This article considers an essay on provincial government written by the Yongzheng Emperor of China shortly after his ascension to the throne in 1723. The essay treats provincial governors’ role in personnel, financial and military matters and the problems of China’s southwest. It reflects the emperor’s dissatisfaction with policies in each of these areas, which were all to be the focus of reforming efforts during his reign. But perhaps more important, it expresses the Emperor’s new concern with the value of administrative efficacy. The essay argues that this was a fundamental innovation in the political theology of the Chinese state. Although practical ideas for reform often came from governors themselves, who were closer to the problems than the Emperor and more familiar with the details of solution, imperial leadership created a climate in which reform ideas would be welcomed and implemented.