Commandery (China)

For other uses, see Commandery.

The commandery (Chinese: , p jùn, w chün), also translated as prefecture, was a historical administrative division of China from the Zhou dynasty (c. 7th century BCE) until the early Tang (c. 7th century CE).

History and development


Zhou dynasty

During the later Zhou's Spring and Autumn period from the 8th to 5th centuries BCE, the larger and more powerful of the Zhou's vassal statesincluding Qin, Jin and Weibegan annexing their smaller rivals. These new lands were not part of their original fiefs and were instead organized into counties (xiàn).[1] Eventually, commanderies were developed as marchlands between the major realms. Despite having smaller populations and ranking lower on the official hierarchies, the commanderies were larger and boasted greater military strength than the counties.

As each state's territory gradually took shape in the 5th- to 3rd-century BCE Warring States period, the commanderies at the borders flourished. This gave rise to a two-tier administrative system with counties subordinate to commanderies. Each of the states' territories was by now comparatively larger, hence there was no need for the military might of a commandery in the inner regions where counties were established. The border commanderies' military and strategic significance became more important than those of counties.[2]

Qin dynasty

Following the unification of China in 221 BCE under the Qin Empire, the Qin government still had to engage in military activity because there were rebels from among the six former states who were unwilling to submit to Qin rule. As a result, the First Emperor set up 36 commanderies in the Qin Empire, each subdivided into counties. This established the first two-tier administrative system known to exist in China.

Han dynasty and Three Kingdoms period

When the Han dynasty triumphed over Chu in 206 BCE, the Zhou feudal system was initially reinstated, with Emperor Gao recognizing nearly independent kings and granting large territories to his relatives. These two sets of kingdoms were placed under hereditary rulers assisted by a chancellor (xiàng). Parallel to these, some Qin commanderies were continued, placed under a governor appointed directly by the central government.

Over the first three centuries CE, during the Eastern Han dynasty and Three Kingdoms period, the commanderies were subordinated to a new provincial division, the zhōu.[3] Based upon legendary accounts of the Yellow Emperor's Nine Provinces, there were usually 13 zhōu and many more commanderies.

Jin dynasty and the Southern and Northern Dynasties

During the following five centuries, during the Jin and Southern and Northern Dynasties period, the number of administrative districts were increased and a three-tier systemcomposed of provinces, commanderies, and countieswas established. To limit the power of any one local lord, China was divided into more than 200 provinces, 600 commanderies, and 1,000 counties. Each province consisted of two or three commanderies and each commandery had two or three counties under its jurisdiction.

Sui and Tang dynasties

During the reign of Emperor Wen of the Sui (581–618), the commandery level of the administration was temporarily abolished.

After the Tang was established in 618, the former commanderies became prefectures but were referred to as zhōu. Emperor Xuanzong reversed these changes during his reign from 712 to 756. From then on, the term jùn was no longer used in the administrative division system. After Emperor Suzong ascended the throne in 756, he changed commanderies back to prefectures.


When Taiwan was under Japanese rule, senior officials in charge of administrative subdivisions were known as junshous from 1920 to 1945. By the end of 1945, there were 51 commanderies in Taiwan.

Administrative hierarchy

In the Warring States period, the chief administrative officers of the areas were known as commandery administrators (郡守, jùnshǒu). In the Han dynasty, the position of junshou was renamed grand administrator (太守, tàishǒu). Both terms are also translated as "governor". A grand administrator drew an annual salary of 2,000 dan (石) of grain according to the pinzhi (品秩, pǐnzhì) system of administrative rank. Many former grand administrators were promoted to the posts of the Three Ducal Ministers or Nine Ministers later in their careers.

See also


  1. Lü, Simian (2009). "Geography of the Later Han (后汉的地理)". History of the Three Kingdoms (三国史话) (in Chinese). China: Zhonghua Publishing House (中华书局). ISBN 9787101066890.
  2. Shi Ji vol. 71.
  3. de Crespigny, Rafe (2004). "The government and geography of the northern frontier of Late Han". The government and geography of the northern frontier of Late Han. Australian National University. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
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