Royal and noble ranks of the Qing dynasty

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The Qing dynasty (1644–1912) of China developed a complicated peerage system for royal and noble ranks.

Rule of inheritance[edit]

In principle, titles were downgraded one grade per generation of inheritance.

  • Direct imperial princes with the Eight Privileges were downgraded for four generations, after which the title can be inherited without further downgrades.
  • Direct imperial princes without the Eight Privileges were downgraded until the rank of Feng'en Jiangjun, which then became perpetual.
  • Cadet line imperial princes and lords were downgraded until they reached Feng'en Jiangjun, which could be further inherited three times before the title expired completely.
  • For non-imperial peers, the title could be downgraded to En Jiwei before becoming perpetually heritable.

Occasionally, a peer could be granted the "perpetual heritable" privilege (世襲罔替), which allowed the title to be passed down without downgrading. Throughout the Qing dynasty, there were 12 imperial princely families who enjoyed this privilege. They were known as the "Iron Cap Princes".

The noble titles were inherted through a system of loose primogeniture: The eldest son from the peer's first wife was usually the heir apparent, but inheritance by a younger son, a son of a concubine, or brother of the peer was not uncommon. Non-heir sons of imperial princes were entitled to petition for a lower title, according to his birth (by the chief consort, secondary consort or concubines) and his father's rank, than the one they would have received had they been the heir. Non-heir sons of other peers were also occasionally granted a lower title.

Whether imperial or not, the inheritance or creation was never automatic, and must be approved either by the Emperor, the Ministry of Personnel, or the Imperial Clan Court. Imperial princes, notably, must pass exams in equestrianship, archery and the Manchu language to be eligible for titles.

Grading system[edit]

Yunjiwei ("Sub-Commander of the Cloud Cavalry") was originally a military rank created in the Sui dynasty, but it was later turned into a military honour in the Tang dynasty as part of the xunguan (勳官) system. The Qing dynasty abolished the separate military honour system and merged it into the nobility rank system, using Yunjiwei as the lowest grantable rank of nobility, and the basic unit of rank progression.

For example, a Yunjiwei who received another grant of Yunjiwei became a Jiduwei. A First Class Duke plus Yunjiwei was the equivalent of 23 grants of Yunjiwei.

Titular names[edit]

Historically, Chinese noble titles were usually created with a fiefdom (食邑 shíyì) each, even though the fief may only be nominal. The Qing dynasty ended this tradition; with only a few exceptions, no fief was ever named. Instead, noble titles were created without a name, or were bestowed a titular name (美號 meihào). These names were usually descriptive of the peer's merit, virtue, or the circumstances leading to his ennoblement.

Titular names were unique for imperial princes, while non-imperial peers' titular names may overlap. Following the Ming dynasty tradition, single-character names were reserved for qinwangs, while junwangs used two-character names. All other peers normally had two-character names, but may receive up to four characters.

Since noble titles were primarily awarded for military service, the titular names predominantly described martial virtues, e.g. 忠勇公, Zhongyong Gong, "Loyal and Brave Duke". However, a particularly common titular name was 承恩公, Cheng'en Gong, "Duke Who Receives Grace", which was frequently granted to the Empress' family members.

Imperial clan[edit]

Eight Privileges[edit]

At the top of the imperial hierarchy, the highest six ranks enjoyed the Eight Privileges (Chinese: 八分; pinyin: bafen; Manchu: jakūn ubu). These privileges were: red carriage wheels, purple horse reins, heated carriages, purple cushions, gemstone mandarin hat crests, two-eyed peacock feathers on mandarin hats, using leather whips to clear paths, and employing eunuchs. (Peacock feathers, however, were prohibited for princes above beizi and direct imperial clansmen.)

The Eight Privileges entitled the prince to participate in state councils and share in spoils. However, the prince was also bound to reside in the capital and render service to the imperial court.

