An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

ceshu 冊書, patents of investiture

Feb 10, 2023 © Ulrich Theobald

Patents of investiture (ceshu 冊書, cegao 冊浩) were documents in imperial China certifying ennoblement or the appointment to a high position. It was one type of edicts and orders (zhaoling 詔令).

Depending on the function, different subtypes can be discerned, namely "jade patents" (yuce 玉冊) for the formal investiture or award of title to an emperor's parents or grandparents (shangzunhao 上尊號) or similar titles of honour (huihao 徽號), "nomination patents" (lice 立冊) for the nomination of an empress and a heir apparent, "ennoblement patents" (fengce 封冊), "mournful patents" (aice 哀冊) for the passing away of an emperor or an empress (yanjia 晏駕) or when a prince, an nobleman in the rank of a prince, or a high-ranking official passed away, "present patents" (zengce 贈冊) used when the sovereign presented a (posthumous) honorific title or an office title, "patents of posthumous titles" (yice 謚冊), "patents of office and title" (zengyice 贈謚冊), "sacrificial patents" (jice 祭冊) used when the sovereign delivered sacrifices at the tomb of a high-ranking functionary, "grant patents" (cice 賜冊) used for gifts to an official, "patents of dismissal" (miance 免冊 or bace 罷冊) for high functionaries, and "sacrificial patents" (zhuce 祝冊) used as texts for prayers delivered during the suburban offerings.

An example for a "jade patent" is xxx Mao Jun jiuxi yuce wen 茅君九錫玉冊文 /das glaube ich nicht, das ist ein daoistisches Ding/, one for a "nomination patent" Ce li huangtaizi 策立皇太子 by xxx, one for an ennoblement Feng He Mao wei Xicheng gong ce 封何攀為西城公策, such for a mourning Wudi aice wen 武帝哀冊文, such for a posthumous title Yi Wang Dao ce 謚王導冊, one for a combined patent of title and rank is Zeng yi Wen Jiao ce 贈謚溫嶠冊, an example for a grant is Ci Shi Dan ce 賜史丹策, and an example for a dismissal is Ce mian Ding Ming 冊免丁明.

During the Zhou period 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE), the word ce 冊 (also written 策) was used for the formal enthronement of regional rulers (zhuhou 諸侯) and the appointment of high functionaries like the Three Solitaries (sangu 孤, i.e. the Three Dukes), ministers (qing 卿), and grand masters (dafu 大夫). The Han dynasty 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) used patents for the appointment and dismissal of imperial princes (zhuhou wang 諸侯) and the Three Dukes, and as instructions to state officials. The documents were written in seal-script style (zhuanshu 篆書) on bamboo slips of different length, depending on the purpose, and in chancery script (lishu 隸書) in two columns on a single wooden slip (mujian 木簡) of 1 chi of length (see weights and measures) for the dismissal of officials.

In the very late Eastern Han period 東漢 (25-220 CE), the word ce 冊 was used for patents, while the word ce 策 was separated from this meaning and from then on denoted consultative texts in correspondence between the sovereign and his ministers. The use of of ce-type texts as certificates of investiture or appointment began in the 3rd century. Gold and jade were therefore used for decorative purposes. The use of ce-type texts for funeral occasions, and particularly to confer posthumous titles, began in the Sui period 隋 (581-618).

For the investiture of an emperor’s forebear, "jade patents" (yuce) were used during the Qing period 清 (1644-1911), and for that of an empress, imperial princes (qinwang 親王) and their descendants, "gold patents" (jince 金冊). Those of so-called commandery princes (junwang 郡王) and their descendants, "gold-coated silver patents" (dujin yince 鍍金銀冊). For all other types of nobility, and also for imperial concubines or court ladies (feibin 妃嬪), as well as ordinary patents, were written on folded paper (zhedieshi 折疊式). The texts were composed in Manchu and Chinese language.

Liang Yunguo 劉運國, Liang Shipeng 梁式朋, eds. (1992). Gongwen da cidian 公文大辭典 (Beijing: Dianzi keji daxue chubanshe), 335.
Lin Fei 林非, ed. (1997). Zhongguo sanwen da cidian 中國散文大辭典 (Zhengzhou: Zhongzhou guji chubanshe), 74.
Qin Guojing 秦國經 (1992). "Ceming 冊書", in Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, in Tushuguanxue qingbaoxue dang’anxue 圖書館學·情報學·檔案學 (Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe), 27.
Shi Xuanyuan 施宣圓 et al., ed. (1987). Zhongguo wenhua cidian 中國文化辭典 (Shanghai: Shanghai shehui kexueyuan chubanshe), 151.
Xue Hong 薛虹 et al., ed. (1998). Zhongguo huangshi gongting cidian 中國皇室宮廷辭典 (Changchun: Jilin wenshi chubanshe), 160.