An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

tiben 題本, routine memorial

Nov 30, 2022 © Ulrich Theobald

Routine memorials (tiben 題本, short ti 題, also called zhangshu 章疏) were one type of memorial functionaries could present to the throne. They were used during the Ming 明 (1368-1644) and Qing 清 (1644-1911) periods. In the early Ming era, the only form were memorials to the throne (zouben 奏本), but because of the complexity of administration, it was not possible that all issues could be communicated to the throne via regular memorials. For this reason, the instrument of routine memorial was introduced in 1424 in order to deal with less important routine matters on which regular reports were due. Important issues were dealt with in memorials to the throne.

The Qing dynasty took over the instrument of routine memorials, along with that of memorials to the throne. Because it was not easy for functionaries to decide whether a problem was "urgent" or not, the Qing defined that all aspects of grain transport, monetary transfers, judicial matters, questions of military personnel and horses, evaluation of officials, as well as issues of local administration were to be reported on by routine memorials. Tiben-type memorials were to be sealed by the sender. Issues pertaining to appointment and demotion of officials, rewards and punishments, and personal matters, were to be reported in memorials to the throne (zouben), which were not sealed.

With the abolishment of memorials to the throne (zouben) in 1748, routine memorials replaced part of the documents of that type. Zouben had been restricted to the use by high-ranking civilian and military officials, like governors-general (zongdu 總督), governors (xunfu 巡撫), provincial Banner generals (jiangjun 將軍), Banner commanders-in-chief (dutong 都統), Ministers (shangshu 尚書) and Vice Ministers (shilang 侍郎), as well as a restricted number of supervising secretaries and investigating censors (kedao guanyuan 科道官員). Zouben-type memorials were, however, replaced by confidential memorials (zouzhe 奏折). In the course of the 19th century, the latter were much more often used, and finally became the normal form of memorial. Routine memorials were therefore abolished in 1901, with the exception of memorials expressing congratulation (tiheben 題賀本).

Routine memorials were written on leporello-style folded paper (zhezi 折子) of 7.9 × 3.6 cun size (see weights and measures), of which each page was inscribed with 6 columns of 18-20 characters, with two to three character spaces being reserved as head area for honorific expressions (taitou 抬頭). The height of the inscribed area (tangkou 堂口) was 5.3 cun. The cover page was inscribed with the single word ti 題. The main text began with the function and name of the presenter, and a headline with the topic of the memorial. It explained the background and reasoning and ended with a suggestion how to deal with a particular problem. The memorial ended with the words "humbly submitting, [I/we] ask for imperial order" (jin ti qing zhi 謹題請旨) or "humbly presenting this memorial" (jin ti zou wen 謹題奏聞). The last page was inscribed with the date and repeated information on the author(s). Seals were applied on the cover and the final page. The Chongzhen Emperor 崇禎帝 (r. 1627-1644) of the Ming decreed that in order to make the handling of lengthier documents easier, a yellow sticker (tiehuang 貼黃) was to be attached on which a summary of the memorial was inscribed, no longer than 100 characters. The length of a routine memorial was stipulated at no longer than 300 characters, but this restriction was abolished in 1725. This custom is known as the yellow-sticker system (tiehuang zhidu 貼黃制度). The Qing dynasty used these stickers to present translations of a Manchu memorial into Chinese, and vice versa.

Routine memorials from the provinces were first sent to the Office of Transmission (tongzhengshi si 通政使司), where they were checked according to formal criteria and then forwarded to the Grand Secretariat (neige 內閣). Memorials passing the Office were therefore called "Transmission memorials" (tongben 通本). Appendixes with more detailed information (jietie 揭帖) were forwarded to the institution in question. Routine memorials send by Ministries, courts (si 寺) and directorates (jian 監) were submitted directly to the Grand Secretariat, and were therefore called "Ministerial memorials" (buben 部本). For both types of routine memorials, the Grand Secretariat drafted an answer (piaoni 票擬, see piao 票) for the emperor, and submitted the document to the throne for decision. The suggested answer was written on a separate slip of paper (piaozhi 票旨, piaoqian 票簽) that was somewhat smaller than the memorial and was inserted between the pages of the memorial. If there was only one suggested answer, the draft was called "single slip" (danqian 單簽), and "double slip" (shuangqian 雙簽), if the Grand Secretariat proposed two solutions or decisions. There might also be three (sanqian 三簽) or four (siqian 四簽) suggestions for a rescript. In some cases, memorials were accompanied by a booklet (ce 冊) containing details like exact figures.

The decision of the sovereign after lecture of the document (yulan 御覽) was processed by the Endorsement-Copying Office (pibenchu 批本處) and the Grand Secretariat which wrote the emperor's will with red ink on the cover page of the memorial as "notes in red" (pihong 批紅). Transmission memorials were usually annotated with the words "the respective Ministry shall be informed" (gai bu zhidao 該部知道), while Ministerial memorials were marked with the words "to deal with according suggestion" (yi yi 依議), or "[We] have taken notice of this" (zhidao le 知道了). In other cases, there was further discussion and investigation necessary in the institution responsible, and the memorial was resubmitted in time. There were strict time limits within which the rescript had to be passed down for execution. This "red memorial" (hongben 紅本) was then forwarded to the one of the Six Offices of Scrutiny (liuke 六科) in question where the document was copied and archived (the so-called liuke tiben 六科題本), and the issue was dealt with as necessary. Documents sent to the Grand Secretariat for further inclusion among historical records were called "historiography documents" (shishu 史書),and those to be stored in the departments of the Censorate (duchayuan 都察院) had the designation "record documents" (lushu 錄書 or 錄疏).

In the Manchu and Chinese Document Registries (piaoqianchu 票簽處), finalized routine memorials were collected by day and topic and stored as "silk-thread booklets" (silunbu 絲綸簿). The original "red memorials" were collected by the Grand Secretariat and stored in the Imperial Documents Archive (hongbenku 紅本庫). The Yongzheng Emperor 雍正帝 (r. 1722-1735) introduced the document copy (fuben 副本) system in order to prevent loss of information or intentional change of document texts. These copies also included the vermillion notes, but in black. They were apparently stored in the Imperial Archive (Huangshicheng 皇史宬) during the 18th century, but no copies have survived in this institution. Others survived in the copy archive of the Grand Secretariat (fubenku 副本庫).

Qin Guojing 秦國經 (1993). "Tiben 題本", 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), 414.
Shan Shikui (1985) 單士魁. "Qingdai tiben zhidu kaolüe 清代題本制度考略", in Zhongguo Di Yi Lishi Dang'anguan 中國第一歷史檔案館, ed. Ming-Qing dang'an lunwen xuanbian 明清檔案論文選編 (Beijing: Dang'an chubanshe), 971-982.
Shan Shikui 單士魁 (1985). "Qingdai zhi, zhao, gao, chi, ti, zou, biao, jian shuolüe 清代制、詔、誥、敕、題、奏、表、箋說略", in Zhongguo Di Yi Lishi Dang'anguan 中國第一歷史檔案館, ed. Ming-Qing dang'an lunwen xuanbian 明清檔案論文選編 (Beijing: Dang'an chubanshe), 983-994.