“Feeding the Emperor – Administrative Law in Tang Dynasty China” by Prof. Norman P. Ho

The Tang Liu Dian 唐六典 (hereafter, “TLD”), compiled in 738–739 A.D. during the Tang dynasty, is an important administrative law code which lists out in great detail every Tang dynasty government office, as well as various official positions and their functions and obligations. The TLD is of great historical significance—it is regarded as the earliest fully extant administrative law code from China, and it served as a model administrative law code for subsequent dynasties, including the Ming and Qing dynasties. This seminar will examine Tang dynasty administrative law, as set forth in the TLD, through the specific lens of how the emperor was fed and will analyze Tang administrative regulations on feeding the emperor. This seminar will describe the specific agencies and officials who were responsible for feeding the emperor, as well as their specific functions and structures as provided by the TLD. Relevant rules in the Tang Code 唐律 (i.e., the Tang dynasty penal code) will also be discussed to provide a complete picture of the regulatory apparatus behind the task of feeding the emperor. Ultimately, from this examination of Tang administrative law through the emperor’s food service agencies and offices as set forth in the TLD, this seminar will also set forth some general observations regarding Tang dynasty administrative law and will argue that one of the key roles of administrative law in the Tang was to further enhance and protect the prestige, image, and power of the emperor.


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