An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

jiuxi 九錫, the nine privileges

Jun 23, 2018 © Ulrich Theobald

The nine privileges or nine presents (jiuxi 九錫, an old mispelling for jiuci 九賜), were extraordinary presents or concessions made by the emperor to ministers or persons of outstanding merits. The term appears in the Confucian Classic Chunqiu 春秋 "Spring and Autumn Annals", and is by the Han-period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) scholar He Xiu 何休 (129-182) interpreted as the following objects or services:

Table 1. The Nine Privileges (jiuxi 九錫)
車馬 chema state coach
衣服 yifu imperial robes
樂則 yueze imperial musical standards
朱戶 zhuhu red-lacquered doors
納陛 nasheng flat steps
虎賁 huben private guard
弓矢 gongshi bow and arrows
鈇鉞 fuyue ceremonial axe
秬鬯 juchang wine for ancestral sacrifices

The Tang-period 唐 (618-907) scholar Yan Shigu 顏師古 (581-645), commenting on the biography of Emperor Wu 漢武帝 (r. 141-87 BCE) in the dynastic history Hanshu 漢書, speaks of 100 guardsmen.

The nine imperial gifts were in use in early imperial China. The regent Wang Mang 王莽 (45 BCE-23 CE), who eventually replaced the Former Han dynasty and founded a dynasty of its own, the Xin 新 (8-23 CE), had been presented the nine imperial gifts and thus reached a ceremonial status resembling that of the sovereign.

During the Wei 曹魏 (220-265), Jin 晉 (265-420), and Southern Dynasties 南朝 (420-589) periods, the presenting of the nine privileges was thus a quasi-announcement that a powerful minister planned to threaten a dynasty. Cao Cao 曹操 (155-220), Duke of Wei 魏, obtained the nine privileges, and his son Cao Pi 曹丕 (Emperor Wen 魏文帝, r. 220-226) founded the Wei dynasty. Emperor Taizong 唐太宗 (r. 626-649), the co-founder of the Tang dynasty, therefore said he had become the Son of Heaven by the nine privileges (you jiuxi zuo tianzi 由九錫作天子).

The philosophy of ancient times attributed to each of the nine presents a certain social, political and metaphysical meaning. Coaches would express the owner's gradual and measured behaviour and movement. Court robes were a sign of his virtuous and adequate speech and conduct. The use of imperial musical standards served to instruct the people in the way of kindheartedness. Red doors and flat steps signalled the owner's high social status. Guardsmen, weapons, and ceremonial axes were not just means of protection, but also symbols of jurisdictional rights, mainly to punish and to attack. Ceremonial wine allowed to venerate the ancestors and to express ways of filial piety.

The presentation of the nine privileges (jia jiuxi 加九錫) was usually accompanied by a dedication written by the emperor. This type of document was known as "text on the nine privileges" (jiuxi wen 九錫文), as in the case of Cao Pi, emperor of Wei in the north, who, after receiving Sun Quan's 孫權 (r. 222-252) acceptance of the suzerainty of Wei over his own territory, Wu 吳 (222-280), bestowed Sun the nine privileges (document Ce ming Sun Quan jiuxi wen 策命孫權九錫文) and thus in turn acknowledged Sun's sovereignty over the empire of Wu in the south.

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