the scholarly community, but it was not built on any unifying principles and changed erratically during Dubs's lifetime. It is now mainly represented by the works of Bielenstein, de Crespigny, and Dull, all of whom made their own minor alterations while trying to remain mostly in the Dubs framework.
Wang Yuquan's 1949 article, although based entirely on primary source materials, seems to draw inspiration for translation of titles from Dubs in places, and can be considered to be completely superseded by later works. It was a source for Bielenstein, who called it "out of date". Bielenstein remains the academic standard which all others attempt to improve but compare themselves against for context. Dull's work, unpublished until it was released freely on the web in 2010, has been ignored by academia. De Crespigny has gone further outside the Dubs mold than the other authors.
In a 1971 review of de Crespigny's 1969 translation of part of the Zizhi Tongjian, Han dynasty specialist Anthony Hulsewé impugned the renderings of Chinese official titles, which then much more closely followed Dubs, as "barbarized" and "abhorrent".
Hucker's system has, in the main, not been adopted by the scholarly community. Its strengths are that it was created with a goal of systematisation and universality, and built upon sound principles of translation: that the rendering should ideally convey both the sense of the responsibilities of the office and the literal Chinese meaning, that it should avoid too-familiar Western analogues likely to create false impressions, and that it should not rely on bizarre-sounding neologisms. Hucker drew from a great deal of references during his research, including the work of Bielenstein, and received input from a large number of Chinese scholars, including de Crespigny and Dull.
In An Outline of the Civil Administration of the Later Han Empire, Rafe de Crespigny rejects outright Hucker's system, claiming he found Hucker's renderings to be unreliable and unacceptable for the Han period.
The titles adopted by Loewe in his Biographical Dictionary largely follow the translations as they appeared in The Cambridge History of China, volume 1 (1987), which Loewe helped to edit. He shies away from more literal translations, opting instead for renderings which "indicate an official's responsibilities, or his place in the organs of government, where possible in immediately meaningful terms; and in so far as imperial offices were organised in a hierarchical basis, it has been thought advisable to choose terms which convey an official's degree of seniority." Loewe appends a table comparing the renderings he adopts to those used by "Dubs, Bielenstein, and de Crespigny", acknowledging their grouping as a single school and that school's sinological primacy.
Several difficulties exist in providing a unified one-to-one translation for Han dynasty titles, these may range from each scholar's personal preferences to more profound issues.
One main point of contention is whether the translation should follow the literal meaning of the title or to describe the roles of that title's holder. As the Chinese bureaucracy developed, the responsibilities of an office changed and the names of positions changed, not necessarily at the same time. An office from the Zhou dynasty might share the same title as an office from the Qing dynasty, but with completely different powers, scope, and responsibilities.
Not every scholar covers every era. While Hucker's system is meant to detail government offices since the Zhou dynasty, the Dubs School focuses on the Han dynasty, and to a lesser extent the Qin dynasty and Three Kingdoms period. De Crespigny is an expert on the Later Han dynasty and Three Kingdoms; Loewe is an expert on the Former Han and Xin dynasties. A valid translation for one dynasty may not be valid for another.
Here is a table of comparisons between Han dynasty Chinese official titles and five sources of renderings, ordered by pinyin.
