The commandery (Chinese: 郡; pinyin: jùn), also translated as prefecture, was a historical administrative division of China from the Zhou dynasty (1046–256 BCE) until the early Tang dynasty (618–907 CE).
History and development
During the Spring and Autumn period (771–406 BCE), the larger and more powerful of the Zhou dynasty's vassal states, including Qin, Jin and Wei, began absorbing their smaller neighbours. As these lands were not part of their original enfeoffments, they were instead established as counties (simplified Chinese: 县; traditional Chinese: 縣; pinyin: xiàn). In the later stages of this period, with increasing territorial expansion, each state began to set up commanderies at their borders. These commanderies were larger than counties but had smaller populations than counties. A commandery ranked lower in the administrative hierarchy but its military strength and importance exceeded that of a county.
As each state's territory gradually took shape in the Warring States period (406–221 BCE), 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 objectives and value to the state were now greater than those of counties.
Following the unification of China in 221 BCE under the Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE), the Qin government still had to engage in military activity because there were people from the former six states (which were conquered by Qin) who were unwilling to submit to Qin rule. As a result, the first Qin emperor, Qin Shi Huang, set up 36 commanderies in the Qin Empire, with each subdivided into counties. This was the first two-tier administrative system to exist in China.
Han dynasty and Three Kingdoms period
When the Qin dynasty was replaced by the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE) in 206 BCE, the system of enfeoffment was reinstated to a limited degree when the first Han ruler, Emperor Gao, awarded land and nobility titles to some of his relatives and subjects. The two-tier system was retained, except that there were differences between a commandery and a "state". The highest administrative officer in a commandery was an Administrator (Chinese: 太守; pinyin: tàishǒu) who was appointed by the central government. A state, on the other hand, was governed by a hereditary ruler who was assisted by a Chancellor (Chinese: 相; pinyin: xiàng). Depending on the grade of the nobility title held by the state's ruler, the state could be either a vassal kingdom, a principality, a dukedom, a marquisate, and so on.
In the Eastern Han dynasty and Three Kingdoms period (220–280), the commandery were relegated to the second place in the administrative hierarchy after the province (Chinese: 州; pinyin: zhōu) was elevated to the first tier. There were 13 provinces at the time.
Jin dynasty, and Southern and Northern Dynasties era
During the following Jin dynasty (265–420) and the Southern and Northern Dynasties period (420–589), the number of administrative districts were increased and a three-tier system – composed of provinces, commanderies and counties – was established. 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
After the Tang dynasty (618–907) was established, the former commanderies became prefectures, which were referred to as zhous (州) in Chinese. Emperor Xuanzong (r. 712–756) reversed these changes during his reign. From then on, the term jun (郡; commandery) was no longer used in the administrative division system. After Emperor Suzong (r. 756–762) ascended the throne, he changed commanderies back to prefectures.
In the Warring States period, the chief administrative officers of commanderies were known as junshou (Chinese: 郡守; pinyin: jùn shǒu). In the Han dynasty, the position of junshou was renamed taishou (Chinese: 太守; pinyin: tàishǒu). A taishou drew an annual salary of 2,000 dan (石) of grain according to the pinzhi (Chinese: 品秩; pinyin: pǐnzhì) system of administrative rank. Many former taishous were promoted to the posts of the Three Ducal Ministers or Nine Ministers later in their careers.
When Taiwan was under Japanese rule (1920–1945), senior officials in charge of administrative subdivisions were known as junshous. By the end of 1945, there were 51 commanderies in Taiwan.
This article is based on a translation of 郡 in the Chinese Wikipedia.