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The Three Departments and Six Ministries system ( ) was the main central administrative system adopted in ancient Chinamarker. The system first took shape after the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-24 AD), was officially instituted in Sui Dynasty (589-618 AD), and matured during Tang Dynasty (618–907 AD). It replaced the Three Lords and Nine Ministers system that was instituted in Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC). The three departments were the Secretariat (中書省), the Chancellery (門下省, also translated as "Edict Examination Bureau"), and the Department of State Affairs (尚書省), while the six ministries referred to the Ministry for Personnel (吏部), Revenue (戶部), Rites (禮部), War (兵部), Justice (刑部) and Works (工部).


Under this system, the Department of State Affairs, which controlled the six ministries, was the highest executive institution of the imperial government. The Secretariat was the main policy-formulating agency that was responsible for proposing and drafting all imperial decrees. The main function of the Chancellery was to advise the emperor and the Secretariat. The head of the Secretariat or the Department of State Affairs was generally referred to as the Chancellor, next only to the emperor in rank and power.

The six ministries were direct administrative organs of the state, and each was headed by a Minister (尚書) who was assisted by a Vice Minister (侍郎):
  • The Ministry of Personnel was in charge of appointments, merit ratings, promotions, and demotions of officials, as well as granting of honorific titles.
  • The Ministry of Revenue was in charge of gathering census data, collecting taxes, and handling state revenues, while there were two offices of currency that were subordinate to it.
  • The Ministry of Rites was in charge of state ceremonies, rituals, and sacrifices; it also oversaw registers for Buddhist and Daoist priesthoods and even the reception of envoys from tributary states.
  • The Ministry of War was in charge of the appointments, promotions, and demotions of military officers, the maintenance of military installations, equipment, and weapons, as well as the courier system.
  • The Ministry of Justice was in charge of judicial and penal processes, but had no supervisory role over the Censorate or the Grand Court of Revision.
  • The Ministry of Works was in charge of government construction projects, hiring of artisans and laborers for temporary service, manufacturing government equipment, the maintenance of roads and canals, standardization of weights and measures, and the gathering of resources from the countryside.


The origin of the Three Departments and Six Ministries system can be traced as far as the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD). The Han government adopted the so-called Three Lords and Nine Ministers system led by the Chancellor, the head of all civil service officials. After emperor Wu (156–87 BC), however, the Chancellor gradually lost his power. At the beginning of Cao Wei, a secretarial institution was established to assist the emperor, which was later expanded and renamed as the Secretariat.

See also


  1. Li, 130.
  2. Hucker, 32.
  3. Hucker, 33.
  4. Hucker, 33–35.
  5. Hucker, 35.
  6. Hucker, 36.
  7. Lu, 235.


  • Hucker, Charles O. "Governmental Organization of The Ming Dynasty," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Volume 21, December 1958): 1–66.

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