|Biejia||別駕||Aide-de-camp Attendant||Attendant Officer||Mounted Escort|
|Chengxiang||丞相||Chancellor||Imperial Chancellor||Imperial Chancellor||Counselor-in-Chief||Chancellor|
|Chengmen Xiaowei||城門校尉||Colonel of the City Gates||Colonel of the City Gates||Colonel of the City Gates||Commandant of the Capital Gates||Colonel of the City Gates|
|Cishi||刺史||Inspector||Inspector||Inspector||Regional Inspector||Regional Inspector|
|Congshi||從事||Attendant Clerk||Attendant Official||Assistant Officer||Retainer|
|Da Honglu||大鴻臚||Grand Herald||Grand Herald||Minister Herald||Chamberlain for Dependencies||Superintendent of State Visits|
|Da Jiangjun||大將軍||General-in-chief||Grand General||General-in-Chief||General-in-Chief||General-in-Chief|
|Da Li||大理||Grand Judge||Grand Judge||title unused after Xin||Chamberlain for Law Enforcement||Superintendent of Trials|
|Da Sima||大司馬||Commander-in-chief||Grand Minister of War||Grand Marshal||Commander-in-Chief||Marshal of State|
|Da Sinong||大司農||Grand Minister of Agriculture||Grand Minister of Agriculture||Minister of Finance||Chamberlain for the National Treasury||Superintendent of Agriculture|
|Da Xingling||大行令||Prefect Grand Usher||Prefect of the Grand March; Grand Usher||title unused after Emperor Wu||Director of Messengers||Superintendent of State Visits|
|Dian Ke||典客||Director of Guests||Director of Guests||title unused after Emperor Jing||Chamberlain for Dependencies||Superintendent of State Visits|
|Dian Shuguo||典屬國||Director of Dependent States||Director of Dependent States||title unused after Emperor Cheng||Supervisor of Dependent Countries||Director of the Dependent States|
|Duwei||都尉||Chief Commandant||Chief Commandant||Commandant||Commandant; Defender (in the provinces)|
|Duyou||督郵||Investigator||Investigator of Transgressions||Investigator||Local Inspector||Investigator|
|Fengchang||奉常||Upholder of Ceremonies||Minister of Imperial Ancestral Ceremonies||title unused after Emperor Wu||Chamberlain for Ceremonials||Superintendent of Ceremonial|
|Fengju Duwei||奉車都尉||Chief Commandant of Imperial Equipages||Chief Commandant Custodian of the Imperial Equipages||Commandant of the Equipage||Commandant-in-Chief of Chariots||Commandant, Imperial Carriages|
|Fujie Ling||符節令||Prefect of Insignia and Credentials||Prefect of Tallies and Credentials||Prefect of Insignia and Credentials||Manager of Credentials||Director, Insignia and Credentials|
|Gongcao [Shi]||功曹[史]||Bureau of Merit||Merit Evaluator||Officer of Merit||Labor Section Serviceman||Officer of the Bureau of Merit|
|Gongju [Sima] Ling||公車[司馬]令||Prefect of the Majors in Charge of Official Carriages||Prefect of Official Carriage's at the Major's Gate||Prefect of the Majors for Official Carriages||Director of Gate Traffic Control||Director of Official Carriages|
|Guanglu Dafu||光祿大夫||Imperial Household Grandee||Imperial Court Grandee||Household Counsellor||Grand Master for Splendid Happiness||Counsellor of the Palace|
|Guangluxun||光祿勳||Superintendent of the Imperial Household||Superintendent of the Imperial Court||Minister of the Household||Chamberlain for Attendants||Superintendent of the Palace|
|Huben||虎賁||Rapid as Tigers imperial guard||Rapid as Tigers imperial guard||Rapid as Tigers imperial guard||Brave as Tigers palace guard|
|Huangmen Shilang||黃門侍郎||Gentleman-in-Attendance of the Yellow Gates||Attendant Gentleman at the Yellow Gate||Gentleman at the Yellow Gates||Gentleman Attendant at the Palace Gate||Gentleman in Attendance at the Yellow Gates|
|Ji Duwei||騎都尉||Chief Commandant of Cavalry||Commandant of Cavalry||Commandant of Cavalry||Commandant of Cavalry||Commandant, Cavalry|
