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Classical Historiography for Chinese History

Research guide for Chinese Historiography

Buddhist titles

  • Ch'en, Kenneth. Buddhism in China. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1964.
  • ---. The Chinese Transformation of Buddhism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1973.
  • Ding Fubao 丁 福 保 , compiler. Fo xue da ci dian 佛 學 大 辭 典 . Shanghai: Shanghai yi xue shu ju, 1921.
  • Zanning 贊 寧 (919-1001). Da Song seng shi lue 大 宋 僧 史 略 (The Essential History of Great-Song Monks). Reprint Taibei: Xin wen feng, 1977; Shanghai: Shanghai gu ji chu ban she, 1997(?).


  • Hucker, Charles O. A Dictionary of Official Titles in Imperial China. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985. The high quality and reliability of Hucker as a single source for all of imperial China, which is also clear about historical changes, obviates--except for the Yuan dynasty--the need for using the guides listed below for individual dynasties. The latter produce idiosyncratic results for the same title, even though there was no change in the function it describes. Several of those listed below for Yuan, however, are not obsolete. The Yuan poses particular problems due to the nature of its dual Sino-Mongolian rule, its civil service, and its odd titles for sub-official functions.
  • Li dai zhi guan biao 歷 代 職 官 表 (Tables of official positions throughout the dynasties)--see the note at end of this section.
  • Zhong guo li dai guan zhi da ci dian 中 國 歷 代 官 職 大 詞 典 (Greater dictionary of Chinese official offices throughout the dynasties), compiled by Lu Zongli 呂 宗 力. Beijing: Beijing chu ban she, 1995. ISBN 7-200-01635-7/2-170.

Qin (221-206 BCE) and Han (206 BCE-220 CE)

  • Bielenstein, Hans. The Bureaucracy of Han Times. Cambridge University Press, 1975.
  • Creel, Herrlee G. The Origins of Statecraft in China. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970.
  • Chavannes, Edouard. Les memoires historiques de Se-ma Ts'ien, Vol. II, Appendice I, pp. 513-533. This appendix describes governmental organization in Ch'in and Han times, but it is rather sketchy and often fails to translate the titles mentioned.
  • De Crespigny, Rafe. Official Titles of the Former Han Dynasty. Canberra: Australia National University Press, 1967.
  • Dubs, Homer H. History of the Former Han Dynasty. This work represents the most comprehensive treatment of Han official titles, but, unfortunately, only three of the projected five volumes have been published. Therefore the index is still missing. However, an index to the titles mentioned in the first three voulmes has been prepared by Rafe De Crespigny, Official Titles of the Former Han Dynasty (Canberra: Australian National University Press, 1967). Another key is to consult the Harvard-Yenching Sinological Index Series, No. 36 漢 書 及 補 注 綜 合 引 得 and compare its entries with Dub's translation.
  • Wang Yu ch'uan. "An Outline of the Central Government of the Former Han Dynasty." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, XII (1949), pp. 134-187. Discusses function as well as organization.

There are a number of specialized works such as Nancy Lee Swann, Food and Money in Ancient China and A. F. P. Hulsewe, Remnants of Han Law , which are very useful in that they frequently include the translation and discussion of titles not mentioned in Dub's works.

  • Swann, Nancy Lee. Food and Money in Ancient China: The Earliest Economic History of China to AD 25, Han Shu 24, with Related Texts Han Shu 91 and Shih-chi 129. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1950.
  • Hulselwe, A.F.P. Remnants of Han Law. Leiden: Brill, 1955.

Period of Disunion (220-581 CE)

There is no general aid which provides translations of titles for this period, but they more or less followed those of the Han and in turn served as a basis for those of the Tang. There are a number of translations (See Hans H. Frankel,   Catalog of Translations from the Chinese Dynastic Histories   for the period 220-960. ) including the following, which are of some assistance:

  • Balazs, Etienne. Le traite economique du "Souei-Chou." Leiden: Brill, 1953.
  • ---. Le traite juridique du "Souei-Chou." Leiden, Brill, 1954.
  • Bingham, Woodbridge. The Founding of the Tang Dynasty: The Fall of Sui and Rise of Tang, a Preliminary Survey. See especially Appendix C, "Outline of Sui Government, 607-618," pp. 127-129.
  • Fang, Achilles, trans. The Chronicle of the Three Kingdoms (220-265). Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1952-65. Not much help.

