An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

gaoming 誥命, announcements

Feb 10, 2023 © Ulrich Theobald

Announcements (gao 誥) and charges (ming 命) were types of royal proclamation in early China. The terms are used as types of texts as presented in the Classic Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents". In imperial China, the combined word gaoming 誥命 was a type of edicts and orders (zhaoling) 詔令. It was mainly used for the appointment or investiture of high-ranking functionaries.

The word gao 誥 is derived from the character gao 告 "to make clear", and is used for the speeches Tang gao 湯誥 or Kangwang zhi gao 康王之誥 in the Shangshu. With the demise of the Zhou dynasty 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE), the expression fell into oblivion, and was only rarely used during the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE). The Tang dynasty 唐 (618-907) reintroduced it in the combined word gaoshen 告身, which was a kind of certificate issued for the appointment of officials. The Song dynasty 宋 (960-1279) created a special institution, the *Bureau for Announcements on Officials (gaoguanyuan 官告院), which was responsible for the issuing of these documents. The word gaoming was introduced by the Southern Song dynasty 南宋 (1127-1279) as a document proving the investiture of high officials, but also for a change in rank, transfer to other positions, ennoblement, posthumous ennoblement of an official’s father, and for dismissal. These documents were written on scrolls of richly coloured paper.

The Yuan dynasty 元 (1279-1368) used other types of documents for these purposes, namely "proclamations" (xuanming 宣命) for officials of ranks 1-5, and xxx (chidie 敕牒) for those of lower ranks. The Ming dynasty 明 (1368-1644) replaced the word xuanming with the ancient term gaoming. In the early phase of the Ming era, the expression was also used for the reports of three-annual auditing of officials (kaoji 考績). As before, gaoming texts were written on scroll paper in multiple colours blue, green, yellow, red, and black. The characters were written in seal-script style, namely the "jade-stick style" (yuzhu zhuan 玉箸篆) with even thickness and round ends for civilian, and the "willow-leave style" (liuye zhuan 柳葉篆) with sharp stroke tips for military officials. In general, gaoming-type documents were very brief and were composed in four- or six-syllable phrases. The text was written by scribes in the Hanlin Academy (Hanlinyuan 翰林院) and sealed by the Grand Secretariat (neige 內閣). The seal bore the inscription zhigao zhi bao 制誥之寶.

During the Qing period 清 (1644-1911), "investiture announcements" were used for officials of rank 5 and higher, and for ennoblements without generational limits (shijue chengxi wangti 世爵承襲罔替). For very high ranks of nobility, the paper was decorated with a border frame of dragons (longwen 龍紋). The paper itself was of silk and attached to spindles decorated with jade stones (yuzhou 玉軸) to be rolled up and unrolled for presentation. Members of the Mongolian nobility and such of lower rank, the spindles were decorated by ivory (xizhou 犀軸) or by black buffalo horn (hei niujiao 黑牛角). The rolled-up document (gaozhou 誥軸) was closed with a yellow band (yaqian huangdai 牙簽黃帶). Gaoming documents were often bilingual in the languages Manchu and Chinese.

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