Qing dynasty palace memorials were a system of writing that evolved from a combination of Ming dynasty (1368-1644) routine memorials and memorials to the emperors as well as Manchurian customs. In the Ming dynasty, officials used routine memorials to report official matters and memorial to the emperors to report private affairs. However, both routine memorials and memorials to the emperors had to be reviewed by the cabinet (who would then provide their opinions) before they were delivered to emperors. Because memorials that were rejected during reviews led to delays in the delivery of important official documents, and that the review process made it easier for confidential matters to be leaked, Emperor Kangxi (1654-1722; reign: 1662-1722), based on the custom that Manchurian juniors would pay respect to their seniors and that trusted officials would pay respect to their emperors, decided to add a private channel of communication in addition to the existing routine memorials and memorials submitted to emperors. In such respect-paying memorials, trusted officials would report on what they had heard or local events that had occurred. The palace memorials subsequently came into being and became an intelligence network for emperors to be fully informed about the country’s military affairs and officials’ behavior.
Officials who were qualified to submit memorials to emperors had to write the memorials personally themselves. After sealing the memorials, they would have their confidants (called “memorial deliverers” in the memorials) deliver them via horses to the Jinyun Gate outside the Gate of Heavenly Purity in the Forbidden City of Beijing. The officials on duty at the Gate of Heavenly Purity would then forward the memorials to emperors to read and answer. Such a practice ensured the confidentiality of the documents and improved administrative efficiency, allowing the emperors to be fully informed about all affairs while living inside the temple.
The Qing dynasty palace memorials originated from the Kangxi period. By the Yongzheng period, the scope of palace memorials was expanded and regulations were formulated. By the Qianlong period, palace memorials became more and more institutionalized and continued until the end of the Qing dynasty. Such a practice was a major factor contributing to the Qing empire, an ethnic minority, ruling China for more than 260 years. The palace memorials strengthened national governance and stability, and became a Qing dynasty-specific form of politics.
This book is one of the books in the Exploring the National Palace Museum series, which presents various topics in easy-to-understand language. The book uses a batch of confidential documents sent back and forth between the emperor and an Eight Banners family to teach readers about the history of Qing dynasty palace memorials, allowing them to catch a full glimpse of the unknown secrets hidden within Qing empire political operations.