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The grand councilor, also translated as counselor-in-chief, chancellor, chief councillor, chief minister, imperial chancellor, lieutenant chancellor and prime minister – was the highest-ranking executive official in the imperial Chinese government. The term was known by many different names throughout Chinese history, and the exact extent of the powers associated with the position fluctuated greatly, even during a particular dynasty.
In the Spring and Autumn period, Guan Zhong was the first chancellor in China, who became chancellor under the state of Qi in 685 BC. In Qin, during the Warring States period, the chancellor was officially established as "the head of all civil service officials." There were sometimes two chancellors, differentiated as being "of the left" (senior) and "of the right" (junior). After emperor Qin Shi Huang ended the Warring States period by establishing the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC), the chancellor, together with the imperial secretary, and the grand commandant, were the most important officials in the imperial government, generally referred as the Three Lords.
In 1 BC, during the Emperor Ai, the title was changed to da si tu (大司徒). In the Eastern Han dynasty, the chancellor post was replaced by the Three Excellencies: Grand Commandant (太尉), Minister over the Masses (司徒) and Minister of Works (司空). In 190, Dong Zhuo claimed the title "Chancellor of State" (相國) under the powerless Emperor Xian of Han, placing himself above the Three Excellencies. After Dong Zhuo's death in 192, the post was vacant until Cao Cao restored the position as "imperial chancellor" (丞相) and abolished the Three Excellencies in 208. From then until March 15, 220, the power of chancellor was greater than that of the emperor. Later this often happened when a dynasty became weak, usually some decades before the fall of a dynasty.
During the Sui dynasty, the executive officials of the three highest departments of the empire were called "chancellors" (真宰相) together. In the Tang dynasty, the government was divided into three departments: the Department of State Affairs (尚書省), the Secretariat (中書省), and the Chancellery (門下省). The head of each department was generally referred to as the chancellor.
In the Song dynasty, the post of chancellor was also known as the "Tongpingzhangshi" (同平章事), in accordance with late-Tang terminology, while the vice-chancellor was known as the jijunsi. Some years later, the post of chancellor was changed to "prime minister" (首相 shou xiang) and the post of vice-chancellor was changed to "second minister" (次相 ci xiang). In the late Southern Song dynasty, the system changed back to the Tang naming conventions.
During the Mongol-founded Yuan dynasty, the chancellor was not the head of the Secretariat, but the Crown Prince (皇太子) was. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty, the post became the head of the Zhongshu Sheng again. The post was after the execution of Hu Weiyong, who was accused of treason (though his conviction is still strongly disputed in present times because of a lack of evidence to prove his guilt). Still, appointments of the people who held the highest post in the government were called "appointment of prime minister" (拜相) until 1644.
List of chancellors of China
List of chancellors of Shang dynasty
|Pinyin (Romanization)||Chinese Characters|
- Jiang Ziya
- Duke of Zhou
- Duke Huan of Zheng
- Duke Zhuang of Zheng
- Guan Zhong of Qi State (died in 645 BC)
- Bao Shuya of Qi State
- Yan Ying of Qi State
- Fan Li of Qi State
- Wu Zixu of Wu State
- Bo Pi of Wu State
- Cheng Dechen of Chu State
- Sunshu Ao of Chu State
- Wu Qi of Chu State
- Lord Chunshen of Chu State
- Lord Mengchang of Qi State
- Tian Dan of Qi State
- Li Kui (legalist) of Wei State
- Hui Shi of Wei State
- Lin Xiangru of Zhao State
- Su Qin of Yan State
- Yue Yi of Yan State
- Baili Xi of Qin State
- Shang Yang of Qin State
- Zhang Yi (Warring States period) of Qin State
List of chancellors of Qin dynasty since 251 BC
|#||Name||Took Office||Left Office|
|1||Lü Buwei||251 BC||235 BC|
|2||Li Si||235 BC||208 BC|
|3||Zhao Gao||208 BC||207 BC|
- Xiao He (206 BC–193 BC in office)
- Cao Shen (193 BC–190 BC in office)
- Chen Ping (190 BC–179 BC in office)
- Zhou Bo
- Guan Ying
- Zhou Yafu
- Huo Guang
- Shi Dan 史丹 (see Emperor Yuan of Han)
- Wang Mang
- Liu Yan (Bosheng)
- Deng Yu (25–27 in office)
- Wu Han (Han dynasty)
- Yuan An
- Dou Xian
- Li Gu (Han dynasty)
- Liang Ji
- Dou Wu
- Chen Fan
- Qiao Xuan
- Cao Song
- Zhang Wen (Han dynasty)
- Liu Yu (warlord)
- Dong Zhuo
- He Jin
- Wang Yun (Han dynasty)
- Ma Midi
- Xun Shuang
- Huangfu Song
- Zhu Jun (Han dynasty)
- Cao Cao (July 9, 208 – March 15, 220 in office)
- Cao Pi
- Sun Shao (221–225 of Eastern Wu)
- Gu Yong (225–243 of Eastern Wu)
- Lu Xun (244–245 of Eastern Wu)
- Bu Zhi (246–247 of Eastern Wu)
- Zhu Ju (249–250 of Eastern Wu)
- Sun Jun (253–256 of Eastern Wu)
