2012 New History
P. O. Box 1-44, Nankang, Taipei 11529, Taiwan, R. O. C.
02-2782-9555 # 226


The Gap between Documents and Reality in Han Governance

Chen-hung Kao

Department of History, National Taiwan University

Han Dynasty documents written on bamboo or wooden slips have long been considered to reflect the actual situation of daily administration in China’s Northwest, but some slips reveal that documents and reality do not always match. This article describes instances of document forgery by frontier troops of the Han Dynasty with regard to equipment management, mission assignment, personnel management, the supervisory office, and so forth, by analyzing particular documentary cases. The government of the Han Dynasty knew about this situation and had non-routine inspections, but these only had a temporary effect. This phenomenon should not be construed as the result of undisciplined and incompetent troops, but must be understood by considering the rationality of institutions and the features of a frontier society. When frontier officials could not comply with the requirements of their superiors, they produced false documents to please their them. From this perspective, these administrative mechanisms, whether malfeasance or not, showed obedience to the state.


Keywords: Han Dynasty, wooden slips, documents, administration