Male members[edit]

  • Heshuo Qinwang (和硕亲王; 和碩親王; héshuò qīnwáng; Manchu: hošo-i cin wang), commonly simplified to qinwang, translated as "Prince of the First Rank" or "Prince of the Blood". "Heshuo" ("hošo") means "four corners, four sides" in Manchu.
    • Shizi (世子; Shìzǐ; Manchu: šidzi; "Heir Son") refers to the heir apparent to a qinwang.
  • Duoluo Junwang (多罗郡王; 多羅郡王; duōluó jùnwáng; Manchu: doro-i giyūn wang), commonly simplified to junwang, translated as "Prince of the Second Rank" or "Prince of a Commandery".
    • Zhangzi (长子; 長子; zhángzǐ; Manchu: jangdzi; "Eldest Son" or "Chief Son") refers to the heir apparent to a junwang.
  • Duoluo Beile (多罗贝勒; 多羅貝勒; duōluó bèilè; Manchu: doro-i beile), means "Lord", "Prince" or "Chief" in Manchu, commonly simplified to beile, and translated as "Prince of the Third Rank", "Venerable Prince", or "Noble Lord". "Duoluo" ("doro") means "virtue, courtesy, propriety" in Manchu. It was usually granted to the son of a qinwang or junwang. As beile is the best known Manchu, non-Chinese title, it is commonly used to refer to all Manchu princes.
  • Gushan Beizi (固山贝子; 固山貝子; gùshān bèizǐ; Manchu: gūsa-i beise), commonly simplified to beizi, and translated as "Prince of the Fourth Rank", "Banner Prince" or "Banner Lord". "Gushan" ("gūsai") means "banner" in Manchu, a reference to either of the Eight Banners. "Beizi" ("beise") is the plural form of "beile", but since 1636, "beile" and "beizi" were used to refer to two different ranks of nobility.

The four ranks above were granted solely to direct male-line descendants of the Emperor. These titles below were granted to cadet lines of the imperial clan.

  • Feng'en Zhenguo Gong (奉恩镇国公; 奉恩鎮國公; fèng'ēn zhènguó gōng; Manchu: kesi-be tuwakiyara gurun-be dalire gung), translated as "Duke Who Receives Grace and Guards the State", simplified to "Duke Who Guards the State", also translated as "Defender Duke by Grace".
  • Feng'en Fuguo Gong (奉恩辅国公; 奉恩輔國公; fèng'ēn fǔguó gōng; Manchu: kesi-be tuwakiyara gurun-de aisilara gung), translated as "Duke Who Receives Grace and Assists the State", simplified to "Duke Who Assists the State", also translated as "Bulwark Duke by Grace".

The above six ranks are titles that enjoy the Eight Privileges (入八分). The titles below do not enjoy the Eight Privileges (不入八分) and have no imperial duties.

  • Burubafen Zhenguo Gong (不入八分镇国公; Bùrùbāfēn zhènguó gōng; Manchu: Jakūn Ubu de Dosimbuhakū Gurun be Dalire Gung), translated as "Duke without the Eight Privileges Who Guards the State", also translated as "Lesser Defender Duke".
  • Burubafen Fuguo Gong (不入八分辅国公; Bùrùbāfēn fǔguó gōng; Manchu: Jakūn Ubu de Dosimbuhakū Gurun de Aisilara Gung), translated as "Duke without the Eight Privileges Who Assists the State", also translated as "Lesser Bulwark Duke".

All of the above titles rank above the chaopin (超品), the grades of ordinary officials. The ranks below are ranked first to fourth degree respectively. The first three jiangjun ranks are each further subdivided into four grades: First Class plus Yunjiwei, First Class, Second Class, and Third Class.

  • Zhenguo Jiangjun (镇国将军; 鎮國將軍; zhènguó jiāngjūn; Manchu: gurun be dalire janggin), translated as "General Who Guards the State" or "Defender General".
  • Fuguo Jiangjun (辅国将军; 輔國將軍; fǔguó jiāngjūn; Manchu: gurun de aisilara janggin), translated as "General Who Assists the State" or "Bulwark General".
  • Fengguo Jiangjun (奉国将军; fèngguó jiāngjūn; Manchu: Gurun be Tuwakiyara Janggin), translated as "General Who Receives the State" or "Supporter General".
  • Feng'en Jiangjun (奉恩将军; fèng'ēn jiāngjūn; Manchu: Kesi-be Tuwakiyara Janggin), translated as "General Who Receives Grace" or "General by Grace". This rank has no sub-classes. This title is not granted per se, but were given to heirs of Fengguo Jiangjun.

