The Song dynasty administrative system is really hard to understand (at least for me), and I have many questions about it. Here I'll concentrate on the military prefectures.

It's well documented the existence of three special kinds of prefectures (zhou 州) in Song (directly related to the Tang administration):

  • superior prefectures (fu 府)
  • industrial prefectures (jian 監)
  • military prefectures (jun 軍)

Here are some details I'm most curious about.

What exactly was the purpose of the military prefecture? Most sources simply claim these prefectures were placed in dangerous or border areas, but give no details about how they operate and how they helped to diminish banditry or protect against invasions.

Were all the militias stationed in military prefectures? This is actually my guess.

Was any official eligible for a military prefecture or was there a special exam?

Additionally, where the military prefects also transferred every 3 years in these special prefectures?


The word jūn (軍) literally just means "army". Theoretically, these were military districts placed in strategic areas of high military importance, commonly the frontiers. In this sense, they would have been a bit like the marches of Europe, responsible for coordinating regional defenses. Early military prefectures typically inherited that designation from the Tang or Five Dynasties periods.

However, in practice, military prefectures were essentially identical to normal prefectures. The Song Dynasty aggressively pursued a policy of "strengthen the stems, weaken the branches". To maintain control, the Song court thus appointed civilian, central government officials for three year terms as prefecture governors. The same was true of military prefectures. For example, the famed calligrapher and painter Mi Fu was appointed to the Huaiyang Military Prefecture.

In terms of military, the Song Dynasty was extremely wary of strong regional forces. Soon after its foundation, it placed much of the empire's military forces directly under central government control. The remaining forces, known as xiāng jūn (廂軍), became local prefecture forces with a career military commander, but under the control of the (typically) civilian prefecture governor. These were regular forces, however. There were also xiāng bīng (鄉兵), which were more like seasonal conscripts raised in some regions - especially among the military prefectures of Shaanxi. Neither of these were effective fighting forces.


Song China had a three tier local government system. From top to bottom:

  1. Circuits - lù (路)
  2. Prefectures - zhōu (州) or equivalent
  3. Counties - xiàn (縣) or equivalent

The circuits were essentially a supervisory organ, designed to monitor the prefectures without wielding much in the way of real authority over the latter. The four types of prefectures were substantially the same, except the more important prefectures were called fǔ (府), the military focused prefectures were called jūn (軍), and the jiān (監) were typically counties with important resources or production, and often did not actually govern civilians.

The last were elevated to the rank of prefectures on account of being directly responsible to the central government, somewhat akin to the imperial immediacy of Europe. The normal prefectures were by far the most common type.

In addition to prefectures, both jūn (軍), and the jiān (監) were also designations for some counties. These fell under the administration and authority of a prefecture, rather than to the Imperial centre directly.

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