Royal and noble ranks of the Qing dynasty

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The Qing dynasty (1636–1912) of China developed a complicated peerage system for royal and noble ranks.

Contents

Rule of inheritance

In principle, titles were downgraded one grade for each generation of inheritance.

Occasionally, a peer could be granted the privilege of shixi wangti (世襲罔替; shìxí wǎngtì; "perpetual heritability"), which allowed the title to be passed down without downgrading. Throughout the Qing dynasty, there were 12 imperial princely families who enjoyed this privilege. They were known as the "iron-cap princes".

The noble titles were inherited through a system of loose primogeniture: The eldest son from the peer's first wife was usually the heir apparent, but inheritance by a younger son, a son of a concubine, or brother of the peer was not uncommon. According to their birth (by the chief consort, secondary consort or concubines) and their father's rank, non-heir sons of imperial princes were also entitled to petition for a lower title than the one they would have received had they been the heir. Non-heir sons of other peers were also occasionally granted a lower title.

Whether imperial or not, the inheritance or bestowement was never automatic, and had to be approved either by the Emperor, the Ministry of Personnel, or the Imperial Clan Court. Imperial princes, upon reaching adulthood at the age of 20, had to pass tests in horse-riding, archery and the Manchu language before they were eligible for titles. Imperial princesses, other than the Emperor's daughters, were usually granted titles upon marriage, regardless of age. Princesses' titles were also usually fixed after they were granted, and were not affected by changes in their fathers' nobility ranks.

Grading system

Yunjiwei ("sub-commander of the cloud cavalry") was originally a military rank created in the Sui dynasty, but it was later turned into a military honour in the Tang dynasty as part of the xun guan (勳官; xūn guān) system. The Qing dynasty abolished the separate military honour system and merged it into the nobility rank system, using yunjiwei as the lowest grantable rank of nobility, and the basic unit of rank progression.

For example, a yunjiwei who received another grant of yunjiwei became a jiduwei. A first-class duke plus yunjiwei was the equivalent of 23 grants of yunjiwei.

Official rank (pin)

The Qing dynasty, much like previous dynasties, used an "official rank" system (; pǐn). This system had nine numbered ranks, each subdivided into upper and lower levels, in addition to the lowest "unranked" rank: from upper first pin (正一品), to lower ninth pin (從九品), to the unranked (未入流), for a total of 19 ranks. All government personnel, from the highest chancellors to the lowest clerk, held an official rank ex officio , which determined their salary, uniform, privileges and order of precedence.

This pin system existed in parallel to the noble ranks detailed in this article. Many higher noble titles ranked above this system (超品; chāopǐn). And while some titles corresponded to a pin, they were considered equivalents of convenience rather than actual official ranks.

Titular names

Historically, Chinese noble titles were usually created with a shiyi (食邑; shíyì; fief) each, even though the fief may only be nominal. The Hongwu Emperor of the Ming dynasty enfeoffed cadet branch princes and other nobles in different regions of China. The Qing dynasty ended this tradition; with only a few exceptions, no fief was ever named. No Qing prince was enfeoffed with territory. Instead, noble titles were created without a name, or were bestowed a meihao (美號; meǐhào; titular name). These names were usually descriptive of the peer's merit, virtue, or the circumstances leading to his ennoblement. The Dukes Yansheng kept their traditional fief in Shandong under Qing rule.

Titular names were unique for imperial princes, while non-imperial peers' titular names may overlap. Following Ming dynasty tradition, single-character names were reserved for qinwangs, while junwangs used two-character names. All other peers normally had two-character names, but may receive up to four characters.

Since noble titles were primarily awarded for military service, the titular names predominantly described martial virtues, e.g., zhongyong gong (忠勇公; zhōngyǒng gōng; "loyal and brave duke"). However, a particularly common titular name was cheng'en gong (承恩公; chéng'ēn gōng; "duke who receives grace"), which was frequently granted to the Empress's family members.

Imperial clan

Eight Privileges

At the top of the imperial hierarchy, the highest six ranks enjoyed the "Eight Privileges" (八分; bafen; jakūn ubu). These privileges were:

  1. Promotional books inscribed on jade, set of seals for correspondence, red carriage wheels, purple horse reins, right for reported entry, red walls of the residence, usage of corner lanterns, usage of leopard tail guns
  2. Precious stones on the mandarin hat crests, clothes with encircled dragon patterns, usage of imperial porcelain tea sets, purple reins, red wheels, doornails on the gate, employment of guards.
  3. Finials on mandarin hats embellished with precious stones, usage of two-eyed peacock feather, surcoats with encircled dragon patterns, purple reins, right to enter the imperial palace by horse, leopard tail guns, separate manor in the capital, employment of officials and eunuchs.

