An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

shiwei 侍衛, imperial guardsmen

Aug 18, 2017 © Ulrich Theobald

Imperial guardsmen (shiwei 侍衛, Manchu hiya) were troops of a special unit protecting the emperor both in his residence and during inspection or hunting tours. The members of the imperial guard (shiweiying 侍衛營) were selected from among members of the three upper Banners who had particular military skills or from the other five Banners or even from the average Chinese population. Persons of the latter group were transferred to one of the upper three Banners as "voyagers" (xingzou 行走). The guard was headed by a commander (ling shiwei 領侍衛), who was also a Grand Minister (nei dachen 內大臣, M. hiya kadalara dorgi amban).

The Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911) used four ranks of imperial guardsmen (totaling 570 men) which were fixed in 1644.

Table 1. Ranks of imperial guardsmen
頭等侍衛 toudeng shiwei, 一等侍衛 yideng shiwei 3a first-rank guardsman 60 men
二等侍衛 erdeng shiwei 4a second-rank guardsman 150
三等侍衛 sandeng shiwei 5a third-rank guardsman 270
藍翎侍衛 lanling shiwei 5-6 junior guardsman 90
四等侍衛 sideng shiwei 5b? fourth-rank guardsman, only in the guard for the imperial clansmen (zongshi shiwei), for demoted sandeng shiwei

The guardsmen were detached to protect different locations. Part of the guard was responsible for imperial clanspersons (zongshi shiwei 宗室侍衛), with a strength of 90 men. Depending on the location, the status of guardsmen was different. Palace guardsman (yuqian shiwei 御前侍衛) was the highest status, followed by guardsman at the Gate of Celestial Purity (Qianqingmen shiwei 乾淸門侍衛) and guardsman of the Vanguard Brigade (qianfeng shiwei 前鋒侍衛, M. gabsihiyan i hiya). Small numbers of guardsmen were responsible for the security of the Palace Stud (shangsiyuan 上駟院, M. adun i hiya), the imperial hunting office (shangyu beiyong chu 尚虞備用處), the *personal guard (shanpuying 善撲營) or the *entertainment office (shibangchu 什榜處).

Lü Zongli 呂宗力, ed. (1994). Zhongguo lidai guanzhi da cidian 中國歷代官制大辭典 (Beijing: Beijing chubanshe), 517.
Zhang Zhenglang 張政烺, ed. (1990). Zhongguo gudai zhiguan da cidian 中國古代職官大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Henan renmin chubanshe), 657.