Tang (618-907 CE)

  • des Rotours, Robert. Traite des fonctionnaires et traite de l'armee, traduit de la Nouvelle histoire des T'ang (chap. XLVI-L) par Robert des Rotours. 2 vols. Leyde: E. J. Brill, 1947. Thoroughly annotated translation of treatises from the Xin Tang shu on the civil government and military establishment.
  • des Rotours, Robert. Le traite des examens, traduit de la Nouvelle histoire des T'ang (chap. XLIV, XLV) par Robert des Rotours. Paris: E. Leroux, 1932.Contains further discussions of the offices outlined in the above.
  • Kroll, Paul. "Basic Data on Reign Dates and Local Government." T'ang Studies 5 1987, 95-104.

There are also many special works such as Bernard S. Solomon's translation of the Veritable Record of the Tang Emperor Shun-tsung, Edwin G. Pulleyblank'sThe Background of the Rebellion of An Lu-shan, and Denis Twitchett's Financial Administration under the Tang Dynasty which are also of considerable help.

  • Pulleybank, Edwin G. The Background of the Rebellion of An Lu-shan. London: Oxford University Press, 1955.
  • Solomon, Bernard S., trans. Veritable Record of the Tang Emperor Shun-tsung. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1955.
  • Twichett, Denis. Financial Administration under the Tang Dynasty. Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970

Five Dynasties (907-960 CE) and Liao (907-1126 CE)

The Five Dynasties generally continued the system of the Tang so the work of Robert des Rotours is largely valid for this period. Additional help can be obtained from such works as the two studies of Edward Schafer, The Empire of Min and "The History of the Empire of Southern Han,", and Wang Gungwu'sThe Structure of Power in North China during the Five Dynasties.

  • Schafer, Edward. The Empire of Min. Rutland, Vermont: Published for Harvard-Yenching Institute by C.E. Tuttle, 1954.
  • ---. "The History of the Empire of Southern Han," pp. 339-269 in Soritsu Nijugoshunen Kinen Ronbunshu; Silver Jubilee Volume of the Zinbun kagaku kenkyusyo, Kyoto University. Kyoto: Kyoto Daigaku Jinbun Kagaku Kenkyujo, 1954.
  • Wang Gunwu. The Structure of Power in North China During the Five Dynasties. Kuala Lumpur: University of Malaya Press, 1963. Reprint Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1967.

The Liao is covered by Karl A. Wittfogel and Feng Chia-hsiang in their History of Chinese Society: Liao (907-1125).

Song (960--1279 CE)

  • Chang Fu-jui. Les fonctionnaires des Song, index des titres. Paris: Mouton et Compagnie, 1962. This is a comprehensive study.
  • Kracke, Edward A. Jr. Civil Service in Early Song China, With Particular Emphasis on the Development of Controlled Sponsorship to Foster Administrative Responsibility. This work serves as a valuable supplement to that of Chang. Titles have been published separately.
  • ---. Translation of Song Civil Service Titles. Paris: Ecoles Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Centre de Recherches Historiques, 1957.
  • ---. Translation of Song Civil Service Titles, Classification Terms, and Governmental Organ Names. San Francisco: Chinese Materials Center, 1978.

