Three Departments and Six Ministries system ( )
was the main central administrative system adopted in ancient
The system first took shape after the
Western Han Dynasty
AD), was officially instituted in Sui
(589-618 AD), and matured during Tang Dynasty
(618–907 AD). It replaced the
Three Lords and Nine
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
- 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
BC–220 AD). The Han government adopted the so-called Three Lords and Nine
system led by the Chancellor
, the head of all civil
service officials. After emperor
(156–87 BC), however, the Chancellor gradually lost his
power. At the beginning of Cao Wei
secretarial institution was established to assist the emperor,
which was later expanded and renamed as the Secretariat.
- Li, 130.
- Hucker, 32.
- Hucker, 33.
- Hucker, 33–35.
- Hucker, 35.
- Hucker, 36.
- Lu, 235.
- Hucker, Charles O. "Governmental Organization of The Ming
Dynasty," Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies (Volume 21,
December 1958): 1–66.