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Palace Memorials
Anonymous, Ch'ing dynasty (1644-1911)
20.2 x 70.0 cm

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The drafting and submitting of documents to the court in the early Ch'ing dynasty followed the system used in the previous Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Public matters were dealt with in subject memorials, while private ones in confidential memorials. Starting from the middle of the K'ang-hsi Emperor’s reign (r. 1662-1722), however, the memorial system was revamped, marking the beginning of the Ch'ing system. The contents of these now confidential memorials included both public and private matters. Military and civil officials memorialized on local matters, the effectiveness of government, and public sentiment, which were all reported to the emperor truthfully and on an individual basis. After a memorial was written, it was inserted into a packet and sealed, wrapped in yellow paper, and placed within a memorial case before being finally locked and then wrapped in yellow silk. The case and key for the memorial were provided by the inner court. If the case was damaged, it had to be returned along with the key, and the memorial was replaced. If memorial cases were lacking, and the inner court could not provide one in time, a memorial could be fastened between two boards, bound, and then wrapped in silk. If the contents were of an urgent government matter, the memorial could be sent by express courier. All other memorials, even those from high officials, could only could be sent by regular government means of transportation to the capital, where they were received by the memorial inspector at the palace gate. Memorials did not go through ordinary bureaucratic channels, but straight to the emperor, making them confidential and convenient. After the emperor personally wrote notes or comments, the memorial was returned directly to the writer. Then the memorial with imperial comments was returned to the court, where it was stored, hence the name "palace memorials." The collection of memorials in the Museum collection includes those from the reigns of various emperors and written in both Manchu and Chinese, totaling more than 158,000. They are precious first-hand information for the study of Ch'ing history and government.
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