AskDefine | Define yamen

The Collaborative Dictionary

Yamen \Ya"men\, n. [Chin. ya a civil or military court + men a gate.] In China, the official headquarters or residence of a mandarin, including court rooms, offices, gardens, prisons, etc.; the place where the business of any public department is transcated. [Webster 1913 Suppl.]
Not to be confused with Yemen, the nation in the Middle East.
A yámen () is any local bureaucrat's, or mandarin's, office and residence of the Chinese Empire. The term has been widely used in China for centuries, but appeared in English during the Qing Dynasty.
Within the yámen, the bureaucrat administered the government business of the town or region. Typical responsibilities of the bureaucrat includes local finance, capital works, judging of civil and criminal cases, and issuing decrees and policies.
Typically, the bureaucrat and his immediate family would live in a residence attached to the yámen. This was especially so during the Qing dynasty, when imperial law forbade a person from taking government office in his native province.
Yámens varied greatly in size depending on the level of government they administered, and the seniority of the bureaucrat's office. However, yámens at a local level typically had similar features: a front gate, a courtyard and a hall (typically serving as a court of law); offices, prison cells and store rooms; and residences for the bureaucrat, his family and his staff.
At the provincial level and above, specialisation among officials occurred to a greater extent. For example, the three chief officials of a province () controlled the legislative and executive, the judicial, and the military affairs of the province or region. Their yámen would accordingly be specialised according to the functions of the office.

After 1911

The institution of the yámen fell victim to the Wuchang Uprising and the Xinhai Revolution, after which warlords often wound up becoming the ultimate authorities, in spite of Sun Yat-sen's best efforts to establish a Republic of China covering all of China. Sun Yat-sen tried to establish a form of self-government, or home rule, on a regional (or local) basis, but he found that he needed bureaucracy to run a country as big as China. Hence, new bureaucratic offices arose, thus replicating the functions of the Imperial yámens in many ways.
The term "Yamen" is still used in colloquial Chinese today, however, to denote government offices. It sometimes carries negative connotations of an arrogant or inefficient bureaucracy, much as the term "mandarin" does in English.

Notable Yamens

yamen in German: Yamen
yamen in Norwegian: Yamen
yamen in Chinese: 衙门
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