Peacock feathers, however, were prohibited for princes above the rank of beizi and direct imperial clansmen. The "Eight Privileges" entitled the prince to participate in state councils and share the spoils of war. However, the prince was also bound to reside in the capital and render service to the imperial court. In 1816, the princes were forbidden from reporting matters via eunuchs. Thus, most of the princes employed officials as managers of domestic affairs. The range of tasks of those officials included convey of memorials on behalf of the prince. The supervisor of princely manor held lower 4 rank in 9-pin system.

Male members

The four ranks above were granted solely to direct male-line descendants of the Emperor. These titles below were granted to cadet lines of the imperial clan.

The above six ranks are titles that enjoy the "Eight Privileges". The titles below do not enjoy the "Eight Privileges" and have no imperial duties.

All of the above titles are chaopin (超品; chāopǐn), outranking official ranks. The ranks below are ranked first to fourth pin respectively. The first three jiangjun ranks are each further subdivided into four classes: first class plus yunjiwei, first class, second class, and third class.

Regardless of title and rank, an imperial prince was addressed as "A-ge" (ᠠᡤᡝ; age; 阿哥; À-gē), which means "lord" or "commander" in Manchu.

Comparison of imperial ranks for male members
Imperial TitleTitle equivalentTitle of vassal stateClassSubclass
Crown PrinceAbove ranks
Khan
Prince of the First Rank
Prince of the Second RankShizi
Prince of the Third RankZhangzi
Prince of the Fourth RankGulun efu
Feng'en zhenguo gongHeshuo efu
Feng'en fuguo gong
Burubafen zhenguo gongJasagh taiji/tabunang
Burubafen fuguo gong
Zhenguo jiangjunJunzhu efuTaiji / Tabunang11
2
3
Fuguo jiangjunXianzhu efu21
2
3
Fengguo jiangjunJunjun efu31
2
3
Feng'en jiangjunXianjun efu41
2
3
Xiangjun efu51

Female members

The following titles were granted to female members of the imperial clan:

Comparison of titles for imperial princesses

Imperial PrincessMotherRank
Imperial ConsortPrimary princess consortSecondary Princess consort
Gurun PrincessEmpressAbove the ranks
Heshuo PrincessImperial Consort (down from Imperial Noble Consort)
JunzhuQinwang
XianzhuJunwang/Shizi
JunjunBeileQinwang
XianjunBeiziJunwang
XiangjunDuke with eight privillegesBeile
ClanswomanDuke without eight privillegesBeizi5
GeneralDuke with eight privilleges6
Duke without eight privilleges/General7

Princesses' consorts

Efu (ᡝᡶᡠ额驸; 額駙; éfù), also known Fuma (驸马; 駙馬; fùmǎ), translated as "Prince Consort". Its original meaning was "emperor's charioteer". It was usually granted to the spouse of a princess above the rank of zongnü. The efus were separated into seven ranks corresponding to the rank of the princesses the efu married. Efus who married gulun gongzhus and heshuo gongzhus held ranks equivalent to the beizis and dukes respectively. The remaining efus had equivalent official rank from the first to fifth pin.

An efu retained his title and privileges as long as the princess remained his primary spouse – even after her death. However, if an efu remarried or promoted a consort to be his primary spouse, he lost all rights obtained from his marriage to the princess.

Princess consorts

The following title were granted to consorts of imperial princes:

If the princess consort divorced a prince or died, the second princess consort held a title of "step consort" (继福晋, pinyin: jifujin). Divorced princess consorts were stripped of their privilleges and returned to their maiden manors. Dead primary consort of the emperor could be posthumously honoured as empress, ex. Lady Niohuru, primary consort of Minning, Prince Zhi of the First Rank was honoured as Empress Xiaomucheng, Lady Sakda, primary consort of Yizhu was honoured as Empress Xiaodexian. The same rule was for primary consort of the imperial prince who died before the marriage, e.g. Lady Nara, primary consort of Yongkui, Prince Li of the First Rank.

Palace maids from prince's residence could be promoted in case of princess consort's death or in case when they had children with a prince, ex. Wang Yuying, Yongxuan's servant was promoted to secondary consort. Remaining spouses could be promoted to higher positions in special circumstances, ex. lady Wanyan, Yongcheng's unranked spouse was given a title of secondary consort.

If imperial prince ascended the throne, his primary consort was named as empress, secondary consorts were named as noble consorts, consorts or concubines and mistresses were granted titles from first class female attendant to concubine or consort and given honorific names.

