Getting Things Done: Fighting Famine and Political Communication within the Local Bureaucracy in Thirteenth Century China

LEE Sukhee

This paper examines how a mid-level local official in late thirteenth century China made use of political communication to achieve his administrative goals, fighting famine in this case, by analyzing various administrative documents left by Huang Zhen 黃震 (1213-81) when he served as the prefect of Fuzhou 撫州, Jiangxi circuit in 1271-73. Administering famine relief, Huang made well-informed requests and detailed reports to his administrative superiors, disciplined subordinate officials, tried to persuade local rice hoarders to open their storage, exhorted literati elites to cooperate with his administration, and sometimes directly appealed to local commoners. In doing so, Huang resorted not only to official documents such as petitions (zhuang 狀), administrative orders (gongzha 公劄 or zha 箚), and placards (bang 榜) but also to personal communications like greetings (qi 啓) and letters (shu 書). All these detailed records are included in his Daily Notes of Mr. Huang (Huang shi richao 黃氏日抄), the main source for this paper. We can certainly read Huang Zhen’s records as colorful testimony to the sorry state of Southern Song local administration on the eve of its collapse—remember that the Southern Song fell only three years after Huang left Fuzhou—arguing that they were evidence of betraying the undeniable limits of the power of his administration. At the same time, we can also read them as evidence of what could be achieved within the local bureaucracy even at the dynasty’s last days or as a clue of what could have been achieved during the time of relative peace and stability, showing the limits of governance in thirteenth century China.


Recent blog posts

International Medieval Congress 2015 by mchu, July 30, 2015, 3:11 p.m.

Team members Hilde De Weerdt, Chu Mingkin and Julius Morche contributed to the panel “Historical Knowledge Networks in Global Perspective” more

MARKUS update and new tools by hweerdt, March 12, 2015, 6:38 a.m.

The MARKUS tagging and reading platform has gone through a major update. New features are more

Away day for the "State and society network" at LIAS by mchu, Dec. 5, 2014, 12:40 p.m.

Team members Hilde De Weerdt, Julius Morche and Chu Ming-kin participated in the Away Day of the “state and society more

See all blog posts

Recent Tweets