Journal - Volume 6, May 2015

Changes in Political Space Between the Northern Song and the Southern Song: Centering on Wei Liaoweng's "Sealed Memorial in Response to the Edict"

Shigeki HIRATA
Song China, imperial audience, political space, political decision-making, Wei Liaoweng

Explanatory Note

With respect to scholarship on Song China (960-1279), there have existed two theories concerning the nature of its political system. On the one hand, the Song has been considered to be a period of autocratic government, when the highly developed centralized bureaucracy enabled a system in which the emperor had the final decision-making power. On the other hand, due to the phenomenon of constant political dominance by powerful grand councilors in the late Northern Song, there has also been a view that the Song was a time when the power of grand councilors was strengthened. These two ways of understanding differ in that the former focuses on political changes at the macro level, while the latter tends to capture those political changes from a relatively microscopic perspective. This article attempts to use an approach that integrates the aforementioned two arguments by examining changes in political space between the Northern (960–1127) and Southern Song (1127–1279). More concretely, through an analysis of Wei Liaoweng’s “Sealed Memorial in Response to the Edict,” it investigates changes in the relations between the emperor and his officials, as well as changes in the nature of policy making, which are closely related to the emperor’s power.1 The conclusions drawn from the analysis are as follows.

Wei Liaoweng’s “Sealed Memorial in Response to the Edict” reveals the following political changes: having experienced the New Policy reforms during the years of Xining (1068–1077) and Yuanfeng (1078–1085), the Southern Song further moved towards an era of autocratic grand councilors, such as Qin Gui, Han Tuozhou, and Shi Miyuan. Wei regarded this period as a major change. According to Wei’s memorial, power became concentrated in the hands of certain grand councilors or in institutions connected to the grand councilors. Correspondingly, the various functions of the “attendant officials,” “censors and remonstrators,” “Classics Colloquium,” “proclamation drafters,” “auditors,” and so forth declined, and thus the system that connected the bureaucracy to the emperor weakened. In other words, the shrinking space for the emperor’s participation in politics resulted in the dominance of powerful grand councilors

This change was clearly demonstrated in the form of officials’ audiences with the emperor. The ceremony of “overseeing of the court,” where the emperor dealt with government affairs, was comprised of the “regular court” (i.e. the qiju, a ceremony held every five days in which court officials greeted the emperor) and the “auditing government” (a meeting in which the emperor made decisions based on discussions with his officials). From the second half of the Tang Dynasty, these two had tended to become increasingly separate, and the importance of the “auditing government” ceremony (i.e. the court audiences) increased. While the Song court continued the practices of the late Tang, it developed a system in which the emperor moved among several palaces to hold audiences with various officials and hear their “debates.” This system in turn can be divided into “memorializing in separate groups” and “memorializing in a combined group.” In the first half of the Northern Song, the development of audiences called “memorializing in separate groups” (in which several different groups of officials took turns reporting to the emperor) allowed the emperor to listen to ideas of many different officials. During the Yuanfeng reforms of the bureaucratic system in the 1080s, however, “memorializing in a combined group” (in which officials would report to the emperor in a single group) was established. While rigorously excluding other officials, this type of meeting tended to strengthen the ties between the emperor and grand councilors, and especially between the emperor and certain grand councilors. In a similar fashion, from the end of the Northern Song, the practice of “imperial handwritten edicts” was developed, in which the emperor and grand councilors made policies through the exchange of documents. The “imperial handwritten edicts” replaced the traditional form of document processing that had centered on Three Departments and Six Ministries with a mechanism of decision-making involving only the emperor and grand councilors.

Based on the description above, below we attempt to reconcile the two arguments introduced in the beginning of this note: imperial autocracy versus the rising power of grand councilors. If we take the macroscopic perspective of looking at the political system, in terms of field administration, it changed from the Northern Song “Kaifeng System” into the Southern Song “Hangzhou system.” The former refers to a centralized system, where the military and financial systems were concentrated in the imperial capital of Kaifeng; and the latter refers to a decentralized, lower-level government system, where the military and financial power were dispersed in several places including the capital Hangzhou, and where circuit officials were endowed with considerable authority. At the higher level of the system of imperial autocracy, however, there was not much change between the Northern Song and the Southern Song. On the other hand, however, if we take a microscopic perspective, changes took place in nature of the relations between the emperor and officials, as well as in the methods of policy making, which were closely connected to imperial power. In this sense, some aspects of the political system of imperial autocracy failed to function fully, and thus led to the monopoly of power by grand councilors.

