Lai Rui-he 賴瑞和
Taibei: Lian jing chu ban shi ye gu fen you xian gong si 聯經出版事業股份有限公司, 2008. 624pp.
Reviewed by Siu Kam-wah, Joseph (D.Litt. Kyoto), Instructor I, Department of History, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Most of the general references on the political and administrative system of the T’ang dynasty present a factual account of the main agencies of the central and local government and the military system. They tend to give details on the organizational structure and prescribed functions based on the institutional history or the official history. Topical references usually deal with the development and duties of a particular agency or a specific official or type of officials and their role in the bureaucratic system and central politics in the T’ang period. However, neither reference intends to explain the significance of serving as a particular official or type of officials in the entire official career of the T’ang social elite. In this light, Rui-he Lai’s new book is a ground-breaking volume which attempts to identify the most common middle-level civilian official posts in the successful careers of the T’ang literati. The author has been researching the recurrent official career patterns of the T’ang literati for years. He is working on three monographs on the most honored civilian official posts at low, middle and high levels in order to reconstruct his so-called “career trilogy” (san bu qu) of the T’ang literati, two of which were published in 2004 and 2008 respectively. The first book, The Low-Level Civilian Officials in the T’ang Dynasty tries to recognize the most popular starting official posts for the T’ang literati who passed the civil examination, and clarify the importance of these posts in the T’ang bureaucratic system. These official posts include: (1) Editors (jiaoshu lang) and Proofreaders (zhengzi) of Department of the Palace Library (mishu sheng), Institute for the Advancement of Literature (hongwen guan), Academy of Scholarly Worthies (jixian yuan), Institute for the Veneration of Literature (chongwen guan) and Editorial Service (sijing ju) of the Heir Apparent; (2) Adjutants (canjunshi) and various Section Administrators (liecao canjunshi) of Prefecture (zhou), Superior Prefecture (fu), Princely Establishment (qinwang fu), Area Command (dudu fu) and Protectorate (duhu fu); (3) Defenders (wei), Recorders (zhubu) and Assistant Magistrates (cheng) of District (xian), as well as Inspectors (xun guan), Judges (tuiguan) and Chief Secretaries (zhangshuji) of Private Secretariat (mu fu) in the mid-late T’ang periods. The author characterizes these official posts as typical of low-level civilian officials, especially in the eras of Tian Bao (742-756) and Hui Chang (841-846).
The book reviewed here is Lai’s second book, which continues the study of his first book. It reveals the recurrent career patterns of the T’ang literati, including all important civilian official posts at low, middle and high levels. It further investigates the favorite middle-level official posts of the middle-aged literati in six chapters based on the following five sources (especially the first two sources): (1) Records of Things Heard and Seen by Mr. Feng (Feng Shi Wen Jian Ji) which describes the ideal career path to becoming Prime Minister; (2) the examination essay, “Daguan faren” by Bai Ju-yi which depicts the career path of the high ministers of rank, generals and Prime Ministers; (3) the entire career of four typical officials, Zhang Shuo, Zhang jiu-ling, Li xun and Li de-yu as shown in their biographies and tomb inscriptions; (4) the official titles often seen in Complete T’ang Poems; (5) the honored official posts with great reputation (qingwang guan) and the honored official posts (qingguan) listed in Old History of the Tang. The author classifies the popular middle-level official posts into 3 categories: (1) the central government officials: Investigating Censors (jiancha yushi), Palace Censors (dianzhong shiyushi), Attendant Censors (shi yushi) of the Censorate (yushi tai), Left and Right Reminders (shiyi) and Rectifiers of Omissions (buque) of the Secretariat (zhongshu sheng) and the Chancellery (menxia sheng), Directors (langzhong) and Vice Directors (yuanwai lang) of the twenty-six bureaus (si) of Department of State Affairs (shang shu sheng); (2) the local government officials: District Magistrates (xianling), Recorder Keepers (silu) and Administrative Supervisors (lushi canjun) and the same rank officials of prefecture, district and even the capital; (3) the private secretariat officials: Administrative Assistants (panguan) of the Private Secretariat or Counselors of Military Commissioner (jiedu shi) of the same rank.
