An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

yuzhi 諭旨, imperial instructions

Feb 10, 2023 © Ulrich Theobald

Imperial instructions (yuzhi 諭旨) was one type of edicts and orders. The terms yu 諭 and zhi 旨 originally denoted two different types of documents. The word yu referred to documents going down, issued by the emperor or high-ranking functionaries. The chapter on state offices (ch. 161-172, Zhiguan zhi 職官志) in the official dynastic history Songshi 宋史 proves that the word was also used for public announcements (bangyu 榜諭).

The Qing dynasty 清 (1644-1911) stipulated the use of the expression shangyu 上諭 to signify documents promulgated by the sovereign. The word zhi 旨 was used as instructions transmitted orally by xxx 侍臣 to recipient functionaries. Instructions issued by high ministers were called junzhi 鈞旨, and such pronounced by prefects were known as taizhi 臺旨. For instructions from the throne, the Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368) introduced the term shengzhi 聖旨 "sacred instructions". This term was merged with the word yuzhi during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644).

The Qing dynasty finally used the expression yuzhi for written imperial orders of daily routine. These orders were published through two different channels, namely either as yuzhi trough the the Grand Secretariat (neige 內閣), or as court letters (tingji 廷寄) through the State Council (junjichu 軍機處). All types were written on the typical leporello-style folded paper. In case the sovereign wrote the text in person, he used cinnabar ink. Such documents were called zhuyu 硃諭 or zhupi yuzhi 硃批諭旨. However, this word was also used if the emperor added critical notes (written with vermillion ink) to drafts for imperial rescripts. This was the case for edicts written as rescripts to routine memorials. The format of imperial edicts was 26 × 11.5 cm. Each page was inscribed with 6 columns of 12-24 characters. During the late Ming period, the emperor's vermillion rescripts were sometimes carried out by chief eunuchs.

Orally transmitted edicts were called mianfeng yuzhi 面奉諭旨, and such transmitted by telegraph were known as dianzhi 電旨.

Liang Yunguo 劉運國, Liang Shipeng 梁式朋, eds. (1992). Gongwen da cidian 公文大辭典 (Beijing: Dianzi keji daxue chubanshe), 340.
Lü Zongli 呂宗力, ed. (1994). Zhongguo lidai guanzhi da cidian 中國歷代官制大辭典 (Beijing: Beijing chubanshe), 734, 763.
Qin Guojing 秦國經 (1992). "Gaoming 誥命", 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), 540.