Regardless of title and rank, an imperial prince was addressed as Age (阿哥), Manchu for "Lord" or "Commander".

Female members[edit]

The following titles were granted to female members of the imperial clan:

  • Gulun Gongzhu (固伦公主; 固倫公主; gùlún gōngzhǔ; Manchu: gurun-i gungju), translated as "State Princess", "Gurun Princess" or "Princess of the First Rank". It was usually granted to a princess born to an empress. "Gulun" means "all under Heaven" in Manchu.
  • Heshuo Gongzhu (和硕公主; 和碩公主; héshuò gōngzhǔ; Manchu: hošo-i gungju), translated as "Heshuo Princess" or "Princess of the Second Rank". It was usually granted to a princess born to a consort or concubine. "Heshuo" ("hošo") means "four corners, four sides" in Manchu.
  • Junzhu (郡主; jùnzhǔ), translated as "Princess of a Commandery". It was usually granted to the daughter of a qinwang.
  • Xianzhu (县主; 縣主; xiànzhǔ), translated as "Princess of a County". It was usually granted to the daughter of a junwang or shizi.
  • Junjun (郡君; jùnjūn), translated as "Lady of a Commandery". It was usually granted to a daughter born to a concubine of a qinwang or the daughter of a beile.
  • Xianjun (县君; 縣君; xiànjūn), translated as "Lady of a County". It was usually granted to the daughter of a beizi.
  • Xiangjun (乡君; 鄉君; xiãngjũn), translated as "Lady of a Village". It was usually granted to the daughters of dukes.
  • Zongnü (宗女; zõngnǚ), translated as "Clanswoman". This is not a granted title, but the honorific given to all daughters of a jiangjun and other untitled princesses.

Princesses' consorts[edit]

  • E'fu (额驸; 額駙; é'fù, translated as "Prince Consort") or Fuma (驸马; 駙馬; fùmǎ), originally meaning "emperor's charioteer"). It was usually granted to the spouse of a princess above the rank of zongnü. The e'fus were separated into seven ranks corresponding to the rank of the princesses the e'fu married. E'fu of Gulun and Heshuo Gongzhu rank above the court degrees, equivalent to beizi and dukes respectively. The remaining e'fus had equivalent court degrees from the first to fifth degree.

Others[edit]

At the beginning of Qing dynasty, prior to the formalisation of the rank system, there were also non-standard titles used, such as:

  • Da Beile (大贝勒; 大貝勒; dà bèilè; Manchu: amba beile, translated as "Grand Beile"), assumed by Daishan during the tetrarchy, and by Huangtaiji prior to his ascension.
  • Zhang Gongzhu (长公主; 長公主, translated as "Chief Princess", "Elder Princess" or "Princess Imperial"), was granted to various daughters of Nurhaci and Huangtaiji.

Non-imperial nobility[edit]

Standard non-imperial titles[edit]

The following are the nine grades of the peerage awarded for valour, achievement, distinction, other imperial favour, and to imperial consort clans.

  • Gong (; gōng; "duke" Manchu: gung), often referred to as Min Gong (Chinese: 民公; pinyin: mín gōng; literally: "commoner duke") to differentiate from the imperial Guo Gong. Translated as "Duke" or "Non-imperial Duke".
  • Hou (; hóu; Manchu: ho), translated as "Marquis" or "Marquess".
  • Bo (; ; Manchu: be), translated as "Count".

The above three ranks are all ranked above the chaopin (超品). The four following ranks were all evolved from leadership ranks in the Manchu banner army, originally called ejen (額真, Manchu "Master", "Lord") and later janggin (章京, Manchu "General", from Chinese jiangjun).

  • Zi (; ; Manchu: jinkini hafan), translated as "Viscount".
  • Nan (; nán; Manchu: ashan-i hafan), translated as "Baron".
  • Qingche Duwei (轻车都尉; 輕車都尉; qīngchē dūwèi; "Master Commandant of Light Chariot"; Manchu: adaha hafan), rough equivalent of a commander of a chivalric order.