In chapter 1, the author considers Investigating Censors, Palace Censors and Attendant Censors to be eminent official posts as they served as the informers of the emperor to supervise other officials. These official posts were usually the second or third post for the literati, but since the mid-T’ang period they became the nominal concurrent official titles of the civilian and military officials of Military Commissioners. In chapter 2, he describes Reminders and Rectifiers of Omissions as the courtiers close to the emperor which were often occupied by the literati of upright conduct and letters. They also usually appeared as the second or third posts for the literati, but they gradually degenerated into rank office after the mid-Tang. Chapter 3 shows that Directors and Vice Directors of the twenty-six bureaus of Department of State Affairs were the highest among the middle-level official posts in terms of specified number and status. The literati often served as Director or Vice Directors of low-level bureaus like Bureau of Waterways and Irrigation (shuibu) at the beginning and went up in rank to the same post of high-level bureaus like Bureau of Appointments (libu), and then finally were promoted to the high-level official posts of Department of State Affairs such as Ministers (shangshu) and Vice Ministers (shilang). They also gradually degraded into the rank office that Administrative Assistants of Military Commissioners and Salt and Iron Monopoly Commissioner (yantieshi fu) usually held concurrently in the mid-late T’ang.
Chapter 4 assesses the status of Magistrate of Imperial Districts (chixian) and Metropolitan Districts (jixian), demonstrating that the T’ang government always assigned outstanding literati who achieved good results in civil examinations or had rich official careers and high seniority to these magistrate posts. Most of them had brilliant prospects. The less outstanding literati were assigned to Magistrates of Honored Districts (wangxian), Important Districts (jinxian) and Large District with fair prospects, while those of low social standing often served as Magistrates of Middle and Small Districts which had poorer prospects. Chapter 5 points out that Administrative Supervisors were crucial staff in the prefectural administration. The posts in Jingzhao Fu, Henan Fu and Bian Prefecture had the most multifarious and important duties and were regarded as honored and favorite official posts by the literati. Outstanding literati of good social standing or with distinguished official careers, after several transfers among the low-level posts, were usually promoted to these posts. Similar to Deputy District Magistrate, the posts of Deputy Administrative Supervisor (she lushi canjun) were commonly established in the mid-late T’ang. In chapter 6, he classifies Administrative Assistants into 5 categories: (1) military commissioners, (2) finance, (3) special envoy, (4) commissioners in the capital, and (5) various palace commissioners. The first three categories were highly-respected middle-level posts for the literati, which served as a stepping stone to the high-level posts. Administrative Assistants often concurrently held some official titles in the Department of State Affairs and the Censorate to represent their official rank and promotion. Finally, the author concludes that the recurrent official career pattern of the T’ang literati, particularly their middle-level official posts, shows that the literati often transferred among the aforementioned official posts of the central and local government offices and even the private secretariats in the mid-late T’ang. A small number of literati monopolized the highest-level decision-making official posts, the most honored and important official posts and the significant official posts of prefectures and districts. They became the most powerful group among the officials.
Undoubtedly, this book presents a new perspective and innovative approach in understanding the important middle-level official posts in the entire career of the outstanding literati, and the connections among these posts. It sheds light on the ladder of success for the literati and their dominant role in the bureaucratic system of the T’ang dynasty. However, there are some misinterpretations of the primary sources quoted in the book which affect the author’s identification of the important middle-level posts and their different degrees of significance in the literati’s career. For example, he identifies five middle-level posts served by Zhang Shuo, an early T’ang Prime Minister, but misunderstands Auxiliary Right Scribe as Imperial Diarist (qiju lang) of the Chancellery. He argues that Right Scribe was not an important middle-level post considering that it was not as typical as the middle-level posts like District Magistrates, Bureau Directors and Bureau Vice Directors of Department of State Affairs and only a few literati served this post. (pp.18-19, 41-42) This is contrary to the depiction in Compendium of Administrative Law of the Six Divisions of the Tang Bureaucracy (Tang Liu Dian) and Old History of the Tang, in which Right Scribe was actually an unofficial reference to Imperial Diarists (qiju sheren) of the Secretariat in the T’ang dynasty. Like Reminders and Rectifiers of Omissions in the same institutions, both Imperial Diarists were also classified as honored official posts (qingguan) and their official ranks were even one or two numbered ranks (pin) higher than those of the former. The imperial edicts in Collection of Important Documents of the Tang (Tang Hui Yao) also tells that both Imperial Diarists were the courtiers close to the emperor and were called “qing mi” (honored and eminent official post) and placed above Reminders and Rectifiers of Omissions while having an audience with the emperor. Both Imperial Diarists of the Secretariat and the Chancellery should be regarded as important middle-level official posts.
