Life imitates The Office

As someone who is a member of an academic department and of two University-wide committees I think a lot about bureaucracy. Since I am teaching Modern China this semester I am also thinking about the history of bureaucracy. Actually, I’m not sure it -has- a history, since the basic principles seem to be timeless and unchanging. The example below comes from Huang Liu-hung’s A Complete Book Concerning Happiness and Benevolence Written in 1694 this is a manual for district magistrates; the men who, having passed the civil service exams, were now to be sent out to run a county, the basic building block of the Chinese administrative system. Just like recent graduates everywhere, they found that their education did not fully prepare them for the world of work. This sample is an informal report that Huang sent. He is complaining about two military officials who are in his district but not under his command. He is complaining to their superior, (who is not his superior) about their performance in office. This missive is sent on the occasion of Huang starting his mourning leave (unplanned) so it is not clear if he was warming up to send this in any case and wants to get it in before he goes, or if he just figures this is a good time for a parting shot. As it is an informal complaint he does not have to prove anything or track down the source of any rumours, but since he is an official and sent this letter it has the potential to put Commander Yang in a bad spot if things blow up in the future and it is clear that he has not looked into this warning. If you want to understand perfect bureaucratic trouble-making, this is it.

 

An Informal Report Presented to Provincial Military Commander Yang
Since your humble subordinate arrived at the post, he has paid special attention to the organisation of the pao-chia system and ordered patrolling duties day and night because T’an-cheng, being close to the wooded hills of I-chou, I-hsien, and the Western Hills, and bordering P’ei-hsien and Su-ch’ien in Kiangsu province,  is a convenient refuge for lawbreakers from these places.1 Your humble subordinate has also made frequent night inspections himself to insure the peace of the district and relieve Your Excellency’s anxiety.2 As to the garrison officers stationed in the district, your humble subordinate has tried to cultivate their friendship. The soldiers of the two military posts have also been entertained frequently. Since the civil and military personnel are colleagues, their cooperation is needed in times of emergency. Your humble subordinate has been the magistrate of T’an-ch’eng for two years. Fortunately, the unlawful elements have not attempted to create trouble during this period. This is mainly due to Your Excellency’s authority which has been acknowledged far and wide, and also to the cooperation of the garrison officers, who have carried out the good intentions of their commander.

Unfortunately, your humble subordinate has lost his father and while in deep grief is awaiting the arrival of the succeeding magistrate. Recent news from intelligence sources indicates that outlaw groups in P’ei-hsien and Su-ch’ien are preparing to take some action.3 The safety of the whole district will depend upon the garrison officers. Traditionally two officers are stationed in this district: one in the city, responsible for protecting the district seat, granaries, and treasuries; and the other in Hung-hua-pu, responsible for control of the main thoroughfare of the district. Only people with ability, courage, experience, and determination can discharge these heavy duties with success.
Lieutenant X, who is now stationed in the city, is good natured but too easygoing and lackadaisical.4 Lieutenant Y, stationed in Hung-hua-pu, is young and arrogant and maintains no discipline over his soldiers. The two officers, therefore, are less than perfect. Your humble subordinate has enjoyed the confidence of Your Excellency for a long time. He cannot keep silent when it is his duty to report what he has heard-hence this  confidential report.

The deployment of soldiers in the various townships should be frequently reviewed, yet Lieutenant X has never ventured outside the city gate to check their performance. He is not known to have fulfilled any night patrol duty for months on end, which proves that he is rather negligent of his duties. One of the squad leaders, Chang San, allowed his wife to gather wheat from neighbor Shao Chiin-ai’s field on the tenth day of the fifth month. Two soldiers, Chang Chin and Shih Erh, forcibly sickled the grain of
the village elder Chang Mao-te on the twenty-third day of the sixth month.5 When Chang Mao-te went to question ,them, they assembled their comrades and beat him brutally. The chief warden examined the victim and declared that “the wounds covered his whole body like fish scales:’ The people of the whole district are uneasy about the incidents.6 When soldiers are allowed to beat people at will, what discipline is there? Chang San also manacled the night-watchman Wang Chia-ying; another soldier, Chen Yu, knifed the tax prompter Li Ying-yang; and a squad leader named Wang let his son Yuan-chen and others hit the runner Wang Chin-li until the latter’s face was covered with blood. These victims were all employees of the district yamen.7 Another soldier, Tai Chin, entered the house of constable Chao Ying-chi, demanded drinks and raped his wife. These incidents illustrate the way the yamen staff are mistreated by the garrison soldiers. However, the said lieutenant was guilty only of lack of discipline, not knowing how to control his men; there was no intentional malice involved.8

The other lieutenant’s performance has been even more outrageous. He has led his men in committing all kinds of atrocities. For instance, when he was making a call at the time of his arrival at the post, he met a courier of the office of the Director General of Grain Transport, Yang Shou-fu, on the road. When the courier did not dismount to let him have the right-of-way, the lieutenant was incensed. He had the courier manacled and brought to his garrison headquarters and did not release the latter until after dark. The courier was detained for a whole day just because he failed to dismount. Only express documents marked with time limits are carried by mounted couriers. Who but the courier would be blamed if delivery was delayed?
The market of Hung-hua-pu is a strategic point on the north-south communication line. The key to the gate of the stockade of the town has traditionally been kept by the village headman. When a messenger from the post station had to pass through, theheadman would open the gate for him at any time. Since the arrival of the lieutenant, the key has been kept at garrison headquarters. Sometimes when messengers are held up at the gate they try to run the blockade or beat the grooms. If a memorial or
an imperial order must be delivered urgently, who bears the responsibility for such a delay?