- Sun Chen (258 of Eastern Wu)
- Puyang Xing (262–264 of Eastern Wu)
- Zhang Ti (279–280 of Eastern Wu)
- Zhuge Liang (221–234 of Shu Han)
- Jiang Wan (of Shu Han)
- Fei Yi (of Shu Han)
- Dong Yun (of Shu Han)
- Jiang Wei (of Shu Han)
- Dong Jue (of Shu Han)
- Fan Jian (of Shu Han)
- Zhuge Zhan (of Shu Han)
- Jia Xu (of Cao Wei)
- Hua Xin (of Cao Wei)
- Zhong Yao (of Cao Wei)
- Wang Lang (of Cao Wei)
- Chen Qun (of Cao Wei)
- Dong Zhao (Three Kingdoms) (of Cao Wei)
- Cui Lin (of Cao Wei)
- Man Chong (of Cao Wei)
- Jiang Ji (of Cao Wei)
- Cao Shuang (of Cao Wei)
- Sima Yi (of Cao Wei)
- Gao Rou (of Cao Wei)
- Wang Ling (Three Kingdoms) (of Cao Wei)
- Zhuge Dan (of Cao Wei)
- Sun Li (general) (of Cao Wei)
- Sima Shi (of Cao Wei)
- Sima Zhao (of Cao Wei)
- Sima Fu (of Cao Wei)
- Wang Chang (Three Kingdoms) (of Cao Wei)
- Wang Guan (Cao Wei) (of Cao Wei)
- Deng Ai (of Cao Wei)
- Zhong Hui (of Cao Wei)
- Sima Yan (of Cao Wei)
- Wang Xiang (of Cao Wei)
- Sima Wang (of Cao Wei)
- Gao Jiong
- Li Delin
- Su Wei (politician)
- Yang Su
- Yang Guang
- Yang Xiu (Sui dynasty)
- Yang Zhao
- Yang Jian (Sui prince)
- Xiao Cong
- Yuwen Shu
- Yu Shiji
- Li Yuan
- Yuwen Huaji
- Wang Shichong
- Li Mi (Sui dynasty)
- Fang Xuanling (626–648 in office)
- Wei Zheng (629–643 in office)
- Fan Lübing (686–688 in office)
- Di Renjie (691–693, 697–700 in office)
- Yao Chong (698–705, 710–711, 713–716 in office)
- Zhang Jiuling (733–736 in office)
- Li Linfu (734–752 in office)
- Yang Guozhong (752–756 in office)
- Wang Wei (758–759 in office)
- Li Deyu (833–835, 840–846 in office)
- Cen Wenben (unknown, under Emperor Taizong of Tang)
- Cen Changqian (unknown, under Emperor Gaozong of Tang)
- Cen Xi (unknown, under Emperor Shang of Tang, Emperor Ruizong of Tang and Emperor Xuanzong of Tang)
- Fan Zhi (-964 in office)
- Zhao Pu (964–973, 981–983, 988–992 in office)
- Kou Zhun (1004–1006, 1017–1021 in office)
- Fan Zhongyan (1040–1045 in office)
- Wang Anshi (1070–1075, 1076–1085 in office)
- Sima Guang (1085–1086 in office)
- Fan Chunren (1086– in office)
- Fan Chunli (– in office)
- Zhang Dun (1094–1100 in office)
- Cai Jing (1101–1125 in office)
- Li Gang (1127 in office)
- Zhang Jun (1135–1137 in office)
- Qin Hui (1137–1155 in office)
- Han Tuozhou 韩侂胄
- Shi Miyuan/Shih Mi-yüan 史彌遠 (1164–1233, served 1208–33).
- Jia Sidao (in office 1259–75)
- Chen Yizhong 陳宜中 vs Wen Tianxiang (1236–1283)
- Lu Xiufu
Note: after the death of Hu Weiyong, there is no chancellor carrying the title primary minister. Grand secretaries became de facto chancellors after Xuande emperor
- Li Shanchang
- Hu Weiyong (?–1380) – The last chancellor of China
- Yang Siqi
- Yan Song (in office 1544–1545)
- Xia Yan (in office 1546–1547)
- Yan Song (2nd time in office 1548–1562)
- Xu Jie
- Gao Gong
- Zhang Juzheng (in office 1572–1582)
- Zhang Siwei
The Qing dynasty bureaucratic hierarchy did not contain a chancellor position. Instead, the duties normally assumed by a chancellor was instead entrusted to a series of formal and informal institutions, the most prominent of which was the Grand Council. Occasionally, however, one minister may so dominate the government that he comes to be identified, figuratively, as the "chancellor". One example in the late Qing dynasty was Li Hongzhang.
In 1911, the Qing court adopted reforms which, amongst other changes, established the position of Premier. This position existed for less than a year before the Qing government was overthrown.
Premiers after 1911
- Chancellor of Tang Dynasty
- Menxia Sheng
- List of Premiers of China
- Imperial examination
- Chinese Law
- (Chinese) Guan Zhong Memorial Opened in Linzi, Xinhuanet, September 19, 2004.
- Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. North-China Branch (1876). Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 10. SHANGHAI: The Branch. p. 85. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
- Li (2007), 75.
- Wang (1949), 144.
- (Chinese) Chancellor of China, Sina.com.
- Book of the Later Han Vol.72; Records of Three Kingdoms Vol. 6.
- Records of Three Kingdoms Vol. 1.
- (Chinese) The History of the Chancellor System in China.
- (Chinese) Tong Zhongshu Menxia Pingzhangshi, Encyclopedia of China.
- (Chinese) "Chancellor in the Song Dynasty"
- (Chinese) The Change of Central Administration in Tang and Song Dynasties.
- (Chinese) The History of Chancellor of China, QQ.com.
- This article incorporates text from Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 10, by Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. North-China Branch, a publication from 1876 now in the public domain in the United States.
- Li, Konghuai (2007). History of Administrative Systems in Ancient China (in Chinese). Joint Publishing (H.K.) Co., Ltd. ISBN 978-962-04-2654-4.
- Wang, Yü-Ch'üan (June 1949). "An Outline of The Central Government of The Former Han Dynasty". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 12 (1/2): 134–187. doi:10.2307/2718206.