The “Arteries and Veins” of the Imperial Body: The Nature of the Relay and Post Station Systems in the Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644

in Journal of Early Modern History
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The “arteries and veins” of the Ming Empire were the relay (驛 yi) and post station (急遞鋪 jidipu) systems, two networks that worked together to circulate people, information, and goods throughout the realm. The relay system was an infrastructure of stations, horses, carts, and other facilities provided at government expense for the transportation, accommodation, and provision of a select group of imperial officials, tribute-bearing foreign envoys, and messengers from other government offices on their journeys to the capital. The express post station network with its foot posts and mail handling procedures was the communications system of the Ming Empire. Together, the two systems helped the state consolidate control over the empire, allowed the emperor to manage his officials, supported the conduct of diplomatic relations, and facilitated the movement of people, goods, and information across the empire.

The “Arteries and Veins” of the Imperial Body: The Nature of the Relay and Post Station Systems in the Ming Dynasty, 1368–1644

in Journal of Early Modern History




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Irfan Habib“Postal Communications in Mughal India,” Proceedings Indian History Congress 46th Session (Delhi 1986): 236–252.


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ZhangMing shi 75: 1839 1840 1843.


In 1438the Zhengtong Emperor strengthened oversight of the post station system by installing three post station masters at the two imperial capitals and an additional master at every provincial capital. Da Ming huidian 791 149: 540.


ZhangMing shi 75: 1852; Taizu shilu 29: 洪武元年正月庚子 (February 17 1368).


M.N. Boyer“A Day’s Journey in Medieval France,” Speculum 26 (1957): 597–606; Katsuhisa Moriya “Urban Networks and Information Networks” in Tokugawa Japan: The Social and Economic Antecedents of Modern Japan ed. Chie Nakane and Shinzaburo Oishi (Tokyo 1990) 108–11.


  • View in gallery
    Relay system routes in the Early Ming, 1368–1420. Scanned from Huang Bian 黃汴, Yitong lucheng tuji 一統路程圖記 (Comprehensive Illustrated Route Book) (1570).
  • View in gallery
    Map of Hengyang County (post stations highlighted).


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