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Why didn't Ming and Qing dynasties turn into prime ministers?

Since Zhu Yuanzhang abolished Zhongshu Province during Ming Dynasty, system of prime ministers that had existed in China for over 1,500 years has been abolished. Since then, Ming Dynasty has had a central organization that helps emperor in conduct of state affairs - cabinet. The appearance of cabinet also marked transformation of China's bureaucratic system into an all-serving system for emperor, and imperial power gradually reached its peak. In history, certain patterns can be found in change in system of prime ministers, for example, organization of internal employees will continue to become an administrative organization, and then a new organization of prime minister will be formed. The Cabinet is also an organization of internal employees, but why hasn't it become Prime Minister's organization?

1. The administrative direction of cabinet in Ming Dynasty

In history of China, it is not uncommon for there to be a transition from an organization of internal employees to an organization of prime minister. In Han Dynasty, in order to weaken power of "Three Dukes" (Prime Minister, Yushi Dafu and Taiwei), Han Dynasty Emperor Wu reused ministers and servants around him to form "Inner Dynasty" and gradually became country's central institution. The previous "three societies" lost right to make decisions and became executive body. Under Eastern Han Dynasty, Shangshutai became institution of prime minister, and Sangun only existed in name. During Cao Wei period, in order to limit power of Shangshu, servants were reused to form Zhongshu Province, and Shangshu gradually became an executive agency. At end of Tang Dynasty, Shangshu also existed in name only.

Why didn't Ming and Qing dynasties turn into prime ministers?

During Yuan Dynasty, prime minister of China was Zhongshu Sheng, and prime minister's official name was prime minister. At beginning of Ming Dynasty, Yuan Dynasty system was continued. In 1380, Ming Taizu Zhu Yuanzhang initiated Hu Weiyong case, punishing nine clans of Premier Hu Weiyong for crime of "plotting against others" involving 30,000 people. After Hu Weiyong affair, Zhu Yuanzhang abolished Zhongshu Province, and prime minister, head of Zhongshu Province, was accordingly abolished. Since then, Prime Minister system, which has been passed down in China for over 1500 years, has come to an end.

After abolition of prime minister, emperor directly controlled six ministries, and all affairs in world were decided by emperor. Although Zhu Yuanzhang is known for his diligence, he also felt powerless. Therefore, Zhu Yuanzhang began hiring some old Confucian scholars to help with political affairs, known as "Four Assistant Officials". The four auxiliary officials have little power and are only responsible for providing staff. In 1382, due to fact that four assistant officials were too old to cope with hard work, Zhu Yuanzhang established soil of Diangye University as a consultant. Grand Master Diange became prototype of Cabinet. After Zhu Di came to power, he ordered Xie Jin, Hu Guang, Huang Huai, Yang Rong, Yang Shiqi, Jin Youzi, Hu Yan, etc. to enter Wenyuan Pavilion to "participate in service", and cabinet system was officially formed. .

Why didn't Ming and Qing dynasties turn into prime ministers?

The original cabinet was just a secretary-like organization. His duties were limited to junior department consultants and he had no administrative powers, let alone decision-making powers. The bachelors in cabinet are just fifth rank officials, not as good as prefect (fourth rank officials) at that time, let alone six ministers. However, after formation of cabinet, power began to expand, and there was even a tendency to become prime minister.

During Renxuan's reign, cabinet had "the right to draft votes", which meant that cabinet ministers formed opinions on how to deal with various chief ministers. Thus, cabinet began to have a part of executive power. In terms of status, official rank of Ming Renzong cabinet ministers Zhu Gaochi was upgraded to Zhengsanping. But in general, cabinet during Renxuan period was still an internal service organization. At that time, in order to allow some important members of cabinet to have administrative power, they chose model of six part-time ministers, such as Yang Rong as minister of Ministry of Industry, Yang Shiqi as minister of Ministry of War, Huang Zhong was minister of family affairs , Jin Youzi as Minister of Rites, and Yang Pu as Minister of Rites. He was once Minister of Rites.

Why didn't Ming and Qing dynasties turn into prime ministers?


In middle and late Ming Dynasty, cabinet usually became prime minister. One of them is further improvement of status. During Jingtai period, it was stipulated that status of cabinet ministers was higher than that of six ministries, which created conditions for cabinet to control six ministries. Second, begin to have administrative power. During Tianshun period, cabinet could command six ministries, which shows that cabinet has administrative power. Third, appearance of Chief Cabinet Assistant. During Ming Yingzong period, Shoufu appeared. During Jiajing period, Shoufu was called "Yuanfu", "Shouchen" and "Prime Minister" and was de facto prime minister. During Zhang Jiuzhen period, power was in hands of government and public, and transformation of cabinet into a prime minister was almost complete.

