Nobility Titles in China
The nobility was officially abolished in china in 1949.
It may be old-fashioned to study Chinese nobility titles when China abandoned monarchy categorically in 1924 and all such minor rights were positively eradicated or ignored by The Chinese Socialist Republic.
Imperial Nobility of China: declination and its eleven exceptions:
Chinese imperial titles of nobility were granted in 12 ranks: Wang (Prince of the 1st and 2nd degree), Beileh (Prince of the 3rd degree), Beitzu (Prince of the 4th degree), Kung (translated as Duke, 5th to 8th degree) and Chiang Chun (translated as Marquess, 9th to 12th degree)
The 13° Generation lost Nobility and only had the personal title of Tsung Ji, which means “person of the imperial family” and is entitled to wear a yellow band (a special kind of yellow called Imperial Yellow can only be worn by the Imperial Family of China.
Nonetheless, the system of nobility titles in China was the basis and model for several honour systems in Asia along the lines of these two principles:
1° The abundant descendants of the Chinese Emperors were acknowledged as such only for several generations until they became commoners and lost nobility: this is a feature that we also can find in the royal families and dynasties of Thailand and Vietnam and is perhaps understandable due to the large number of descendants of the actively polygamous kings and emperors of that age.
2° exceptions to this declining principle were created for important collateral branches and families, such as the descendants of Confucius with the Rank of Perpetual Inheritance where the heirs succeeded to the same ranks as their predecessors. These exceptions can also be found in many important collateral branches of Indian Royal families.
There were 11 exceptions to this declination of titles for the descendants of the younger brothers of Emperors Tien Ming (Nurhaci) and Tien Tsung (Abahai), known as the Iron-capped princes (Tieh Mao Tzu Wang), among which 6 in which the title of Prince of the 1st degree (Ho Jih Chin Wang) was granted without declination to all male descendants: these were the Houses of Li (Head of the Family in 1910: Prince Shih To, Head of the Office of Astronomy or Chin Tien Chien, Head of the Archives of the Imperial Family or Tzong Jên Fu), of Yui (Head of the Family in 1910: prince Kuei Pin), of Yu (Head of the Family in 1910: prince Mao Lin), of Su (Head of the Family in 1910: prince Chan Chi, see below, House of Su), of Cheng (Head of the Family in 1910: prince Chao Siu), of Chuang (Head of the Family in 1910: Pce Tsai Kung). And 3 more where the title of prince of the 2nd degree (To Lo Chun Wang) was granted without declination to all male descendants: these were the Houses of Juen Cheng (Head of the Family in 1910: prince No Lo Ho) and of Ko Kin (Head of the Family in 1910: prince Song Chieh). Another exception was the granting of the title of prince of the 1st degree (Ho Jih Chin Wang) for all the descendants of Prince Yi Hsien, 13th son of Emperor Kang Hsi (Head of the Family in 1910: prince Yu Chi).
As mentioned above, the descendant of Confucius was titled the Holy Duke of Yen (Yen Sheng Kung).
Hereditary titles were also conferred to collaterals of the Imperial Family and to other dignitaries: Kung Duke), Hu (Marquis), Count), Tzu ( Viscount), Nan (Baron) and some more ranks of nobility, heritable for several generations (up to 26) and each divided in 3 inferior ranks in three degrees.
The Tribal Nobility in China: Hereditary Headmen
China is a communist country that has accomplished the end of the landlord system, a legacy of the Kuomintang regime and the end of the feudal system, a legacy of the Qing (Manchu) dynasty, according to the official history: we have therefore to assume that there is no more hereditary political power and this view is strengthened by the collectivisation of all the rural land, made by the Communist Party since 1949.
Today, China is providing information, especially on ethnic minorities: since the Chinese political history has always been one of centralization and that this centralization has been done for the benefit of the centralized political elite (the Party elite today and the Mandarins of the dynasties before), the only areas where a natural hereditary power could be found are the ethnic minorities.
The Imperial Household of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) was estimated to number 35,000 in 1547: other estimates of the Ming Imperial Family go up to 90,000. A Ming claimant and Pretendant to the Chinese throne was still living in Peking in 1926.
In the year 1902 there were approximately 7000 members of the Imperial Family of the Manchu or Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).
Some ethnic minorities with considerable hereditary political power before 1949 were: the 35,000 Achang in Yunnan (hereditary chiefs until 1911), the 93,000 Blang in Yunnan (hereditary headmen), the nearly one million Dai or Shan in Yunnan (the national-minority hereditary headmen until 1911), the 21,000 De’ang in Yunnan (hereditary headmen), the 138,000 Jingpo in Yunnan (hereditary administrators until 1911), the 1.2 million Kazak in Xinjiang Uygur (nobility and tribal chiefs), the 3600 Lhoba in Tibet ( Maide noble class until 1949), the 9 million Miao in Yunnan, Hunan, Sichuan and Guangxi (feudal and territorial lords until 1911), the 350,000 Naxi in Yunnan (the Mu hereditary administrator until 1911), the 290,000 Qian in Sichuan (hereditary headmen), the 93,000 Salar in Qinghai (hereditary chief at least until 1644), the 403,000 Shui in Guizhou (hereditary headmen until 1644), the 243,000 Tu in Qinghai (16 hereditary headmen until 1949) and the 7.9 million Yi in Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou and Guangxi.
The Dai or Shan include the former States of Chefang, Chiangsoong (Keng Sung), Jinghong (Chianghoong), Luang (Mong Long), Mawla, Mong Hing, Mengla (Mong La) and Mong Na, Mong Oo Tau, Mong Pong, Mong Wen and Ta Law: the Prince of Jinghong (Chianghoong) was or is the Head of the Autonomous Dai Region. In the Shan tradition, the former rulers and their heirs are still titled Prince (Saopha or Saopahlong).
And in Tibet, we have the Dalai Lama (not recognized by China) and the King of Muli, the Karmapa, head of the Karma Kagyu Lineage, and more types of Tibetan Chieftains and clan leaders.
THE HEREDITARY NATURE OF THE CHINESE EMPEROR
The Emperor of China was held by all the countries and nations whose ambassadors came to the Chinese capitals as a highly elevated and theoretically omnipotent monarch. It was not easy for such visitors to perceive the intricacies of the imperial institution in relation to the sources of its authority and the subtle interaction of duties among officials and ruler.
It was enough that at ceremonial convocations of the court, replete with all the pageantry of supreme power and universal dominion, they saw the highest and most powerful nobles and officials -even the leading generals of the world’s largest and richest state- prostate themselves before the Son of Heaven, displaying in that way the Chinese emperor’s extravagant luxury of imperial power.
Their own tribal societies did not afford them a similar luxury of power. Moreover, the Chinese ruler’s succession was securely determined. He enjoyed stability in inherited and transmitted powers and was in addition able to appoint and dismiss at will all of his servitors (actually his associates) in governing. We have seen that the northern societies were more volatile.
Their leaders were forced to demonstrate their capacities for leadership in an unending process of contest and competition. Although it is our sense that the stepped pattern of leadership was far better suited to their tribal governing needs, their leaders did not always see it that way.
It is not surprising that those leaders who had not been successful in building great personal power within their own states looked enviously upon an institution capable of guaranteeing that their leader’s (the emperor’s) power would pass unopposed to firstborn sons, and which in so many other ways also seemed to make life easier for the Chinese heads of state.