An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

fenglu 俸祿, salary of state officials

May 7, 2016 © Ulrich Theobald

Fenglu 俸祿 was the traditional term for the salary of state officials. In pre-imperial times the servicemen of regional rulers (zhuhou 諸侯) were granted serfs as well as lots of land from whose produce they could live. These lots of land were interitable. From the Warring States period 戰國 (5th cent.-221 BCE) on this system of regional states declined, and the regional rulers (zhuhou 諸侯) appointed ministers, administrators and functionaries according as individuals, rewarding them with a sum of money directly disbursed from the state treasury.

In the Qin 秦 (221-206 BCE) and Han 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) periods the salary was paid out in kind (millet or rice), the so-called salary grain (fengmi 俸米). The amount depended on the status or rank of an official, and was fixed by law. Each official rank (ji 級) was endowed with a fix amount of grain (calculated in the volume measure shi 石, see weights and measures). When the tribute grain (caoliang 漕糧) shipped annually to the capital did not suffice any more to pay out the salaries of all state officials, it was decided to pay out half of the salary in kind, and the other half in money (fengqian 俸錢), during the period of the Southern and Northern Dynasties 南北朝 (300~600) also in the form of textiles which was at that time still one form of taxes (see tripartite tax system). The Northern Wei dynasty 北魏 (386-534) decided to endow local officials with public fields (gongtian 公田) whose revenue was to be used to pay the salary.

The Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618) inherited this system, but only for local officials, not for those serving in the capital. While officials were paid out a salary, subofficial employees without rank (juewei 爵位) were granted a "firewood allowance" (xinxiang 薪餉). Emperor Taizong 唐太宗 (r. 626-649) of the Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) divided the annual payment of the salary into two periods of payment, one in spring, and one in autumn. From 736 on officials were given a monthly salary (yuefeng 月俸).

Apart from the salary, Song period 宋 (960-1279) officials were given a wide range of allowances, some for general purposes (gongyong qian 公用錢), others designated as clothing allowance (fuzhuang fei 服裝費), firewood and food allowance (huoshi fei 伙食費), for tea and hot water (chatang qian 茶湯錢) or to buy stationery (bangong fei 辦公費). The prodigious salaries of the Song period dropped under the Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368), but the Mongols endowed their princes with lavish appanages.

Under the Ming 明 (1368-1644) and Qing 清 (1644-1911) dynasties the salaries for state officials made out a considerable part of the state expenditure. Manchus were generally granted higher salaries than Chinese officials.

Huang Yunwu 黃運武, ed. (1992). Xinbian caizhzeng da cidian 新編財政大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 1023.