Second, inability of Ming Dynasty cabinet to become prime minister

From Yongle period to early Wanli period, power of cabinet continued to grow. However, power of Ming Dynasty cabinet faced a number of insurmountable difficulties. One of them is legal provisions of Ming Dynasty. Zhu Yuanzhang provided in Hualin group teaching that "Now we will dismiss prime minister and set up five mansions and six ministries... When descendants become emperors, prime minister will not be allowed." prevent appearance of prime ministers. At end of Ming Dynasty, although some high-ranking cabinet heads and assistants appeared, they usually appeared when emperor was inactive or when emperor was young, which is a special phenomenon. Ye Xianggao, chief minister of cabinet in later Wanli period, explained it very well: “The ministers of my cabinet work only as consultants, and they were not prime ministers. little power went into stealing emperor. The powerful spirit above invades control of Six Cao and finally seeks disaster.

Why didn't Ming and Qing dynasties turn into prime ministers?

The second major difficulty in turning cabinet into a prime minister in Ming Dynasty was existence of exclusive power of eunuchs. The monopoly of eunuchs is also a disadvantage caused by dominance of imperial power. During Zhu Yuanzhang period, due to personal diligence, expansion of eunuch's power could be avoided. During Yongle period, a large number of eunuchs began to be reused, and even some important positions were allowed to be occupied by eunuchs, which presented a hidden danger to monopoly of eunuchs. During Renxuan period, although cabinet had "the right to draw up tickets", eunuchs had seal of "Zhu's approval". Any memorial must be "approved" before it can be carried out, which gave eunuchs conditions to control court. . Since the Ming Yingzong period, battles between eunuchs and cabinet ministers have been repeatedly contested in court, with both sides winning and losing.

Why didn't Ming and Qing dynasties turn into prime ministers?

Former Ming Dynasty Cabinet Entry Site

In fact, biggest obstacle to turning a cabinet into a prime minister is imperial power. Because purpose of abolishing prime minister Zhu Yuanzhang was to strengthen imperial power, and purpose of establishing Zhu Di's cabinet was also to help imperial power. Once cabinet becomes prime minister, it will weaken imperial power, which emperor does not allow.

After death of Zhang Jiuzhen, Wanli Emperor, who had been suppressed for a long time, finally came to power, so he eliminated Zhang Jiuzhen's actions. Naturally, power of chief cabinet minister was drastically reduced. At first there was a power struggle between six ministries and cabinet, and finally six ministries broke free from cabinet control and cabinet lost its executive power. After that, power of eunuchs increased again, and cabinet was ruled by eunuchs, who could no longer play a big role in politics. Thus, transformation of cabinet into a Ming prime minister failed.

Secondly, cabinet of Qing Dynasty existed only in name.

At beginning of creation of Hojin Kingdom, there was no cabinet, and all important military and political affairs in country were decided by an assembly of kings and ministers. In 1631, Huang Taiji emulated cabinet system of Ming Dynasty and established "Three Inner Courts", which became Senate government affairs body, forerunner of Qing Dynasty cabinet. After Qing Dynasty entered into customs, through efforts of Feng Quan, Hong Chengzhou and others, Three Inner Courts gained "right of imitation voting." However, less than a year later, right to vote in Inner Three Courts was annulled.

Generally speaking, although cabinet of Qing Dynasty was also one of central institutions, it was always only an institution balancing power of other institutions, and did not have much power. After Shunzhi came to power, he tried to restore cabinet system of Ming Dynasty, "being a good Chinese and admiring Chinese system." However, at that time, North-South dispute and Manchu-Han dispute in three courts were relatively serious, making it difficult to stabilize cabinet system. In 1658, Shunzhi turned three courts into a cabinet, and cabinet also gained right to vote. After Shunzhi's death, Council of Kings and Ministers came to power to discuss politics, and they abolished right to vote for cabinet, which was three chambers of interior. After Kangxi came to power, cabinet was restored and cabinet system of Qing Dynasty has since stabilized.

Why didn't Ming and Qing dynasties turn into prime ministers?

The cabinet of Qing Dynasty was stabilized and power of imitation voting was also obtained, but it was difficult to restore its power in state of Ming Dynasty because a new central organization appeared in Qing Dynasty. During Kangxi period, in order to limit power of meeting of kings and ministers, Kangxi attached great importance to a new organization of internal employees - Southern Cabinet. Important military and political affairs across country bypassed office and were sent directly to southern training room, allowing Kangxi to make decisions on his own. After Yongzheng Emperor came to power, he established Department of Military Aviation and implemented a system of secret documents. For any secret business, officials were ordered to use memorial directly to emperor, and emperor personally approved response. With advent of these two new institutions, cabinet can only participate in certain ordinary public affairs, and its projecting power has become only nominal.

Why didn't Ming and Qing dynasties turn into prime ministers?

At end of Qing Dynasty, following example of Western countries, a cabinet was created with a system of responsibility. The nature of responsibility system cabinet is completely different from Ming Dynasty cabinet, only name is used in translation.

During Ming and Qing dynasties, transformation of cabinet into prime minister failed, but there was no tendency to become prime minister in Southern Cabinet and Military Aviation Administration. This means that one of tendencies of ancient Chinese political development was that imperial power continued to be strengthened, and power of prime minister continued to weaken until it was abolished. The biggest obstacle to turning cabinet into a prime minister is imperial power.

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