All of the above ranks are sub-divided into four grades; in order: First Class plus Yunjiwei, First Class, Second Class, and Third Class.

  • Jiduwei (骑都尉; 騎都尉; jídūwèi; "Master Commandant of Cavalry"; Manchu: baitalabura hafan), rough equivalent of an officer of a chivalric order. This grade is subdivided into two classes: Jiduwei plus Yunjiwei, and simply Jiduwei.
  • Yunjiwei (云骑尉; 雲騎尉; yúnjíwèi; "Knight Commandant of the Cloud"; Manchu: tuwašara hafan), rough equivalent of a knight bachelor.
  • Enjiwei (恩骑尉; 恩騎尉; ēnjíwèi; "Knight Commandant by Grace"; Manchu: kesingge hafan), rough equivalent of an esquire. This title was not granted per se, but bestowed on the heirs of Yunjiweis without the privilege of perpetual inheritance.

Pre-standard non-imperial titles[edit]

At the beginning of the Qing dynasty, during Nurhaci's and Huangtaiji's reigns, the noble ranks were not yet standardised. There were several titles created that did not fit into the above system, mostly for defectors from the Ming dynasty. These titles were similar to the titles used in the Ming dynasty, and lack the Manchu nomenclature and the grade system introduced later.

  • Wang (; wáng; Manchu: wang), "Prince", created for Yangguli and several Ming defectors. The relation between wang and junwang is unclear: in both Ming and Qing traditions, single-character titular names were reserved for qinwangs, while junwangs received two-character titular names, but these wangs were created with both single and two-character titular names. Both Wu Sangui and Shang Kexi were promoted from wang to qinwang, but no wang was ever promoted to junwang or vice versa.
  • Beile (贝勒; 貝勒; bèilè; Manchu: beile), "Lord", "Prince" or "Chief" in Manchu. Normally reserved for imperials, it was uniquely retained by the princes of Yehe after their submission to Nurhaci.
  • Beizi (贝子; 貝子; bèizǐ; Manchu: beise). Normally reserved for imperials, it was uniquely created for Fukang'an, before he was further elevated to junwang.
  • Chaopin Gong (超品公; chāopǐngōng; "duke above grades"), "High Duke", a unique rank created for Yangguli, before he was furher elevated to wang. This title ranks just below beizi and above all other dukes.
  • Gong (; gōng; "duke"; Manchu: Gung; "Duke"), Hou (; hóu; Manchu: ho; "Marquess"), and Bo (; ; Manchu: be; "Count"), similar to the later standard titles, but created without subclasses (不言等; bùyándeng).

Additionally, there were banner offices that later evolved into hereditary noble titles. Despite being used as noble titles, these offices continued to exist and function in the banner hierarchy. To distinguish the noble titles from the offices, they were sometimes called "hereditary office" (世職) or "hereditary rank" (世爵).

  • Gūsa Ejen (固山額真) "Master of a Banner", sinicized as Dutong (都統), "Colonel"
    • Evolved into Zongbing (總兵), "Chief Commander"
    • Then into Amba Janggin (昂邦章京 or 按班章京), "Grand General"
    • Then into Jinkini Hafan (精奇尼哈番), "Prime Officer"
    • Which was finally sinicised as Zi (子), "Viscount"
  • Meiren-i Ejen (梅勒额真 or 美淩額真) "Vice Master", sinicised as Fu Dutong (副都统), "Vice Colonel"
    • Evolved into Fujiang (副將), "Vice General"
    • Then into Meiren-i Janggin (梅勒章京), "Vice General"
    • Then into Ashan-i Hafan (阿思尼哈番), "Vice Officer"
    • Which was finally sinicised as Nan (男), "Baron"
  • Jalan Ejen (甲喇额真) "Master of a Sub-Banner", sinicised as Canling (参领), "Staff Captain"
    • Evolved into Canjiang (參將), "Staff General", or Youji (游擊), "Vanguard" or "Skirmish Leader"
    • Then into Jalan Janggin (扎蘭章京), "General of a Sub-Banner"
    • Then into Adaha Hafan (阿達哈哈番), "Chariot Officer"
    • Which was finally sinicised as Qingche Duwei (輕車都尉), "Master Commandant of Light Chariot"
  • Niru Ejen (牛錄额真) "Master of an Arrow" (an arrow is a basic unit of the banner army), sinicised as Zuoling (佐領), "Assistant Captain"
    • Evolved into Beiyu (備御), "Rearguard"
    • Then into Niru Janggin (牛錄章京), "General of an Arrow"
    • Then into Baitalabura Hafan (拜他喇布勒哈番), "Agitant Officer"
    • Which was finally sinicised as Ji Duwei (騎都尉), "Master Commandant of Cavalry"

Notable titles[edit]

Civil titles[edit]

With a few exception, the above titles were in principle created only for military merits. There were also titles for civil officials.

While there were a few Manchu civil titles, but the most important civil titles followed the Han confucian tradition, derived from high bureaucratic offices that evolved into sinecures. E.g. taibao (太保; "Grand Protector"), shaoshi (少師; "Junior Preceptor"), taizi taifu (太子太傅; "Grand Tutor of the Crown Prince").

These titles were non-heritable.

Ranks of vassal and tributary states[edit]

The Qing court also granted titles to princes of its vassal and tibutary states, mainly in Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet.

The ranks roughly mirrored those of the imperial clan, with a few differences:

  • Han (; hàn; "Khan"; Manchu: han), ranked higher than qinwang, and ranked only below the Emperor and the Crown Prince in the Qing hierarchy. Sometimes also called hanwang (汗王). The Emperor also used the title of dahan (大汗, "Great Khan") instead of Emperor in communiqués to the steppe states.
  • Vassal princes who did not have the Eight Privileges. There were no distinctions between dukes with or without the Eight Privileges. There were only two ducal ranks: Zhenguo Gong and Fuguo Gong.
  • Instead of the jiangjun ranks, the vassal lords were titled:
    • Taiji (台吉; 臺吉; táijí; Manchu: tayiji) for those of Genghisid descent.
    • Tabunang (塔布囊; tabùnáng; Manchu: tabunang) for those of Jelme descent.

The Taiji and Tabunang are equal in rank, and both subdivided into five degrees: Jasagh, First Class, Second Class, Third Class, and Fourth Class. Jasagh ranked above the chaopin system while the rest were equivalent to the first to fourth grades under the chaopin system.

Under the tusi system, the Qing dynasty also recognised various local tribal chieftainships of ethnic minority tribes. This was mainly applied in the mountain regions of Yunnan, but also in western and northern borderlands.

The vassal titles were generally inherited in perpetuity without downgrading.

Other honours and privileges[edit]

In addition to systematised rank titles listed above, there were also other honorific titles and privileges, mostly non-heritable:

