An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

bing 稟, informal documents of local intra-bureaucratic communication

Sep 5, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Bing 稟 (commonly written 禀) is a rather informal type of document used by local governments to report issued to superior institutions. The character 稟 originally meant "to present with grain", to give or to receive (from a superior, bingcheng 禀承, bingshou 禀受; bing ling 禀令 "to receive an order"), but in a documentary context, the word means that an inferior person explains or reports something to a superior (bingbai 禀白, bingbao 禀報), or requests something from a superior functionary.

The word is first mentioned in Liu Muzhi’s 劉穆之 (360-417) biography (ch. 42) in the official dynastic history Songshu 宋書, where it is said that a crowd of retainers used to gather to deliver reports and consultations on "a hundred issues" on internal and external matters. The term was not used during the Tang period 唐 (618-907).

Congratulations by an inferior person to a superior one were called bingqi 稟啟 during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644), while explanations were called bingtie 稟帖 or simply, bing 稟. During the Qing period 清 (1644-1911), the expression bingtie was used on the local level for routine reports to higher levels of authority, often as a preliminary report, after which a regular, official form (gongwen 公文) was issued. This preliminary report was later put between the sheets (jiadan 夾單) of the official document. Because bing documents were informal, it was possible to provide more direct and blunt information than in official documents where facts were embellished or paraphrased.

In the 18th century, the process was streamlined, and bing-type reports were directly used as official documents and put into the archive files (juanzong 卷宗). The formal criteria for bing-type texts (bingwen 稟文) were not very strict, so that issued could be directly addressed without stylistic and formal language, and without complicated rules for processing and forwarding, as for instance, documents of the type xiangwen 詳文 "detailed reports" or yanwen 驗文 "investigations or specifications".

The physical form of bingtie reports was the typical accordion paper (zhezi 折子), of which usually two parts belonged together (hong-bai bing 紅白稟). The official part (hongbing 紅稟) was written red paper (hongzhi 紅紙), or on paper marked with a square red sticker with the character 稟, and bore the name and title of the author, the address jing bing zhe 敬稟者 "who respectfully submits a report" or jin bing 謹稟 "respectfully submits", the date, and a headline or title characterizing the content of the report. The rear part of this sheet was left blank, to leave space for notes (piyu 批語) made by the recipient. The second, documentary part (baibing 白稟), written on white paper (baizhi 白紙) embossed with black patterns (heise yanhua 黑色壓花) bore the text of the report (bingci 稟詞). The red paper with the notes was sent back to the author of the document. The notes of the recipient were copied on the white part of the document, and then processed or archived.

Liu Yunguo 劉運國, Liang Shipeng 梁式朋, eds. (1992). Gongwen da cidian 公文大辭典 (Beijing: Dianzi keji daxue chubanshe), 366.
Wang Zhibin 王志彬, ed. (2002). Xinbian gongwen yuyong cidian 新編公文語用詞典 (Shanghai: Fudan daxue chubanshe), 331.
Yang Ruohe 楊若荷 (1992). "Bing 稟", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, part Tushuguanxue qingbaoxue dang’anxue 圖書館學·情報學·檔案學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 18.