An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

fu 符, authorizations, tallies

Dec 8, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Tallies (fu 符) were used as symbols of authorization in ancient China. They usually consisted of two parts of bronze objects in decorative form. Most famous are the tiger-shaped tallies (hufu 虎符) from the Qin empire 秦 (221-206 BCE). One part of the tally (e.g. the right side of the object) remained at the court, while the left one was handed over to a general of standing troops. When the imperial order was issued to start a military campaign, a commissioner would be sent to hand over the second half as a sign or imperial order. The Han dynasty 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) used the half-and-half tallies for governors (taishou 太守) of commanderies (jun 郡). The second half was accompanied by a letter of imperial instruction, which was handed over when the two halves of the tallies were unified (hefu 合符) and thus checked for their congruence.

From the Jin period 晉 (265-420) on, the document accompanying the "imperial" half of the tally was called "tally letter" (fushu 符書), or simply "tally" (fu 符), and thus began to replace the bronze object. The word fu from then on denoted an order issued by the highest authority of the empire, mostly the sovereign, or a high institution of the central government. During the Tang period 唐 (618-907), the word was thus used for a wide range of documents and orders sent by the court to local administrators. This field was again reduced during the Song period 宋 (960-1279), and fu documents just denoted orders sent down by the 尚書六部, and instructions of prefects to district magistrates.

The use of fu tallies or of communications called so was abolished with the end of the Song period.

Zhang Wode 張我德 (1993). "Guanfu wanglai wenshu 官府往來文書", 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), 144.