Princess consorts held titles according to their husbands. If the prince was demoted, princess consort could be treated appropriately. After the demotion of prince, princess consort returned her regalias to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. If the prince was born in a non-iron cap cadet line, his future title depended on the position of his consort. Nevertheless, they addressed themselves as "qie". On the other hand, princess consort was mainly addressed as "fujin" or "furen" according to the title of her husband. All princess consorts regardless of rank were listed in imperial genealogy (Jade Tables).

Princess consorts could wear chaofu befitting imperial consorts on solemn ceremonies, but were prohibited from wearing yellow-grounded robes. The crown of princess consort had peacocks instead of phoenixes and no tiers on the finial. Princess consort wore jifu with roundels of dragons matching patterns on the surcoat of her husband and tiara with phoenixes. Imperial duchesses wore jifu with medallions of flowers like imperial consorts below the rank of noble lady.

Comparison of imperial titles for women
Imperial consortImperial princess consortImperial clanswomen rankImperial Princess
EmpressAbove the ranks
Imperial Noble ConsortCrown PrincessPrincess Imperial (长公主)
Noble ConsortPrincess Consort of the First Rank/Imperial Princess Consort

(亲王福晋)

Princess of the First Rank (固伦公主)
ConsortHereditary Princess Consort of the First Rank

(世子福晋)

Princess of the Second Rank (和硕公主)
intermediatePrincess Consort of the Second Rank (郡王福晋)Princess of the Third Rank (郡主)
ConcubinePrincess Consort of the Third Rank (贝勒夫人)Princess of the Fourth Rank (县主)
Noble LadyPrincess Consort of the Fourth Rank (贝子夫人)Junjun (郡君)
First AttendantDuchess with eight privilleges

(奉恩国公夫人)

Xianjun (县君)
Great Second Attendant [1] Duchess without eight privilleges of the First RankXiangjun (乡君)
Second AttendantDuchess without eight privilleges of the Second Rank

(不入八分国公夫人)

Wife of imperial generalfrom 1 to 6Clanswoman

Others

At the beginning of the Qing dynasty, prior to the formalisation of the rank system, there were also non-standard titles used, such as:

Non-imperial nobility

Standard non-imperial titles

The following are the nine ranks of the peerage awarded for valour, achievement, distinction, other imperial favour, and to imperial consort clans.

The above three ranks are chaopin (超品; chāopǐn), outranking official ranks. The four following ranks were all evolved from leadership ranks in the Manchu banner army, originally called ejen (額真; "lord" or "master" in Manchu) and later janggin (章京; "general" in Manchu).

All of the above ranks are sub-divided into four classes; in order: first class plus yunqiwei, first class, second class, and third class.

Pre-standard non-imperial titles

At the beginning of the Qing dynasty, during Nurhaci's and Huangtaiji's reigns, the noble ranks were not yet standardised. There were several titles created that did not fit into the above system, mostly for defectors from the Ming dynasty. These titles were similar to the titles used in the Ming dynasty, and lack the Manchu nomenclature and the noble rank system introduced later.

Additionally, there were banner offices that later evolved into hereditary noble titles. Despite being used as noble titles, these offices continued to exist and function in the banner hierarchy. To distinguish the noble titles from the offices, they were sometimes called "hereditary office" (世职; 世職; shì zhí) or "hereditary rank" (世爵; shì jué).

Comparison of non-imperial nobility titles

Nobility titleClassRankMilitary official rank equivalent
Duke (民公)1Above ranks
2
3
Marquis (侯)1
2
3
Count (伯)1
2
3
Viscount (子)11General Zhufang (驻防将军)
2Colonel (都统)
3Minister of War (兵部尚书)
Baron (男)12Vice-colonel (副都统)
2Commander (总兵)
3Fujiang (副将)
Qingche duwei (轻车都尉)13Staff-captain (参领)
2Hunting grounds supervisor in Rehe (热河围场总管)
3Minister of Imperial Stables (上匹院卿)
Jiduwei (骑都尉; 騎都尉; jídūwèi)14Assistant captain (左领)
2Leader of imperial bodyguards (侍卫班领)
Yunjiwei (云骑尉; 雲騎尉; yúnjíwèi)15Fifth rank controller of Amur river transport (黑龙江水手管)
Enjiwei (恩骑尉; 恩騎尉; ēnjíwèi)16Supervisor of imperial tombs (陵园管)

Notable titles

Non-imperial nobility titles for women

Mingfu (命妇, Mìngfù; "noblewoman") was granted to wives of officials, non-imperial aristocrates and collateral clanswomen. Also, mothers of imperial consorts were granted a title of "mingfu" according to the rank held by her daughter as well as sisters of imperial consorts and fujins. Noblewomen were divided into 7 ranks according to the rank of her husband and her daughter, if her daughter was an imperial consort. If the title held by mingfus' husbands was divided into subclasses, they could be treated equally. Mingfus holding rank equivalent to wives of imperial generals conducted court ceremonies, ex. promotions of imperial consort, weddings of princes and princesses (if they married into Manchu or Han family) and rites, while lower rank ladies attended to them.

