The commandery (Chinese: 郡; pinyin: jùn), also known as prefecture, was a historical administrative division of China from the time of the Zhou Dynasty (1046–256 BCE) until the early Tang Dynasty (618–907CE).
History and development
During the Spring and Autumn Period (771–406 BCE), the largest and most powerful of the Zhou Dynasty vassal states including the states of Qin, Jin and Wei began to absorb their smaller neighbours. As these lands were not part of their original enfeoffments, they were instead established as counties or xiàn (simplified Chinese: 县; traditional Chinese: 縣). In the later stages of this period, with increasing territorial expansion, each state began to set up commanderies in their border regions. These were larger than counties but contained fewer people. A commandery ranked lower in the administrative hierarchy but their military strength and importance exceeded that of any county.
As each state's territory gradually took shape in the Warring States period (406–221BCE) the border regions with their commanderies flourished. This gave rise to a two tier administrative system with counties subordinate to commanderies. Each of the warring states' territories was by now comparatively large with no need for the military might of a commandery in the interior where counties were established. The border commanderies' military objectives and their value to the state were now greater than those of a county.
Qin and Han Dynasty
After Qin Shi Huang united China in 221 BCE, the populations of the six defeated states did not fully accept Qin Dynasty authority so a continuing military occupation was required. As a result, Qin Shi Huang set up 36 commanderies in his new empire each with their own county divisions. This was the first two tier administrative system to exist in China.
When the Qin Dynasty was replaced by the Western Han in 206 BCE, the system of enfeoffment was reinstated to a limited degree when Liu Bang, its founder, enfeoffed a group of his generals and relatives. The two-tier system was retained, however, so the feudal state (国) was equal to the commandery, except for its ruler being hereditary rather than appointed by the central government.
In the final years of the Eastern Han Dynasty and at the beginning of the Three Kingdoms Period around 210 CE, of the original administrative districts only 13 provinces (zhōu) existed as first tier territories with commanderies relegated to second place in the administrative hierarchy. During the following Jin (265–420 CE) and Southern and Northern Dynasties (420–589 CE), the number of administrative districts greatly increased thereby establishing the three tier province/commandery/county system (州/郡/县) with the whole of China divided into more than 200 provinces, 600 commanderies and 1000 counties. Each province consisted of between two and three commanderies and each commandery two or three counties with the significance of the commandery in reality irrelevant.
Following the reign of the first Sui Dynasty Emperor Wen of Sui all commanderies were abolished to be replaced by a two tier province and county system (州/郡). Once the Tang Dynasty came to power commanderies became prefectures (still referred to as zhōu 州) in Chinese. Later on during the reign of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (r. 712–756 CE) reversed the previous change. This was the last time that the word "commandery" was used for an administrative division. When Xuanzong's son Li Heng ascended the throne as Emperor Suzong of Tang (r. 756–762) commanderies once more became prefectures.
During the Warring States Period heads of commanderies were high level officials known as Jùn Shŏu (Chinese: 郡守). The name changed to Tài Shŏu (Chinese: 太守) during the Three Kingdoms period at which time the post carried an annual salary of 2,000 dàn (石) or Chinese bushels of grain according to the Pinzhi System (Chinese: 品秩; pinyin: pǐnzhì) of administrative rank. Tài Shŏu was an important position with officials frequently transferring to and from posts as one of the Three Councillors of State or Nine Ministers.
In Taiwan during the Japanese Occupation from 1920 until 1945, senior officials in charge of administrative subdivisions were also known as Jùn Shŏu, By the end of World War II there were 51 commanderies on the island.
This article is based on a translation of 郡 in Chinese Wikipedia.