The Economic Significance of
the Imperial Household Department
in the Qianlong Period

Hui-min Lai

November 2012


Qing imperial economic activity was under the tight control of a few important organizations, a highly concentrated economy, and political pressure. The Imperial Household Department (IHD) is one of these important organizations, and is a major one. The major sources of Qing income were land tax, salt tax, and customs duties. IHD revenue came from tariffs and salt monopoly, far beyond its income from agricultural land rents. In the Qianlong era, IHD bondservants made up most of the tariff administration and the salt administration. These personal also handled the IHD trade in ginseng and other goods, as well as interest bearing loans to merchants from the IHD treasury, which were issued through the Changlu and Lianghuai salt administrations. If these officials were found to have committed a crime and were fined, or had their property confiscated, it would all go to the IHD. In the Qianlong period, every year the IHD treasury was ordered to move millions in funds to the Board of Revenue. Those millions were originally taxes that merchants submitted to the Board of Revenue through the IHD.

Qianlong's establishment of Tibetan Buddhist temples in the Rehe region helped to maintain more than one hundred years' peaceful relationship with the Mongolia. During the Qing dynasty, emperors provided for numerous Tibetan monks in the capital, their daily expenses paid by the Board of Revenue. Expenses for building temples and conducting ceremonies were paid by the IHD. The moneys paid by the emperors were far more than the expenses covered by the Board of Revenue, and therefore did not cause fiscal problems for the state. Because the temples of Tibetan Buddhism attracted numerous followers, areas by the temples became important markets, and lamas further gained income from commercial activities. Qing emperors believed that Mongolia was weakened because of Mongol belief in Tibetan Buddhism and that their donations to the lamas contributed to the decline of the Mongolian economy. From these observations, it is safe to say the Qing government successfully weakened Mongolia through Tibetan Buddhism.

Surcharges added to customs levies were too numerous to calculate and provided many opportunities for bureaucratic corruption. Although the money that the bureaucrats owed to the government should have been paid to the Board of Revenue, the emperor ordered the payments to be handed over to the IHD. As the emperor set this selfish example, so the bureaucrats followed suit. This pattern of corruption lasted until the end of the Qing dynasty and was a major cause of the Qing's decline.

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