The original version of this article appeared in the leading academic journal on Asian history Toyoshi Kenkyu (No. 72-3, 2013), issued by Toyoshi Kenkyukai. Translation permission has been granted by the headquarters of the Toyoshi Kenkyukai.

Japanese Elementary Education Policies in the 1900's: Movements in the Localities and the Ministry of Education Concerning the Development of the Third Elementary School Order

elementary education, Elementary School Order, school attendance, Meiji era, Japan

Explanatory Note

The 1900’s (1900-1909), the subject of this paper, was an “adjustment period” thirty years after the establishment of the Modern Educational System in Japan. With the establishment of the Elementary School Order in 1900, tuition became free in principle and compulsory education became standardized at four years. Furthermore, the Law for Subsidizing City, Town, and Village Elementary School Expenses from the National Treasury, issued the same year, realized a state subsidy system for mandatory education that led to the development of the compulsory education system.

Historical assessment of elementary education policies during this period, especially the increase in school attendance, has centered on two research fields. The first is assessment in the field of policy history while the second is that in the field of local education history. Both fields investigate the various matters related to the increase in school attendance and share the view that there was an “adjustment period” that came with the establishment of the 1900 Elementary School Order. But the definitive difference between the two fields lies in the evaluation of the “adjustment period,” and whether it came as the result of a fundamental conversion from the 1890’s or whether it was a continuous trend that had accumulated since the 1890’s.

The field of policy history emphasizes the groundbreaking effect of the 1900 Elementary School Order, including the very first realization of free tuition at ordinary elementary schools in Japan, and considers the elementary school system in the 1900’s to have fundamentally changed from the 1890’s. On the other hand, because the field of local education history tends to focus on the efforts of local governments to advance school attendance, it considers policies encouraging school attendance, which were already in effect in the localities from the late 1890’s, to have led to the encouragement of school attendance after the 1900 Elementary School Order. What should be noted here is that, in both perspectives, there is no sufficient explanation of the interaction between the institutions/policies and local policy development. Based on such precedent research trends, this paper attempts a comprehensive outlook on the turning point in policies encouraging school attendance by the Ministry of Education as well as the continuity in local awareness towards encouraging school attendance.

This paper is outlined as follows. First, in order to investigate the abovementioned issue, the need to verify the existence of a disparity in stances on school attendance between the Ministry of Education, the prefecture, and local administrative units, such as gun (sub-prefecture districts) and cities, is explained (Section II). Then, based on the investigation of documents from the Miyagi Prefectural Archives, it is clarified that, while the prefecture, gun/city and Ministry of Education each considered the prospect of increasing school attendance, there was a different form of interest in its realization and there was not necessarily a uniform intent to actively increase school attendance; the process and background of the 1899 “turning point” in the Ministry of Education’s stance on increasing school attendance is examined through the investigation of the Ministry of Education’s statements in chronological order (Section III). In regards to what kind of interaction this had with the localities, the fact that the Ministry of Education’s views after June of 1900 had changed from 1898 is clarified through a series of notices related to the “easing” of enrollment requirements after June of 1899, as well as discussions during the process of establishing the 1900 Elementary School Order (Section IV). This paper concludes that, through these series of events, it was with the elementary education policies after 1900 that the Ministry of Education and the local government finally began to venture hand in hand towards the goal of increasing school attendance.

The original Japanese version of this paper was published in Studies in the history of education (Research bulletin of the japan society for historical studies of education) 48 (pp. 17-27, 2005). Translation permission has been granted by the Japan Society for Historical Studies of Education. For the convenience of English readers, the translated article was fully reviewed; and necessary modification and information on proper names, historical events, and Japanese titles were added.

Editorial Note