Grand chancellor (China)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Grand chancellor
Literal meaningoverseeing minister
Alternative Chinese name
Second alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Third alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese
Simplified Chinese
Fourth alternative Chinese name
Fifth alternative Chinese name
Traditional Chinese內閣總理大臣
Simplified Chinese内阁总理大臣

The Grand Chancellor (zaixiang, tsai-hsiang), also translated as counselor-in-chief, chancellor, chief councillor, chief minister, imperial chancellor, lieutenant chancellor and prime minister, was the highest-ranking executive official in the imperial Chinese government. The term was known by many different names throughout Chinese history, and the exact extent of the powers associated with the position fluctuated greatly, even during a particular dynasty. During the Six Dynasties period, the term denoted a number of power-holders serving as chief administrators, including zhongshun jian (Inspector General of the Secretariat), zhongshu ling (President of the Secretariat), shizhong (Palace Attendant), shangshu ling and puye (president and vice-president of the Department of State Affairs).[1]


In the Spring and Autumn period, Guan Zhong was the first chancellor in China,[2] who became chancellor under the state of Qi in 685 BC. In Qin, during the Warring States period, the chancellor was officially established as "the head of all civil service officials." There were sometimes two chancellors, differentiated as being "of the left" (senior) and "of the right" (junior). After emperor Qin Shi Huang ended the Warring States period by establishing the Qin dynasty (221–206 BC), the chancellor, together with the imperial secretary, and the grand commandant, were the most important officials in the imperial government, generally referred as the Three Lords.[3][4]

In 1 BC, during the reign of Emperor Ai, the title was changed to da si tu (大司徒).[5] In the Eastern Han dynasty, the chancellor post was replaced by the Three Excellencies: Grand Commandant (太尉), Minister over the Masses (司徒) and Minister of Works (司空).[6] In 190, Dong Zhuo claimed the title "Chancellor of State" (相國) under the powerless Emperor Xian of Han,[7] placing himself above the Three Excellencies. After Dong Zhuo's death in 192, the post was vacant until Cao Cao restored the position as "imperial chancellor" (丞相) and abolished the Three Excellencies in 208.[8] From then until March 15, 220, the power of chancellor was greater than that of the emperor. Later this often happened when a dynasty became weak, usually some decades before the fall of a dynasty.

During the Sui dynasty, the executive officials of the three highest departments of the empire were called "chancellors" (真宰相) together.[9] In the Tang dynasty, the government was divided into three departments: the Department of State Affairs (尚書省), the Secretariat (中書省), and the Chancellery (門下省). The head of each department was generally referred to as the chancellor.[10]

In the Song dynasty, the post of chancellor was also known as the "Tongpingzhangshi" (同平章事),[11] in accordance with late-Tang terminology, while the vice-chancellor was known as the jijunsi. Some years later, the post of chancellor was changed to "prime minister" (首相 shou xiang) and the post of vice-chancellor was changed to "second minister" (次相 ci xiang).[12] In the late Southern Song dynasty, the system changed back to the Tang naming conventions.

During the Mongol-founded Yuan dynasty, the chancellor was not the head of the Secretariat, but the Crown Prince (皇太子) was. After the establishment of the Ming dynasty, the post became the head of the Zhongshu Sheng again. The post was abolished after the execution of Hu Weiyong, who was accused of treason (though his conviction is still strongly disputed in present times because of a lack of evidence to prove his guilt).[13] Still, appointments of the people who held the highest post in the government were called "appointment of prime minister" (拜相) until 1644.

List of chancellors of China[edit]

see also List of chancellors of China [zh]

List of chancellors of Shang dynasty[edit]

Pinyin (Romanization) Chinese Characters
Yi Yin 伊尹
Zhong Hui 仲虺
Yi Zhi 伊陟
Wu Xian 巫咸
Wu Xian 巫賢
Gan Xuan 甘盤
Fu Yue 傅說
Ji Zi 箕子

Zhou dynasty[edit]

Qin dynasty[edit]

Han dynasty[edit]

Cao Cao, who controlled the Late Han dynasty, one of the most famous Chinese chancellors.

Three Kingdoms[edit]

Eastern Wu[edit]

Shu Han[edit]

Cao Wei[edit]

Sui dynasty[edit]

Tang dynasty[edit]

Song dynasty[edit]

Northern Song[edit]

Southern Song[edit]

Ming dynasty[edit]

Note: after the death of Hu Weiyong, the title of grand chancellor was abolished. The office of the Grand Secretariat assumed the de facto powers of the chancellery after the reign of the Hongwu Emperor.

Qing dynasty[edit]

The Qing dynasty bureaucratic hierarchy did not contain a chancellor position. Instead, the duties normally assumed by a chancellor were entrusted to a series of formal and informal institutions, the most prominent of which was the Grand Council. Occasionally, one minister may held enough power in the government that he comes to be identified, figuratively, as the "chancellor".

In 1911, the Qing court adopted reforms which, amongst other changes, established the position of prime minister. This position existed for less than a year before the Qing government was overthrown.

Premiers after 1911[edit]


See also[edit]



  1. ^ Cunrui Xiong, Victor (2017). Historical Dictionary of Medieval China. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 100. ISBN 9781442276161.
  2. ^ (in Chinese) Guan Zhong Memorial Opened in Linzi Archived 2016-03-03 at the Wayback Machine, Xinhuanet, September 19, 2004.
  3. ^ Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. North-China Branch (1876). Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 10. SHANGHAI: The Branch. p. 85. Retrieved June 28, 2011.
  4. ^ Li (2007), 75.
  5. ^ Wang (1949), 144.
  6. ^ (in Chinese) Chancellor of China,
  7. ^ Book of the Later Han Vol.72; Records of Three Kingdoms Vol. 6.
  8. ^ Records of Three Kingdoms Vol. 1.
  9. ^ (in Chinese) The History of the Chancellor System in China.
  10. ^ (in Chinese) Tong Zhongshu Menxia Pingzhangshi[permanent dead link], Encyclopedia of China.
  11. ^ (in Chinese) "Chancellor in the Song Dynasty"
  12. ^ (in Chinese) The Change of Central Administration in Tang and Song Dynasties Archived 2005-04-25 at the Wayback Machine.
  13. ^ (in Chinese) The History of Chancellor of China Archived 2007-08-11 at,


  •  This article incorporates text from Journal of the North-China Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 10, by Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. North-China Branch, a publication from 1876, now in the public domain in the United States.
  • Li, Konghuai (2007). History of Administrative Systems in Ancient China (in Chinese). Joint Publishing (H.K.) Co., Ltd. ISBN 978-962-04-2654-4.
  • Wang, Yü-Ch'üan (June 1949). "An Outline of The Central Government of The Former Han Dynasty". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies. 12 (1/2): 134–187. doi:10.2307/2718206. JSTOR 2718206.