Furthermore, the author misinterprets the words “bu ru” as redundant words in the description of the ideal career path to becoming Prime Minister in chapter 3 of Records of Things Heard and Seen by Mr. Feng and, therefore, argues that the Eight Outstanding Official Qualifications (ba jun) referred to all the sixteen officials titles listed in the description. (pp.27-30) However, a thorough examination of Feng Yan’s book, especially chapter 2, 10 indicates that “ru” and “bu ru” are his commonly-used words meaning “include” and “not include” respectively. Similarly, the words “bu ru” in the description should mean “not including”. In other words, Feng Yan considered only Metropolitan Graduate (jinshi), Editor, Metropolitan Defender (jiwei), Investigating Censors, Reminder, Bureau Vice Director of Department of State Affairs, Secretariat Drafter (zhongshu sheren), and Vice Director of the Secretariat (zhongshu shilang) as the Eight Outstanding Official Qualifications, the most important official posts at low, middle and high levels promoting to Prime Minister. The other eight “bu ru” official qualification and posts, though mostly of higher official rank, were less important and not included. The author’s misinterpretation ignores the significant difference between the two groups of officials in career importance in the eyes of the intellectuals like Feng Yan in the mid-T’ang.
The sources, especially the official careers of four typical officials on which the author based his mapping of the recurrent official posts at low, middle and high levels for the T’ang literati, can only show the important official career pattern in the period from the reign of Empress Wu (684-704) to that of Emperor Xuan-zong (847-859). These sources cannot represent the typical official career pattern in the early and late T’ang periods (618-683, 859-907). The nineteen Prime Ministers who advanced their careers mainly by literary ability and talent in the reigns of Gao-zu and Tai-zong (618-649) indicate that their important official qualification and posts before promoting to Prime Minister included: Passing Special Examination on Current Political Topics (zhiju); Secretarial Aide (jishi canjunshi), War Section Administrator (bingcao canjunshi), Levied Service Section Administrator (shicao canjunshi) of Princely Establishment of Prince Qin (qinwang fu), various Section Administrators of Area Command (zongguanfu liecao canjunshi), and Aide of Area Command (dudufu changshi) and Imperial Prefecture of Yongzhou at low level; Imperial Diarist of the Secretariat and the Chancellery, Grand Master of Remonstrance (jianyi dafu) of the Chancellery, Assistant (mishu lang) and Editorial Director (zhuzuo lang) of Department of the Palace Library, Aide (changshi) of Princely Establishment of Prince Jin, Administrative Assistant of (Superior) Area Command ((da)xingjun zongguanfu panguan) and Bureau Director of Shandong Branch Department of State Affairs (shandongdao daxingtai langzhong) at middle level; Advisor (taizi binke), Left and Right Mentor (shuzi), Supervisor (taizi zhanshi) and Vice Supervisor (taizi shaozhanshi) of the Household of the Heir Apparent, Policy Adviser of the Chancellery (sanqi changshi), Assistant Directors of the Left and Right (zuo you cheng) of Department of State Affairs, Director of Department of the Palace Library (mishu jian), Chief Minister (qing) and Vice Minister (shaoqing) of Court of Judicial Review(dali si), Aide (changshi) and Adjutant (sima) of Area Command (xingjun zongguanfu or xingjun yuanshuaifu) and Aide of Superior Area Command (dazongguanfu changshi) at high level. These posts were regarded as honored and significant official posts by the early T’ang literati, but are mostly neglected by the author. It is strongly suggested that the author might trace the evolution of the recurrent high-level official posts for the literati and provide a supplementary explanation for the significant numbers of officials at low and middle levels in different periods of the T’ang dynasty in his next book.