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The nine bestowments (Chinese: 九錫; pinyin: jǐu xī; literally: "nine tin") were awards given by Chinese emperors to extraordinary officials, ostensibly to reward them for their accomplishments. (The reason why the character 錫 (pronounced xī in modern Mandarin and meaning "tin") is used, rather than the expected 賜 (cì, meaning "bestowment"), is because the two characters were interchangeable during times when the ceremonies were first established in the Classic of Rites, and it is not clear whether in modern Mandarin 九錫 should be pronounced jiǔxī or jiǔcì.) While the nature of the bestowments was probably established during the Zhou Dynasty, there was no record of anyone receiving them until Wang Mang. Thereafter, the nine bestowments became typically a sign of a powerful official showing off his complete control of the emperor and establishing his intent to usurp the throne. For the rest of Chinese history, it became rare for an usurpation to happen without the nine bestowments having been given sometime before, and just as rare for the nine bestowments to be given without an usurpation happening. (However, an example of the latter was Cao Pi giving Sun Quan the nine bestowments in 221 when Sun was briefly a Cao Wei vassal.)
The nine bestowments and their meanings, according to the Classic of Rites:
- Gift of a wagon and horses: when the official is appropriate in his modesty and walking in an appropriate manner, so that he does not need to walk any more.
- Gift of clothes: when the official writes well and appropriately, to show his good deeds.
- Gift of armed guards: when the official is brave and willing to speak the truth, so that he can be protected.
- Gift of written music: when the official has love in his heart, so that he can teach the music to his people.
- Gift of a ramp: when the official is appropriate in his acts, so that he can walk on the ramp and maintain his strength.
- Gift of a red door: when the official maintains his household well, so that his household can be shown to be different.
- Gift of arms, bow, and arrows: when the official has good conscience and follows what is right, so that he can represent the central government to stamp out treason.
- Gift of an axe: when the official is strong, wise, and loyal to the imperial household, so that he can execute the wicked.
- Gift of wine: when the official is filially pious, so that he can sacrifice the wine to his ancestors.
List of recipients of the Nine Bestowments
|Wang Mang||5||Han Dynasty crown prince Ruzi Ying||Xin dynasty||Creator and first recipient of title. Usurped the Han Dynasty while serving as regent and founded Xin dynasty.|
|Cao Cao||213||N/A||N/A||His son Cao Pi would usurp Emperor Xian of Han and found Cao Wei.|
|Sun Quan||221||N/A||Eastern Wu||Granted by Cao Pi after Sun Quan offered to nominally be a vassal of Cao Wei.|
|Sima Yi||249||N/A||N/A||Seized de facto power during the Incident at Gaoping Tombs, paving the way for his successors Sima Zhao and Zima Yan.|
|Sima Zhao||263||Cao Huan||Jin dynasty (265–420)||First Jin ruler as Duke, then King, of Jin. Sima Yan would force Cao Huan's abdication declare himself an Emperor.|
|Sima Jiong||301||N/A||N/A||Granted title for his role in restoring, and becoming regent for, the developmentally disabled Emperor Hui of Jin.|
|Sima Ying||301||N/A||N/A||Granted title for his role in restoring, and becoming regent for, the developmentally disabled Emperor Hui of Jin (he declined the bestowment).|
|Sima Yong||301||N/A||N/A||Granted 3 of the 9 bestowments for his role in restoring Emperor Hui.|
|Zhang Mao||323||N/A||Former Liang||Founded Former Liang, received nine bestowments in return for submission to Han Zhao.|
|Shi Hu||333||Shi Hong||N/A||Deposed his cousin to become emperor of Later Zhao.|
|Qifu Gangui||394||N/A||N/A||Granted title by Emperor Fu Deng of Former Qin in order to secure his aid and loyalty.|
|Huan Xuan||403||Emperor An of Jin||State of Chu||Usurped Emperor An of Jin and attempted to found new Chu dynasty before being suppressed by Liu Yu.|
|Qiao Zong||409||N/A||Western Shu||Led rebellion against Jin dynasty (265–420), declaring the state of Western Shu, became puppet state of Later Qin, and was granted Nine bestowments by Emperor Wenhuan of (Later) Qin.|
|Liu Yu||418||Emperor Gong of Jin||Liu Song dynasty|
|Xiao Daocheng||479||Emperor Shun of Liu Song||Southern Qi|
|Xiao Yan||502||Emperor He of Southern Qi||Liang dynasty|
|Gao Yang||550||Emperor Xiaojing of Eastern Wei||Northern Qi|
|Hou Jing||551||Xiao Dong||State of Han||Captured capital of Liang and briefly declared himself emperor before being defeated by imperial forces.|
|Chen Baxian||557||Emperor Jing of Liang||Chen dynasty|
|Yang Jian||581||Emperor Jing of Northern Zhou||Sui Dynasty|
|Wang Shichong||619||Yang Tong||State of Zheng||Usurped Yang Tong of the Sui Dynasty during the Transition from Sui to Tang, attempted to found a new Zheng dynasty before being defeated at the Battle of Hulao.|