The first recorded instance of a monarch of China appointing a chief minister was in around 1130 BC, by King Tang of the Shang dynasty. Since then, almost every monarch in China appointed a chief minister to help him or her to run the administration. This role has been known by several different names, most commonly Chancellor. With the unification of China under the First Emperor of the Qin dynasty in 221 BC, the power in the premiers' hands was reduced because of the Emperors' intentions of setting up an absolute monarchy. In 1380, the Hongwu Emperor of the Ming dynasty ordered the death of his Chancellor, and did not appoint another in his lifetime. From then until 1911, a number of people formally shared the responsibility of chief minister to the Emperor. Even when one of them dominated government, such as in the case of Li Hongzhang, they were nevertheless formally just one of several ministers of equal status. During much of the Qing dynasty, for example, the traditional role of the Chancellor was performed collectively by the Grand Council.
In mid 1911, the modern position of Premier was created, when the Qing Imperial Government created the "Princes' Cabinet" as a reform of Chinese politics, shortly before it was overthrown. When Yuan Shikai took over the premiership, the premiers of China played an influential role in Chinese politics.
The list below shows premiers of China during the Qing dynasty. Multiple terms in office, consecutive or otherwise, are listed. The first column shows the consecutively numbered term of the premier, while the second column shows his or her chronological position amongst individual premiers.
For the modern-day positions referred to as Premiers of China, see:
List of Prime Ministers of Qing Imperial Government (1911–12)
The Qing Imperial Government created the "Imperial Family Cabinet" in May 1911, in order to appease popular anger and calls for reform. But the formation of Cabinet brought even more disaffection. Soon the Wuchang Uprising forced the Qing government to abolish the cabinet, and instead summon Yuan Shikai to head the government. The imperial government collapsed soon afterward.