An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

cishu 敕書, instructions

Feb 2, 2023 © Ulrich Theobald

Instructions (chi 敕, also written 勅, 飭 or 勑; also called cishu 敕書, chiyu 敕諭, xichi 璽敕, michi 密敕, chizhi 敕旨, zhaochi 詔敕 or chiling 敕令) was a sub-type of edicts and orders (zhaoling 詔令).

The word chi 敕 is first mentioned in the Shangshu "Book of Documents" (ch. Yi Ji 益稷), where it is said that "We must deal cautiously with the favouring appointment of Heaven" (chi tian zhi ming 勑天之命; transl. James Legge). It denoted in general documents issued by superiors as instructions to subordinated functionaries. During the Han period, chishu-style 敕書 orders were used for the appointment of local officials like regional inspectors (cishi 刺吏) and governors (taishou 太守) or high officials in the three border provinces (sanbian 三邊) Youzhou 幽州, Bingzhou 并州 and Liangzhou 凉州. Instructions could be issued by the emperor or by high-ranking functionaries, or even by fathers writing orders for their sons. Liu Xie's 劉勰 (d. 522) literary theory Wenxin diaolong 文心雕龍 (ch. Zhaoce 詔策) says that "royal warnings are edicts written in language which is sharp and cutting" (jiechi wei wen, shi zhao zhi qie zhe 戒敕為文,實詔之切者; transl. Vincent Shih). Examples for this use are Bing Ji's 丙吉 (d. 55 BCE) Jiaochi rumu 教敕乳母, Wei Xian's 韋賢 (143-62 BCE) Chi zi Hong zimian taichang 敕子弘自免太常 or Wang Zun's 王尊 Jiao chi gongcao 教敕功曹.

During the Period of Division 南北朝 (300~600), the use of chi-style documents was more and more restricted to the sovereign. The Northern Zhou dynasty 北周 (557-581) therefore called them tianchi 天敕 "Heavenly instructions". The Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) discerned four types of instructions, namely "daily instructions" (farichi 發日敕) for the creation or abolishment of institutions and offices or the dispatch of troops; "rescript instructions" (chizhi 敕旨) as reactions to suggestions or requests of memorials handed in by high functionaries; "instructions of discussion" (lunshichi 論事敕) to admonish functionaries; and "public instructions" (chidie 敕諜 or 敕牒) for issues announced to a broader audience. Decrees announcing ennoblement as a reward were also called chi 敕. This special use was retained until the end of imperial times. Instructions were processed through the Palace Secretariat (zhongshusheng 中書省).

The Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279) knew two types of chi-style documents, namely "letters of instructions" (chishu 敕書), and "boards of instructions" (chibang 敕牓). The former were used for the appointment of functionaries of rank 5 and lower, while the latter were reserved for instructions to functionaries or as speeches to troops.

The Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368) used chi-type documents exclusively as chidie 敕牒 for the appointment of officials of rank 6 and lower. They were written on red paper. Between the Tang and Yuan periods, chi-type documents had legal status.

The Ming 明 (1368-1644) called them chiming 敕命 and used them as appointment certificates, written on customary white paper, and marked with a corresponding seal. The type of chiyu 敕諭 was dedicated to instructions to high-ranking officials of the central and the provincial governments, and also for the appointment of local officials.

During the Qing period 清 (1644-1911), the terms chiming and chiyu were used. Chiming were used as during the Ming period. Chiyu were instructional orders to high-ranking civilian and military officials on the provincial and local levels. Depending on the rank of the functionary, chiyu were known as zuomingchi 坐名敕 for higher ranks, and chuanchi 傳敕 for somewhat lower ranks. Chi-type documents were drafted by the Grand Secretariat (neige 內閣) in bilingual shape in Manchurian and Chinese, then handed over to the respective ministry (see Six Ministries) for finalization and issuance.

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