Copies (fuben 副本, also called bieben 別本; originals were called zhengben 正本) were produced of many documents of official communication in imperial times. The earliest reference on this method dates from the time of Emperor Yang 隋煬帝 (r. 604-617) of the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618), who had all books in the imperial library copied. Yet the use of storing copies of documents in the palace or temple archive perhaps existed as early as the Western Zhou period 西周 (11th cent.-770 BCE). Copies were also made of important book projects like the Yongle dadian 永樂大典 of the early Ming 明 (1368-1644) or the Siku quanshu 四庫全書 of the mid-Qing period 清 (1644-1911).
Copies of memorials to the throne (fuzhe 副折) were regularly produced from the Qianlong reign-period 乾隆 (1736-1795) on. Memorials reaching the State Council (junjichu 軍機處) were copied for archiving, the so-called lufu zouzhe 錄副奏折 (or lufu 錄副 for short). During the time Hešen (Ch. Heshen 和珅, 1750-1799) dominated the government, he had copies of all documents produced and provided to the State Council. This procedure was abolished with his death in 1799.
An official decree on the compilation of copies was issued in 1729 by the Yongzheng Emperor 雍正帝 (r. 1661-1722), who ordered to produce copies of memorials to the throne in order to forestall intentional altering in documents of state functionaries. The practice began a year later with the creation of the State Council. The practice was extended to confidential memorials (zouzhe 奏折) during the Qianlong reign-period.
Normally, all confidential memorials were handed over to the State Council. If the emperor had inscribed them with vermillion characters (zhupi 朱批), ordering that "the respective Ministry shall discuss the matter" (gai bu yi zou 該部議奏), or "shall be informed" (gai bu zhidao 該部知道) then copies (lufuben 錄副本, lufu 錄副) were sent to the respective institution (lufu fachao 錄副發抄). If the sovereign had inscribed "read" (lan 覽) or "[We] have taken notice" (zhidao le 知道了), or had permitted or criticized the suggestion made in the memorial, the procedure depended on the circumstance. If a ministry was responsible, it obtained a copy, but otherwise, no copy was sent. In any case, all confidential memorials decided on by the throne were copied and put into the archive. The archives were not sorted thematically, but according to the date.
The outer shape of the copies differed from that of the originals. There was no restriction as to the number of characters per column, and the text could be written in cursive script (caoshu 草書), not in "correct" regular style (zhengkai 正楷). The copies ended with the date of the document and the formula feng zhupi 奉朱批 "receiving imperial notes", and qin ci 欽此 "respect this". Copies included the original text of the memorials as well as the emperor's notes on it, the latter written in normal black ink, and not in cinnabar ink, as used for the original.
The First Historical Archives (Di Yi Lishi dang'anguan 第一歷史檔案館) in Beijing owns 800,000 memorial copies in Chinese language, and 180,000 memorials in Manchu language processed by the State Council.