Cultivating Honesty: Salary and Corruption in the Yuan Through the Eyes of Officials and Scholars


The establishment of Chinese-style, centralized bureaucracy by Kublai beginning in 1260 was mirrored by the development of a payment structure for officials, a process which took almost two decades to complete. For the first time since the birth of the Mongol Empire in 1206, officials formally began receiving salaries from the government for their work. On the surface, this structure was not dissimilar to that of earlier Chinese dynasties – after all, the concept of payment for officials itself was borrowed from the Han Chinese and indeed, Kublai sought to emulate the previous dynasties for legitimacy. However, the salary system was the subject of many complaints from officials and scholars alike. This paper will study the salaries of Yuan officials and its impact on official corruption through the private writings and memorials of Yuan officials and scholars. In particular, I will focus on three individuals – Hu Qiyu and Cheng Jufu, who were both major officials in the court of Kublai and his successor, and Zheng Jiefu, who was writing from the perspective of a private individual. Though all agree that the salaries are low, the three individuals had different opinions on the problems and solutions. I will demonstrate that these differences are regional – those in Northern China and those in Southern China had different concerns. Furthermore, I will show that the writings of private individuals concerning the salaries are not completely accurate, which should be taken into consideration when used as a primary source.

Author Information
Yiming Ha, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong

Paper Information
Conference: ACAH2017
Stream: Humanities - History, Historiography

This paper is part of the ACAH2017 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon