The Qingli Reforms (simplified Chinese: 庆历新政; traditional Chinese: 慶曆新政; pinyin: Qìnglì xīnzhèng), also called Minor Reforms, took place in China’s Song dynasty under the leadership of Fan Zhongyan and Ouyang Xiu. Taking place from 1043 to 1045 and so called for falling in the 1041-1048 era of the same name, it was a short-lived attempt to introduce reforms into the traditional way of conducting governmental affairs in China. It was a precursor to a grander effort three decades later led by Wang Anshi.
Fan Zhongyan was prefect of Kaifeng, the imperial capital during the Northern Song era, in the 1030s. However, he was demoted to regional posts for criticizing the Chief Councillor. In 1040, the Liao and Western Xia to the north threatened Song security. Fan was brought back to organize a strong defense.
Ouyang Xiu was posted to Kaifeng four years after passing his jinshi examination in 1030. He began his association with Fan from this time in Kaifeng. Like Fan, he also was demoted. After Fan’s demotion, Ouyang criticized Fan’s principle critic, resulting in being sent to a minor post in Hubei. Like Fan, he was brought back to the capital in the 1040s where he was assigned to work on cataloguing the entire imperial library.
Fan Zhongyan submitted a ten-point memorial in which he outlined his reform objectives. They can be divided into three categories:
- Administrative efficiency
- Strengthen local governments
- Strengthen defense
The first set of proposals met opposition from groups of bureaucrats, who deeply resisted. The second set, while farsighted, seemed remote to the court. The third sought to correct Song over corrections for the Tang dynasty’s mistakes of giving local military commanders too much independent authority.
Many of these reforms were put into effect in the two-year period from 1043 to 1045. However, without the full support of the emperor, there never was complete implementation of the reforms, and not long after they began, backlash from conservative elements at the court resulted in the reformers being brought down and sent out to remote postings in the provinces.
Wang Anshi would take up the banner of reform in the 1070s, not only pushing for many of the Qingli Reforms, but going even further. However, while they remained in place longer than the Qingli Reforms, with the exception of some reforms to the examination system, this reform effort similarly met a dead end.