Mingfu, whose husband was granted a title above the rank system (Duke, Marquis or Count), was treated similarly to imperial duchess, but enjoyed less privileges than imperial clanswoman. Collateral Gioro ladies were treated as mingfu from 1st to 3rd rank. Noblewomen were addressed as "furen" ("Madam") regardless of rank.

However,

Differently to imperial clanswomen, mingfus wore crowns with three bejewled plaques and finial consisting of one coral, silk bandeaus with embroidered golden dragons chasing after a flaming pearl and blue-grounded chaofu on solemn ceremonies. Lower- ranking ladies could not wear surcoats with roundels of flowers and auspicious symbols unlike imperial duchesses and clanswomen. Collateral clanswomen could wear surcoats with rampant four-clawed dragons above the magnificent sea-waves pattern (lishui) and white caishui (pointed kerchief fastened to the robe like a pendant). Wives of officials wore sleeveless vest matching Mandarin square of her husband and Ming Dynasty style tiaras, as depicted on ancestral portraits.

Comparison of titles of noblewomen
RankTitleTitle of imperial consort

being a daughter of noblewoman

Imperial title equivalent
1ViscountessEmpress/Empress dowagerWife of zhenguo jiangjun
2BaronessImperial Noble ConsortWife of fuguo jiangjun
3Wife of qingche duweiNoble ConsortWife of fengguo jiangjun
4Wife of jiduweiConsortWife of feng'en jiangjun
5Wife of yunjiweiConcubineClanswoman
6Wife of enjiweiNoble Lady
7Wife of 7th rank officialFirst-class attendant/ Second class attendant

Civil and honorary titles

With a few exceptions, the above titles were, in principle, created for only military merits. There were also titles for civil officials.

While there were a few Manchu civil titles, the most important civil titles followed the Han Chinese Confucian tradition, derived from high bureaucratic offices or imperial household offices that evolved into honorary sinecures. These were sometimes granted as special privileges, but also often as a practical means of conferring official rank promotion without giving specific responsibilities. Examples of such titles were taibao (太保; "Grand Protector"), shaoshi (少師; "Junior Preceptor"), taizi taifu (太子太傅; "Grand Tutor of the Crown Prince"), furen (夫人, "Madam"/“Lady") and dafu (大夫; "Gentleman"). These titles were non-heritable.

In addition, there were also honorary and hereditary titles granted to religious and cultural leaders, such as:

Ranks of protectorates and tributary states

The Qing imperial court also granted titles to princes of its protectorates and tributary states, mainly in Mongolia, Xinjiang and Tibet. The vassal titles were generally inherited in perpetuity without downgrading.

The ranks roughly mirrored those of the imperial clan, with a few differences:

The taiji and tabunang are equal in rank, and both subdivided into five classes: jasagh , first class, second class, third class, and fourth class. Jasagh is chaopin, above official ranks, while the rest were equivalent to the first to fourth pin.

Under the tusi system, the Qing Empire also recognised various local tribal chieftainships of ethnic minority tribes. This was mainly applied in the mountain regions of Yunnan, but also in western and northern borderlands. They were the Chiefdom of Bathang, Chiefdom of Chuchen, Chiefdom of Lijiang, Chiefdom of Lithang, Chiefdom of Mangshi, Chiefdom of Tsanlha, Chiefdom of Yao'an, Chiefdom of Yongning, Mu'ege Chiefdom of Muli and Chiefdom of Langqu.

The Qing Empire had two vassals in Xinjiang, the Kumul Khanate and the Turfan Khanate.

Other honours and privileges

In addition to systematised rank titles listed above, there were also other honorific titles and privileges, mostly non-heritable:

Robes from the Qing emperors are also preserved there. [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] The Jurchens in the Jin dynasty and Mongols in the Yuan dynasty continued to patronize and support the Confucian Duke Yansheng. [25]

Etymology of Manchu titles

With a few exception, most Manchu titles ultimately derived from Han Chinese roots.

See also

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