An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

neiwufu 内務府, the Imperial Household Department

Mar 28, 2018 © Ulrich Theobald

The Neiwufu 内務府, Manchu name Dorgi baita be uheri kadalara yamun, was a central government agency taking care of the management of the imperial household and its palaces and workshops during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911). It included the organization of clothes, food, necessities, weapons, construction materials, horses, and all things "used by the emperor" (yuyong 御用) and his household. The institution had its origins in the bondservant (baoyi 包衣, from Manchu booyi) system of the Manchus, where nobles were served by a group of bondservants who managed the household, while the fields were worked by serfs (nubi 奴婢, Manchu aha).

The imperial household was founded in 1644, but more details about its organization, size and management in the early phase are unknown. In 1653, an imperial edict organized the Department into 13 bureaus (yamen 衙門).

Table 1. The old bureaus of the Imperial Household Department
司禮監 silisi Directorate of Ceremonial
尙方司 shangfangsi Office of Palace Justice
御用監 yuyongjian Directorate for Imperial Accoutrements
御馬監 yumajian Directorate of Imperial Horses
內官監 neiguanjian Directorate of Palace Eunuchs
尙衣監 shangyijian Directorate for Imperial Apparel
尙膳監 shangshanjian Directorate for Palace Delicacies
尙寶監 shangbaojian Directorate of Palace Seals
司設監 sishejian Directorate of the Imperial Regalia
兵仗局 bingzhangju Palace Armoury
惜薪司 xixinsi Firewood Office
鐘鼓司 zhonggusi Bells and Drums Office
織染局 zhiranju Weaving and Dyeing Service

This pattern followed the structure of the household management system of the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). Yet the Ming institutions, run by eunuchs, were abolished after the death of the Shunzhi Emperor 順治帝 (r. 1643-1661). The Kangxi Emperor 康熙帝 (r. 1661-1722) reintroduced the institution in 1677, and in 1723, the Office of Imperial Pasturages (qingfengsi 慶豐司) was integrated into the Household Department. In this constitution, but internally organized in a different manner, it remained intact until 1924, when the Act Allowing the Dynasty to Reside (Youdai Qingshi tiaojian 優待清室條件) was revised (Xiuzheng Qingshi youdai tiaojian 修正清室優待條件) and Ex-Emperor Puyi 溥儀 (r. 1908-1912, 1917) forced to leave the Imperial City.

The Department was run by one to four Grand Ministers Supervisor (zongguan dachen 總管大臣, rank 2b-2a), each of which was assisted by a department director (tang langzhong 堂郎中, 5a), two department secretaries (tang zhushi 堂主事) and several department scribes (tang bitieshi 堂筆帖式). The Grand Minister resided in the Headquarters of the Imperial Household Department (neiwufu tang 內務府堂) and oversaw the Seven Offices (qisi 七司) and the Three Courts (sanyuan 三院).

Table 2. The Seven Offices (qisi 七司) and Three Courts (sanyuan 三院)
廣儲司 guangchusi Storage Office
都虞司 duyusi Office of Imperial Hunt
掌儀司 zhangyisi Office of Palace Ceremonial
會計司 kuaijisi Office of Palace Accounts
營造司 yingzaosi Office of Palace Construction
慶豐司 qingfengsi Office of Imperial Pasturages
慎刑司 shenxingsi Office of Palace Justice
上駟院 shangsiyuan Palace Stud
武備院 wubeiyuan Court of Imperial Armaments
奉宸苑 fengchenyuan Imperial Parks Administration

Each of these agencies was run by a director (langzhong 郎中), who was assisted by a vice director (yuanwailang 員外郎), secretaries, deputy secretaries, and scribes.

The Storage Office (guangchusi 廣儲司) included the Bullion Vault (yinku 銀庫), the Fur Store (piku 皮庫), the Porcelain Store (ciku 磁庫), the Silk Store (duanku 緞庫), the Imperial Wardrobe (yiku 衣庫), and the Tea Store (chaku 茶庫), together known as the Six Stores (liuku 六庫). They were managed by four department directors, two of which were called superintendents (zongguan liuku shiwu 總管六庫事物), while the others bore the title assistant superintendent (jianshe liuku shiwu 兼攝六庫事物). In addition to these, each of the Six Stores was supervised by an assistant department director (with the designation jianshe xy-ku shiwu 兼攝某庫事物). Their staffs included controllers (liupin siku 六品司庫, rank 6), assistant controllers (wupin siku 無品司庫, no rank), inspectors (kushi 庫使) and overseers (bapin sijiang 八品司匠, rank 8). The Storage Office also included the imperial silk manufactories (zhizaochu 織造處) in Nanjing, Suzhou and Hangzhou.