  • There were various Mongol/Manchu/Turkic titles, granted mainly to non-Han vassals and officials. Bitesi, Baksi, Jarguci were civil honours, while Baturu, Daicing, Cuhur were military honours. Jasagh was granted to vassals with autonomous power, while Darhan was a hereditary title divided into three classes. These titles were mostly awarded to Manchus and Mongols in the early Qing dynasty, but gradually fell out of use as the court became increasingly sinicised.
  • The privilege of wearing feathers on the mandarin hat (翎羽, lingyu)
    • Peacock feathers (花翎, hualing) were usually worn by imperial princes, princes consort, imperial bodyguards and some high officials. Exceptionally, peacock feathers may be granted as a special honour. Two-eyed and three-eyed feathers were very rarely bestowed—only seven peers ever received the three-eyed feathers, while two dozens received the two-eyed feathers.
    • Blue feathers (藍翎, lanling) were usually worn by household officials of the imperial and princely houses. Like peacock feathers, blue feathers may be granted as a special honour, usually to officials of the sixth court degree and below.
    • Although a badge of honour, the feathers also symbolised bond servitude to the Emperor. As such, direct imperial clansmen and imperial princes ranked beile and above were prohibited from wearing feathers.
  • The privilege of wearing the yellow jacket (武功黃馬褂子, wugong huang maguazi, "Yellow jacket of martial merit"). This is usually the uniform of imperial bodyguards, but it could also be bestowed upon anyone by the Emperor. A rare honour in the early Qing dynasty, it was diluted through excessive grants in the late Qing era. The jacket may only be worn in the Emperor's presence.
  • The privilege of wearing imperial girdles (to both the recipient and his issues):
    • The yellow girdles (黃帶子; huang daizi) were normally reserved for direct imperial clansmen (宗室; zongshi), but may be granted to collateral imperial clansmen, known as gioro (覺羅, jueluo) as an honour. The yellow girdle entitled the wearer to be tried by the Imperial Clan Court as opposed to the general or banner courts.
    • The red girdles (紅帶子, hong daizi) were normally reserved for collateral imperial clansmen, or gioro, as well as demoted direct imperial clansmen. Non-imperials may be granted the gioro surname and be adopted into the imperial clan, thus the privilege of wearing the red girdle.
    • The purple girdles (紫帶子, zi daizi) were normally reserved for demoted gioro. Uniquely, the family of Dahai, the "saint of Manchu" and the inventor of the Manchu script, was granted the privilege of wearing purple girdles, to symbolise his family as the "second clan of Manchu (inferior only to Aisin-Gioro)".
  • Enshrinement in the Imperial Ancestral Temple (配享太廟; peixiang taimiao). Granted to deceased peers (and sometimes also their wives), therefore a privilege for all his descendants. They were worshipped alongside the imperial ancestors, and their descendants had the privilege of sending representatives to participate in the imperial ancestral rituals. Imperial and Mongol princes were housed in the east wing of the temple, while the others were housed in the west wing. This was an extremely high honour, granted only 27 times throughout the dynasty's history. Zhang Tingyu was the only Han subject to ever receive this honour, while Heling was the only person to have this honour revoked.
  • Bestowal of Manchu, noble or imperial surnames (賜姓; cixing). Occasionally, a non-Manchu subject would be granted a Manchu surname, or a Manchu would be granted a more prestigious surname, or even the imperial surname "Gioro", thus adopting into the imperial clan.
  • Promotion in the banner hierarchy:
    • A non-bannerman can be inducted into the banner system.
    • A Han bannerman (漢軍八旗; hanjun baqi, Manchu nikan gūsa) may be elevated into a Manchu banner (滿洲八旗; manzhou baqi, Manchu manju gūsa).
    • A bannerman from the lower banners (plain red, bordered red, bordered white, plain blue, and bordered blue banners) can be elevated into the upper banners (plain yellow, bordered yellow, and plain white) (抬旗, taiqi). This was especially common for the imperial consorts and their clansmen.
  • Court beads (朝珠; chaozhu). The court beads were part of the court uniform; the length of the beads normally corresponded to the courtier's court degree. When a courtier kowtowed, the beads must touch the ground. Longer court beads were granted as a special favour regardless of the courtier's court degree. This was often granted to elderly courtiers to relieve them of the physical hardship of kowtowing.

Etymology of Manchu titles[edit]

With a few exception, most Manchu titles ultimately derived from Chinese roots.

  • Han, used by the Emperor himself and a few Mongol lords, was borrowed from the Mongol Khan, Khaan or Khagan. In Manchu, however, the word is written slightly differently for the Emperor and other Khans.
  • Beile was usually considered indigenous Manchu titles, evolved from earlier Jurchen Bojile, which may ultimately be derived from the Turkic title Bey or Beg or even Chinese Bo.
  • Beise was originally the plural form of beile, but later evolved into a separate title.
  • Janggin derrived from the Chinese word Jiangjun (將軍; "General"). In Manchu, however, Janggin evolved into a nominal title distinct from the military office, which is translated in Manchu as Jiyanggiyūn.
  • Taiji or Tayiji derrived from Chinese Taizi (太子; "Crown Prince"). In Chinese, it was used exclusively by heirs of imperial, royal or princely titles. In Mongolia, however, the Genghisids have long used it as a distinct title.
  • Tabunang was originally the title given to a Mongol prince consort who married a Genghisid princess. It was granted to Jelme, and his descendants continued to use this title.
  • Fujin (福晉), is a consort of a prince ranked beizi or above. This word evolved from Chinese Furen (夫人, "lady", "madame" or "wife"), but was reserved for high-ranked ladies. Furen was used by lower-ranked married ladies.

See also[edit]