Zhongshu Sheng
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Literal meaningInner (or privy) secretary's department

The Zhongshu Sheng (), also known as the Palace Secretariat or Central Secretariat, was one of the departments of the Three Departments and Six Ministries government structure in imperial China from Cao Wei (220–266) until the early Ming dynasty. As one of the Three Departments, the Zhongshu Sheng was primarily a policy-formulating agency responsible for proposing and drafting all imperial decrees, but its actual function varied at different times. The department traces its origins back to the Han dynasty.


Origins: Han dynasty and Cao Wei

The Central Secretariat originated during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han (r. 141-87 BC) to handle documents. The chief steward for writing (shangshu 尚書), aided by eunuch secretary-receptionists (zhongshu yezhe 中書謁者)), forwarded documents to the inner palace. This organization was headed by a Secretariat Director (zhongshu ling 中書令) assisted by a Vice Director (zhongshu puye 中書仆射). These two posts came to assert significant political influence on the court, causing eunuchs to be forbidden from holding these posts by the end of the Western Han dynasty. This institution continued after the end of the Han dynasty into Cao Wei. Emperor Wen of Wei formally created the Central Secretariat, headed by a Secretariat Supervisor (zhongshu jian 中書監) and a Director (zhongshu ling 中書令). Although lower in rank than the Shangshu Sheng (Department of State Affairs), the personnel of the Central Secretariat worked closer to the emperor and were responsible for drafting edicts, and therefore their content. Under the Wei, the Central Secretariat was also in charge of the palace library, but this responsibility was terminated during the Jin dynasty (266–420). In the Northern and Southern dynasties, the personnel ranged from princes and high ranking family members to professional writers. The position and responsibilities of the Central Secretariat varied greatly in this period, sometimes even being put in charge of judicial and entertainment matters.[1]

Sui and Tang dynasties

The Central Region within the Yuan dynasty directly governed by the Central Secretariat.

The Central Secretariat was known by a variety of names during the Sui dynasty and Tang dynasty. The Sui called it neishisheng (內史省) or neishusheng (內書省). Emperor Gaozong of Tang (r. 618-626) called it the "Western Terrace" (xitai 西臺), Wu Zetian (regent 684-690, ruler 690-704) called it the "Phoenix Tower" (fengge 鳳閣), and Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (r. 712-755) named it the "Department of the Purple Mystery" (ziweisheng 紫微省). During the Sui-Tang period, the duty of the Central Secretariat was to read incoming material to the throne, answer questions from the emperor, and to draft imperial edicts. The Sui and Tang added posts for compilation of the imperial diary and proof-reading documents. In the Sui dynasty, the Central Secretariat Director was sometimes the same person as the Grand Chancellor (zaixiang 宰相). In the Tang, the Director was also master of court assemblies, and often where Grand Chancellors started their careers. The Central Secretariat Director took part in conferences with the emperor alongside the directors of the Department of State Affairs and the Chancellery. In the latter half of the Tang dynasty, the title of Director of the Central Secretariat was given to jiedushi (military commissioners) to give them a higher status, which deprived the title of its real value. The Hanlin Academy gained prominence as its academicians (xueshi 學士) began processing and drafting documents in place of the Central Secretariat, which allowed emperors to issue edicts without prior consultation with Secretariat staff.[2]

Song, Jin, Liao dynasties

During the early Song dynasty (960–1279), the Central Secretariat was formally demoted and its function reduced to processing less important documents like memorials, resubmitted documents, or lists of examinations. The Central Secretariat no longer had a Director and its office was merged with that of the Chancellery, called Secretariat-Chancellery (zhongshu menxia 中書門下, shortened zhongshu 中書) or Administration Chamber (zhengshitang). Drafting documents became the function of a new Document Drafting Office (sherenyuan 舍人院). A reform during the Yuanfeng reign-period (1078-1085) restored the Central Secretariat to its former functions and the Document Drafting Office was renamed the Secretariat Rear Section (zhongshu housheng 中書後省). However the title of Director remained an honorific while real leadership of the Central Secretariat went to the Right Vice Director of the Department of State Affairs (shangshu you puye 尚書右仆射, or youcheng 右丞), who also held the title of Court Gentleman of the Central Secretariat (zhongshu shilang 中書侍郎). Another Court Gentleman of the Central Secretariat managed the institution and participated in court consultations. The Rear Section was managed by a Secretariat Drafter (zhongshu sheren). The Left Vice Director (zuo puye 左仆射, or zuocheng 左丞) held the titles of Court Gentleman of the Chancellery (menxia shilang 門下侍郎) and Grand Chancellor concurrently. Policy decisions were made by the Grand Chancellor before the edicts and documents were drafted and issued. In the Southern Song period (1127-1279), the Central Secretariat was merged with the Chancellery again. The Right Vice Director became Grand Chancellor of the Right while the Court Gentleman of the Central Secretariat became Vice Grand Chancellor.[3]

The Khitan-led Liao dynasty (916–1125) had an institution similar in function to the Central Secretariat of the early Tang dynasty, called the Department of Administration (zhengshisheng 政事省). The posts of Director, Vice Director, and the drafters, were mostly held by Chinese.[4]

The Jurchen-led Jin dynasty (1115–1234) had a Central Secretariat that functioned similarly to the Song institution, but the paperwork was done by academicians rather than professional drafters. The Right Chancellor of the Central Secretariat (shangshu you chengxiang 尚書右丞相) was subordinate to the Grand Chancellor. Emperor Wanyan Liang (r. 1149-1160) abolished the institution.[5]

Yuan dynasty

The Mongol-led Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) made the Central Secretariat the central administrative office, responsible for all civil administration,[6] and abolished the Department of State Affairs in 1292 (revived 1309-1311). The post of Director was held by an imperial prince or left vacant, however real work went to the right and left Grand Chancellors. Under the Grand Chancellors were four managers of governmental affairs (pingzhang zhengshi 平章政事) and a right and left aide (you cheng 右丞, zuo cheng 左丞), who were collectively known as state counsellors (zaizhi 宰執). Below the state counsellors there were four consultants (canyi zhongshusheng shi 參議中書省事) responsible for paperwork and took part in decisions. The Central Secretariat controlled the Six Ministries and was thus functionally the heart of the government. The regions surrounding the Yuan capital Khanbaliq, including what are now Shandong, Shanxi, Hebei and Inner Mongolia provinces were known as the Central Region (腹裏, fuli) and directly subordinate to the Central Secretariat.[7] Branch secretariats were set up throughout the provinces.[8]

In the early Ming dynasty (1368–1644), the Hongwu Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang became suspicious of the chancellor Hu Weiyong and executed him in 1380. The Central Secretariat was also abolished and its functions delegated to the Hanlin Academy and Grand Secretariat.[9]

See also



  1. ^ "zhongshusheng 中書省 (www.chinaknowledge.de)".
  2. ^ "zhongshusheng 中書省 (www.chinaknowledge.de)".
  3. ^ "zhongshusheng 中書省 (www.chinaknowledge.de)".
  4. ^ "zhongshusheng 中書省 (www.chinaknowledge.de)".
  5. ^ "zhongshusheng 中書省 (www.chinaknowledge.de)".
  6. ^ Imperial China 900-1800, by Frederick W. Mote, pp. 477;–478
  7. ^ "zhongshusheng 中書省 (www.chinaknowledge.de)".
  8. ^ Duosang Mongol History, Vol. 1; Zhong-gou Tong-shi; History of Zhong-gou Border Nationalities; The New Yuan-shih
  9. ^ "neige 内閣 (www.chinaknowledge.de)".