The Office of Palace Accounts (kuaijisi 會計司) was responsible for collecting the rents of Banner property (see Banner Land and Eight Banners), a task carried out by the rents office for lands of the Three Imperial Banners (sanqi yinliang zhuangtou chu 三旗銀糧莊頭處).

The Office of Palace Ceremonial (zhangyisi 掌儀司, in 1909 renamed zhanglisi 掌禮司) regulated sacrificial and ceremonial observances and controlled the eunuchs. The agents attached to this office were the readers of prayers at sacrifices (duzhuguan 讀祝官), the heralds (zanlilang 贊禮郎), the supervisors of sacrificial attributes (sizuguan 司俎官), the rent collectors for lands in the districts (sishui 司稅), acolytes (sixiang 司香), supervisors of preparation of incense (sidui 司碓), supervisors of preparation of eatables (sicuan 司爨), the head of the fruit office (guofang 果房), the supervisor of the court theatrical office (shengpingshu 昇平署), and the head of the office of shamanism (shenfang 神房) in the Kunning Palace 坤寧宮.

The Office of Imperial Hunt (duyusi 都虞司) was divided into three detachments, namely the imperial kennels (goufang 狗房), the gerfalcon aviary (yingfang 鷹房), and the hawk aviary ( 鶻房).

The Office of Palace Justice (shenxingsi 慎刑司) was responsible for jurisdiction related to members of the imperial family. Attached to it was the police bureau (fanyichu 番役處), which was, among other duties, to control the eunuchs.

The Office of Palace Construction (yingzaosi 營造司) was responsible for buildings, streets and walls of the Imperial City (Zijincheng 紫禁城). Its head was called Grand Minister on Duty (zhinian dachen 值年大臣). He controlled a staff of storehouse overseers (zhangku 掌庫) and inspectors of work (sijiang 司匠). The Office included the office for collecting rent of confiscated property (guanfang zuku 官房租庫).

The Office of Imperial Pasturages (qingfengsi 慶豐司) was also responsible for the salaries of the members of the Three Imperial Banners by way of the pay office (qianliang yamen 錢糧衙門 or guanli sanqi yinliang chu 管理三旗銀兩處). The Chancery of the Imperial Household (guanfang shiwu chu 關防事務處) controlled the imperial seals and organized the access to the emperor. Also into the jurisdiction of the Office of Imperial Pasturages fell the many workshops (zaobanchu 造辦處), directly attached to the Yangxin Hall 養心殿 (thus called Yangxindian zaobanchu 養心殿造辦處), as well as the schools for the Banners and the imperial family (guanxue 官學), namely that of the Xian'an Palace 咸安宮官學, Mt. Jingshan 景山官學, and the "Long Buildings" School (changfang guanxue 長房官學), as well as the court theatrical school (Nanfu guanxue 南府官學).

The Palace Stud (shangsiyuan 上駟院) was divided into a left and a right department (zuosi 左司, yousi 右司), and included the employment of supervisors of droves (adun shiwei 阿敦侍衛), saddlery inspectors (si'anzhang 司鞍長) and veterinary surgeons (yishizhang 醫師長). The stables in Beijing (neijiu 內廄) and in the provinces (waijiu 外廄) were supervised by stable heads (jiuzhang 廄長), and droves, flocks and herds outside by inspectors of droves (muzhang 牧長).

The Court of Imperial Armaments (wubeiyuan 武備院) supervised the arsenal, fullery, and the many workshops where weapons and military equipment were manufactured. The staff included storehouse keepers (kushou 庫守), supervisors of armour-making (sihan 司函), tent-making (siwo 司幄), bow-making (sigong 司弓), arrow-making (sishi 司矢), umbrella-making (zhangsan zongling 掌傘總領), etc.

