Three Departments and Six Ministries

Three Departments and Six Ministries
Chinese 三省六部

The Three Departments and Six Ministries system was the main central administrative structure adopted in Imperial China. While its separate departments first took shape during the Han dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE), it emerged in a more complete form during the Sui dynasty (581–618 CE), and was adopted in some form by all Chinese dynasties since.

(皇帝; huáng dì)
(門下省; 门下省; mén xià shěng)
Department of State Affairs
(尚書省; 尚书省; shàng shū shěng)
Central Secretariat
(中書省; 中书省; zhōng shū shěng)
Ministry of Personnel
(吏部; lì bù)
Ministry of Revenue
(戶部; 户部; hù bù)
Ministry of Rites
(禮部; 礼部; lǐ bù)
Ministry of Defence
(兵部; bīng bù)
Ministry of Justice
(刑部; xíng bù)
Ministry of Works
(工部; gōng bù)


The Three Departments were the top-level offices of the administration. They were the Central Secretariat (中書省; 中书省; zhōng shū shěng), the Chancellery (門下省; 门下省; mén xià shěng), and the Department of State Affairs (尚書省; 尚书省; shàng shū shěng). They were the principal divisions of a differentiated set of secretarial functions, distributed among the three departments. The head of the Central Secretariat or the Department of State Affairs was generally referred to as the Chancellor, next only to the Emperor in rank and power.

The Six Ministries, also traditionally translated as "Boards", were direct administrative organs of the state, and each was headed by a Minister/Secretary (尚書; 尚书; shàng shū) who was assisted by two Vice Ministers/Secretaries (侍郎; shì láng).

Early history

Before the institution of the Three Departments and Six Ministries, the central administrative structure of the Qin and Han dynasties was the Three Lords and Nine Ministers (三公九卿; sān gōng jiǔ qīng) system. Nonetheless, even then, offices which fulfilled the same functions as the later three departments were already in existence.

The Department of State Affairs was first devised during the Qin dynasty (221–206 BCE), originally in an archival role. During the reign of Emperor Wu in the Western Han dynasty (206 BCE – 9 CE), the Secretariat's office was also instituted, as a channel of communications between the Emperor's advisors and the government as a whole. By the Eastern Han dynasty (25–220 CE), an office of advisors and reviewers had also been set up.

By the time of the Cao Wei state (220–265 CE), the emperor Cao Pi made use of this base of advisers to officially institute the Secretariat to balance against the powerful Department of State Affairs. This was the first office known as the 'Secretariat' to fulfil functions similar to its later form, drafting imperial edicts.[1]

The office of the Chancellery, as a review mechanism, was first instituted during the Jin dynasty (265–420 CE) and carried on throughout the Northern and Southern Dynasties period (420–589 CE), where it often became the most powerful office in the central government.

Three Departments

Six Ministries

Beneath each Ministry were many Bureaus (; ), bodies responsible for grassroots administration.

Other Departments

Aside from the "Three Departments", there were three others equal in status to them, but they are rarely involved in the administration of the state.

See also



  1. Lu, 235.
  2. Imperial China 900-1800, by Frederick W. Mote, p477-478
  3. Hucker, 32.
  4. Hucker, 33.
  5. Hucker, 3335.
  6. Hucker, 35.
  7. 1 2 Hucker, 36.


This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 11/30/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.