Reform in the Institute of the Commandery from the Warring States Period to the Early Western Han Dynasty
Based on Warring States and Han Dynasty bamboo manuscripts, seals, seal lutes, and weapon inscriptions, this paper calls attention to the fact the institution of the commandery (郡) from the Warring States period to the early Western Han was by nature a military area, a local office of the central authority, and a supervisory office. Originally, the Warring States commandery designated a military area. From the late Warring States period to the Qin Dynasty, the commandery gradually gained managerial control over the county administrative unit (縣) through judicial, financial, and other powers, and the commandery became an administrative region that governed the county. The Warring States Qin county unit was originally governed by the kingdom’s central authorities, and the commandery obtained its power directly from the central authorities power. Thus, the commandery was essentially a representative of the central authorities. The central government, in order to control the commandery and strengthen central supervision, set up a censor in the commandery. The early Western Han Dynasty abolished this censor and weakened the administrative power of the commandery, which caused the commandery to develop supervisory authority over the county unit. In sum, Yan Geng Wang’s understanding of the commandery as the seat of local government should be reexamined, at least in the period before the middle of the Western Han Dynasty. Vassal kingdom can even abolish the commandery, without affecting the local administration. With regard to the internal administrative structure of the commandery, three offices for mutual supervision (governor, lieutenant and censor) were in place during the Qin Dynasty. The early Western Han Dynasty abolished the censor offices, giving the governor and lieutenant equal power and creating a parallel, balanced structure. Not until the later period of Western Han Dynasty did the commandery gradually evolve to become what Yan Geng Wang called an autocratic system. The chief officials of the commandery were reduced from three to two to one, reflecting that the commandery institution gradually decentralized. Administrative powers within the commandery fall under the classifications of military, judicial, personnel, and finance. On the military side, Qin period governor managed arms, while the lieutenant managed soldiers. Military power of the commandery was not held by one person alone. Not until Emperor Wen granted the Hufu (a military seal) to the governor did the governor become the highest military governor of the commandery. On the judicial side, since the late Warring States period Qin central authorities’ power was limited to the capital area, the central authorities gave some of their power to the commandery, giving the commandery judicial power over the county. Thus, the commandery and the central authorities were parallel. On the personnel side, the commandery had power of appointments to the county, but the central authorities had power of appointments to the commandery and the county. In addition, the commandery Lieutenant had significant power of appointments, so the commandery governor did not have sole power over personnel. On the finance side, the late Warring States period Qin still governed county finance by way of the central authorities. During the Qin Dynasty, the central authorities and the commandery governed county finance. By the early Western Han Dynasty, only the commandery governed county finance. This trend shows that in the period before the mid Western Han Dynasty, the commandery’s power over the county was gradually increased, a necessary condition for local government. To sum up, the nature of the commandery, its administrative structure, and its authority, during the entire period of the Warring States, the Qin, and the early Western Han Dynasty, were all quite different than during the later period of Western Han Dynasty. After several changes from the Warring States period to the early Western Han, the institution of the commandery gradually transformed to that of a local government. Central authority and local authority attained a more desirable balance. By the late Western Han Dynasty, a political structure was established in which emperors and commandery governors ruled ‘All under Heaven’ together.
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