The Imperial Parks Administration (fengchenyuan 奉宸苑) was not only responsible for the imperial gardens and hunting parks, but also for growing the rice for the court supervised by the imperial agriculture office (daotianchang 稻田場), the tea and delicacies office (yucha shanfang 御茶膳房), the imperial dispensary (yuyaofang 御藥房), the boats office (yuchuanfang 御船房) and the game preserve (yuniaoqiangchu 御鳥槍處), which was managed by senior gamekeepers (lanling zongcheng 藍領總丞), keepers of the gunroom (niaoqiangzhang 鳥槍長) and keepers of the ammunition-store (nei huoyaoku kuzhang 內火藥庫庫長). The Parks Administration controlled the gardens Nanyuan 南苑, Yuanmingyuan 圓明園, Changchunyuan 暢春園 (Changchunyuan 長春園), Jingyiyuan 靜宜園 (Jingmingyuan 靜明園), the palaces at Mt. Wanshou 萬壽山, Mt. Yuquan 玉泉山, Mt. Xiangshan 香山, and those in Rehe 熱河 (Jehol), Tangquan 湯泉 (today's Tangshan 湯山 in Changping 昌平, Hebei), Panshan 盤山 (today's Jixain 薊縣), and Huangxinzhuang 黃新莊 (present-day Liangxiang 良鄉), as well as the Zhaigong Palace 齋宮 at the Temple of Heaven (Tiantan 天壇).

Apart from these, the Parks Administration included the management of the imperial printing office and bookbindery (xiushuchu 修書處) of the Hall of Military Glory (Wuyingdian 武英殿). The staff of this agency included, in addition to the usual officials, assistant department directors (zhengjianzao 正監造), inspectors (kuzhang 庫掌), revisers (zongcai 總裁), assistant revisers (tidiao 提調), proof readers (zuanxiu 纂修) and assistant proof readers (xiexiu 協修). Other agencies nominally under the Parks Administration were the Imperial Library (yushuchu 御書處) in the Hall of Literary Profundity (Wenyuange 文淵閣), the weaving and dyeing office (zhiranju 織染局), and the Imperial Construction Office (zongli gongcheng chu 總理工程處). In contrast to the imperial workshops (zaobanchu), the Construction Office had only to do with large palace buildings, like the Taihe Hall 太和殿, Zhonghe Hall 中和殿, Baohe Hall 保和殿 (the "Three Great Halls" Sandadian 三大殿), the Cining Hall 慈寧宮 or the Shoukang Hall 壽康宮.

Last, but not least, the Imperial Household Administration included the office for the administration of the Three Imperial Banners (sanqi canling chu 三旗參領處) or "inner Banners" (neiqi 內旗). In this agency, the population of the Banners, including bondservants, were registered, salaries and other forms of payments and grants alloted, the Banner schools organized, job appointments (including such inherited by sons and younger brothers) organized, family trees recorded and outstanding merits registered, military and language training effected, and the watch duties for the imperial guardsmen scheduled.

The officials of the Department had access to most buildings of the palace, even the private quarters of the emperor. The multitude of duties accruing in the Imperial Household required a huge staff whose agents operated not just in the capital, but also in the imperial workshops in the lower Yangtze region, the horse-breeding grounds in Mongolia, or the areas producing ginseng in Manchuria. Eunuchs and ladies-in-waiting also belonged to the Household Department.

It managed finances, rituals, jurisdictional matters, construction projects, the imperial bodyguard, fields belonging to the members of the Three Imperial Banners, forests as well as hunting grounds (yuanyou 苑囿) and fish ponds.

In order to prevent eunuchs from taking over control over the Imperial Household – as had happened during the Ming period – the head of the Department was a state official with high official rank. Eunuchs could only obtain offices of rank 4 or lower. The eunuch staff was controlled by the *Evaluation Office of the Inner Palace (jingshifang 敬事房), an institution for which the regulations particularly prescribed that it was only responsible for the Imperial Household, and not for political matters.

The finances of the Household Department (neifu tang 內府帑) were separated from the state treasury (guotang 國帑), which was managed by the Ministry of Revenue (hubu 戶部). Yet it was possible to effect monetary transfers between the two households. In quite a few instances, the Household Department defrayed cost for which actually the state treasury would have been responsible, for instance, military campaigns, construction projects at the Grand Canal, or disaster relief.

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