|Jijiu||祭酒||Libationer||Libationer||Libationer||Libationer; Chancellor of the National University||Libationer|
|Jianyi Dafu||諫議大夫||Grandee Remonstrant and Consultant||Grandee Remonstrant and Consultant||Counsellor Remonstrant||Grand Master of Remonstrance||Advisory Counsellor|
|Jiangzuo Dajiang||將作大匠||Court Architect||Grand Court Architect||Court Architect||Chamberlain for the Palace Buildings||Court Architect|
|Jiu Qing||九卿||Nine Ministers||Nine Ministers||Nine Ministers||Nine Chamberlains||Nine Ministers of State|
|Mu||牧||Shepherd||Shepherd||Governor||Regional Governor||Regional Commissioner|
|Puye||僕射||Supervisor||Supervisor||Deputy Director||Supervisor; Chief Administrator||Supervisor|
|San Gong||三公||Three Excellencies||Three Ducal Ministers||Three Excellencies||Three Dukes|
|Shangshu||尚書||Master of Writing||Minister of Writing||Imperial Secretariat||Chief Steward for Writing (before Emperor Wu); Imperial Secretary (after Emperor Wu)||Secretariat|
|Shaofu||少府||Privy Treasurer||Privy Treasurer||Minister of the Privy Treasury; Minister Steward||Chamberlain of the Palace Revenues||Superintendent of the Lesser Treasury|
|Shi Yushi||侍御史||Attending Secretary||Attendant Imperial Secretary||Imperial Clerk||Attendant Censor||Secretary in Attendance on the Imperial Counsellor|
|Shizhong||侍中||Palace Attendant||Palace Attendant||Palace Attendant||Palace Attendant||Palace Attendant|
|Shuiheng Duwei||水衡都尉||Chief Commandant of Waters and Parks||Chief Commandant of Water and Parks||title unused after Xin||Commandant of the Imperial Gardens||Superintendent of Waterways and Parks|
|Sikong||司空||Minister of Works||Minister of Works||Excellency of Works||Minister of Works||Imperial Counsellor|
|Sili Xiaowei||司隸校尉||Colonel Director of the Retainers||Colonel-Director of the Retainers||Director of Retainers||Metropolitan Commandant||Colonel, Internal Security|
|Situ||司徒||Minister over the Masses||Minister of the Masses||Excellency over the Masses||Minister of Education||Chancellor|
|Taichang||太常||Grand Master of Ceremonies||Grand Minister of Ceremonies||Minister of Ceremonies||Chamberlain of Ceremonials||Superintendent of Ceremonial|
|Taifu||太傅||Grand Tutor||Grand Tutor||Grand Tutor||Grand Mentor||Senior Tutor|
|Taiguan [Ling]||太官[令]||Prefect Grand Provisioner||Grand Provisioner||Court Provisioner||Provisioner|
|Taipu||太僕||Grand Coachman||Grand Keeper of Equipages||Minister Coachman||Chamberlain for the Imperial Stud||Superintendent of Transport|
|Taishi Ling||太史令||Prefect Grand Astrologer||Prefect of the Grand Clerks||Court Astronomer||Grand Astrologer||Director, Astronomy|
|Taishou||太守||Grand Administrator||Grand Administrator||Administrator||Governor; Grand Protector||Governor|
|Taiwei||太尉||Grand Commandant||Grand Commandant||Grand Commandant||Defender-in-Chief||Supreme Commander|
|Taixue||太學||Academy||Imperial University; Grand College||Imperial University||National University|
|Taiyi Ling||太醫令||Prefect Grand Physician||Prefect of the Grand Physicians||Court Physician||Imperial Physician||Director of the Physicians-in-Chief|
|Taizhong Dafu||太中大夫||Grand Palace Grandee||Grand Palace Grandee||Palace Counsellor||Superior Grand Master of the Palace||Grand Counsellor of the Palace|
|Taizi Shaofu||太子少傅||Junior Tutor of the Heir-apparent||Junior Tutor of the Heir Apparent; Lesser Tutor of the Heir Apparent||Junior Mentor of the Heir Apparent||Junior Tutor to the Heir Apparent|
|Taizi Taifu||太子太傅||Grand Tutor of the Heir-apparent||Grand Tutor of the Heir Apparent||Grand Tutor of the Heir Apparent||Grand Mentor of the Heir Apparent||Senior Tutor to the Heir Apparent|