By tradition there has been an annual festival celebrated at the Hung-hua-pu market in honor of the horse deity. During one such festival a stage play was in progress when the lieutenant arrived. The female impersonator did not stand up to show respect for a dignitary. The lieutenant had him flogged. Not until all spectators knelt before him and begged for clemency did the flogging stop; the actor had already received three heavy blows. The lieutenant had walked into the theater unannounced. How
could he punish the female impersonator for insolence? This is only one instance of his arrogance.
One time garrison soldier Chang Wen-teng and other soldiers went to sleep while on duty, having ordered night watchmen Chang Yin-shan and T’ang Hsiao-shih to make their rounds. When the latter wandered too far from the garrison, the soldiers had them suspended in the air and beaten. The people of the market sympathized but made no protest. When Chancellor Kuo of the Grand Secretariat passed through Hung-hua-pu, a squad leader named Lu and others went to the post station and commandeered
four horses to perform some military transportation duty. The horses were not sent back until the next day at sunset and were almost dead of exhaustion. This shows how reckless Lieutenant Y’s soldiers were.
The most startling incident of all happened on the eighth day.9
The most starling incident of all happened on the eighth day of the seventh month, when there was an altercation between a Hung-hua-pu post station groom named Chang T’iao-yuan and an egg seller, Wang T’ai-p’ing. A garrison soldier named Chiang Te-sheng suddenly intervened and beat the groom with a heavy object. When the groom reported the incident to the lieutenant, the latter not only did not discipline his soldier, he ordered squad leader Lu to beat the groom to the brink of death. From then on
the garrison soldiers turned on the grooms at every opportunity. The result was that the entire group of grooms left the post for several days during which urgent documents could not be delivered. All these incidents were witnessed by the people of the market.
The intent of the government in establishing local garrisons is to protect the people. These garrison soldiers are committing all kinds of atrocities, and their officers not only fail to keep them in bounds but encourage them by taking part in their outrageous activities. The relationship between the people and the military is threatened, not to speak of the protection supposedly afforded by the military.
Battalion Commander Chu Cheng-ming and Lieutenant Shih Ying-pei, who were formerly in command of garrison headquarters in T’an-ch’eng, were respected by the soldiers and loved by the people.10 When on night patrol they always went before their
soldiers. Both could be labeled officers with ability, courage, experience and determination. When Battalion Commander Chu was ordered transferred to another post in the winter of the ninth
year of K’ang-hsi, your humble subordinate sent a petition, based on an appeal from the people, to retain him at the post. However, Your Excellency refused to approve the request on the ground that the established regulation should not be interfered with. Now, may your humble subordinate repeat his request to have Chu Ch’eng-ming and Shih Ying-p’ei replace the incumbents, so that the soldiers will once more be disciplined and the peace of the district protected?

Your humble subordinate has never offended the garrison officers during his tour of duty at T’an-cheng. Why should he bring wrath upon himself now that he is about to leave the post? It is prompted by his concern for the future safety of the district which has nothing to do with his personal feelings toward either the former or the incumbent officers. It is urgently hoped that Your Excellency will kindly consider his request for the benefit of the people of the district. Your humble subordinate will feel
forever grateful.
A Follow-Up Report
With regard to the case of Shao Chun-ai, your humble subordinate had already sent a petition which must have reached the attention of Your Excellency.

Your humble subordinate harbored no acrimony against the two officers. He did not expect Your Excellency to order a thorough investigation. It was your humble subordinate’s concern for the future welfare of the district that prompted him to request a change of the garrison officers. Since your humble subordinate had enjoyed Your Excellency’s trust for a long time, he had no reservations about what he thought should be made known to Your Excellency. It was not his intention to make these incidents
into a big case. Now, not only is the future of these two officers hanging in the balance, your humble subordinate also feels remorseful for taking such a blundering action.
Your humble subordinate has received your instruction to summon the important witnesses Chung San and others, some thirty odd people. The order will, of course, be carried out. However, those summoned are mostly artisans or laborers who support themselves by manual work. The distance between the
provincial capital and the district is over 700 li. They cannot earn a livelihood while traveling such a long distance back and forth. When they heard about the summonses, they were scared and
came very near running away. Your Excellency’s order was intended for the preservation of peace of the district, but it resulted in the creation of alarm and loss of livelihood for these poor people. This is not what your humble subordinate had expected from Your Excellency’s benevolent decision.

Accordingly, your humble subordinate sincerely implores that the cases be dismissed without further investigation.11 Not only will the future careers of these two officers be preserved, the conscience of your humble subordinate can rest at ease. The summoned witnesses, Shao Chun-ai, Chung San, and others
will also receive the benefit of Your Excellency’s wise decision, which will symbolise both mercy and authority. Your humble subordinate dares to present this irrational request because he has continuously enjoyed Your Excellency’s favor and hopes that the request will be granted.


  1. The border of two administrative regions was always a popular location for bandits. 

  2. I have gone above and beyond my responsibilities. 

  3. So nothing has happened yet, but I have reason to think it may soon. 

  4. A bit of praise makes it clear that the criticism is not just personal 

  5. Lots of very damming specifics, yet oddly no reports on the the criminal prosecution of these malefactors. 

  6. Always good to add some customer reaction 

  7. If they will attack other officials they must really be out of control. Just like a cop-killer is worse than a regular killer. 

  8. What will you bet that the next officer will be outright malicious?  

  9. They also seem very likely to get Y’s boss in trouble with higher-ups 

  10. so the problem does not lay in the soldiers or the district 

  11. Not sure if this is a final bit of CYA, or if the response from above was more potent than expected. 

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