Jin (1115-1234 CE) and Yuan (1271-1368 CE)

Again there are no works which generally treat the titles of these periods. This is unfortunate because there tends to be a greater degree of variation than is usual for succeeding periods. For the Jin some comparison with Wittfogel and Feng is helpful. For the Yuan consult particularly Endicott-West and Rachewiltz below:

  • Ch'en, Paul Heng-chao Chinese Legal Tradition Under the Mongols. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979.
  • Endicott-West, Elizabeth, Mongolian Rule in China. Local Administration in the Yuan Dynasty. Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University: Harvard-Yenching Institute, 1989.
  • Farquhar, David, The Government of China under Mongolian Rule (Franz Steiner Verlag, 1990).
  • Hucker, Charles O. "The Yuan Contribution to Censorial History." Bulletin of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, extra vol. no. 4 (1960), 219-227.
  • Rachewiltz, Igor de, et al. In the Service of the Khan: Eminent Personalities of the Early Mongol-Yuan Period (1200-1300). Asiatische Forschungen, 121. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1993. 37 biographies, some of small groups, extensive biography, 4 indexes.
  • Schurmann, Herbert F. Economic Structure of the Yuan Dynasty. Harvard-Yenching Institute Studies. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1956.
  • Ratchnevsky, Paul Un code des Yuan. 4 vols. Paris: College de France, 1972-85.
  • David Farquhar, The Government of China under Mongolian Rule (Franz Steiner Verlag, 1990).

Ming (1368-1644 CE)

  • Hucker, Charles O. "Governmental Organization of the Ming Dynasty." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, XXI (1958), 1-66.
  • ---. "An Index of Terms and Titles in 'Governmental Organization of the Ming Dynasty.'" Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, XXIII (1960-61), 127-151.
  • These two aids are not as complete as those of des Rotours and Chang Fu-jui.

Qing (1644-1911 CE)

  • Brunnert, S., & V. V. Hagelstrom. Present Day Political Organization of China. First edition 1910. Second edition. Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh, 1911. Reprint Taibei: Cheng wen, 1971. This is the most comprehensive aid for the Qing, but it is more difficult to use than the above.
  • Mayers, William Frederick. The Chinese Government: A Manual of Chinese titles Categorically Arranged and Explained, with an Appendix. First Edition Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press and London: Tribner, 1878. Third Edition. Shanghai: Kelly and Walsh, 1897. Reprint Taibei: Cheng wen, 1970. This is a very convenient aid. The first edition was published in 1877, the last in 1897. Therefore it reflects the situation existing before the changes introduced after the failure of the Boxers. It is not as complete as the next item.
  • Zhu, Ao 朱鳌 . Qing dai da xue shi bu yuan da chen zong du xun fu quan lu 清 代大学士部院大臣总督巡抚全录 (yuan zhu Zhu Pengshou 原著朱彭寿; gai bian zheng li Zhu Ao, Song Lingzhu 改编整理朱鳌, 宋苓珠. Edition: Di 1 ban.  第1版. Published/Created: Beijing Shi : Guo jia tu shu guan chu ban she, 2010.  北京市 : 国家图书馆出版社, 2010.
  • Note: All of these aids should be used in conjunction with the primary Chinese aid, Li dai zhi guan biao 歷 代 職 官 表 (Tables of official positions throughout the dynasties) in 72 juan compiled under imperial auspices by Ji Yun 紀 昀 and others. The work, ordered in 1780, consists of a comprehensive set of tables of Chinese of official titles from the ancient San-tai period through the Ming arranged under the different boards, bureaux, and departments of the Qing government of the time of compilation. There is one table for each department of government. The title of the highest official in the department appears first followed by the titles of other officials connected with it in order to rank. After each table material is presented on changes in rank and title in that particular branch of government during the different periods as well as material concerning changes in fuction. Unfortunately, the work is marred by some mistakes and omissions. It has been reprinted in both the Si bu bei yao 四 部 備 要 and Guo xue ji ben cong shu 國 學 基 本 叢 書 . There is also an abridged version in 6 juan which bears the same title but contains only the bare tables. In 1965 the Zhonghua shu ju 中 華 書 局 in Shanghai published a Li dai zhi guan biao based on this work. In addition to reproducing the tables, however, it also provides an extensive introduction to the traditional official system, a separate section on the history and function of the various offices arranged according to number of strokes, and four-coner index. The index also has attached to it a total stroke and pinyinromanization key.