|Tingwei||廷尉||Commandant of Justice||Commandant of Justice||Minister of Justice||Chamberlain for Law Enforcement||Superintendent of Trials|
|Weishi Ling||衛士令||Prefect of the Guards||Prefect of the Guards||Prefect of the Guards||Director of the Guardsmen|
|Weiwei||衛尉||Commandant of the Guards||Commanant of the Guards||Minister of the Guards||Chamberlain for the Palace Garrison||Superintendent of the Guards|
|Wu guan Zhonglang Jiang||五官中郎將||General of the Gentlemen-of-the-Household for All Purposes||General of the Palace Gentlemen of the Five Offices||General of the Household for All Purposes||Leader of the Court Gentlemen for Miscellaneous Uses||Leader of the Gentlemen of the Palace, all purposes|
|Xianling||縣令||Prefect||Prefect||Prefect||District Magistrate||County Magistrate|
|Xianzhang||縣長||Chief||Chief||County Magistrate||District Magistrate||County Magistrate|
|Xiangguo||相國||Chancellor of State||Chancellor of State||Chancellor of State||Counselor-in-Chief||Chancellor of State|
|Yilang||議郎||Gentleman Consultant||Gentleman-Consultant||Consultant||Court Gentleman for Consultation||Gentleman Consultant|
|You Zhonglang Jiang||右中郎將||General of the Gentlemen-of-the-Household of the Right||General of the Palace Gentlemen of the Right||General of the Household of the Right||Leader of Court Gentlemen of the Right||Leader of the Gentlemen of the Palace of the Right|
|Yulin||羽林||Feathered Forest imperial guards||The Forest of Feathers guards||Feathered Forest imperial guard||Palace Guard||Elite Yulin Corps|
|Yushi Dafu||御史大夫||Grandee Secretary||Grandee Secretary||Imperial Counsellor||Censor-in-Chief||Imperial Counsellor|
|Yushi Zhongcheng||御史中丞||Palace Assistant Secretary||Palace Assistant Imperial Secretary||Palace Assistant Imperial Clerk||Palace Aide to the Censor-in-Chief||Assistant to the Imperial Counsellor|
|Zhangshi||長史||Chief Clerk||Chief Clerk||Chief Clerk||Aide||Chief clerk|
|Zheng||正||Director||Director||Director||Director; Supervisor; Head|
|Zhijinwu||執金吾||Bearer of the Gilded Mace||Chief of Police||Bearer of the Mace||Chamberlain for the Imperial Insignia||Superintendent of the Capital|
|Zhi su Neishi||治粟內史||Clerk of the Capital for Grain||Clerk of the Capital for Supplies; Secretary of the Interior||title unused after Emperor Wu||Chamberlain for the National Treasury||Superintendent of Agriculture|
|Zhonglang Jiang||中郎將||General of the Gentlemen-of-the-Household||General of the Palace Gentlemen||General of the Household||Leader of Court Gentlemen||Leader of the Gentlemen of the Palace|
|Zhongsan Dafu||中散大夫||Palace Attendant Grandee||Palace Grandee Without Specified Appointment||Attendant Counsellor||Grand Master of Palace Leisure|
|Zhongshu||中書||Palace Writer||Palace Writer||Palace Secretary||Palace Writer|
|Zhongshu Guan||中書官||Eunuch Palace Writer|
|Zhongwei||中尉||Commandant of the Capital||Commandant of the Capital||Commandant of the Capital||Chamberlain for the Imperial Insignia||Superindendant of the Capital|
|Zhubu||主簿||Master of Records||Master of Documents||Registrar||Recorder||Registrar|
|Zongzheng||宗正||Director of the Imperial Clan||Superintendent of the Imperial Clan||Minister of the Imperial Clan||Chamberlain for the Imperial Clan||Superintendent of the Imperial Clan|
|Zuo Zhonglang Jiang||左中郎將||General of the Gentlemen-of-the-Household of the Left||General of the Palace Gentlemen of the Left||General of the Household of the Left||Leader of Court Gentlemen of the Left||Leader of the Gentlemen of the Palace of the Left|