China's best-preserved county-level magistrate office in Neixiang, Henan


Destroyed and rebuilt several times over the past more than 700 years, the ancient Neixiang Government Office or Neixiang Magistrate Office in present-day Neixiang county of Nanyang city, Central China's Henan province, was first built in 1304. The existing buildings were mainly built in 1894 by Zhang Bingtao, the county magistrate at that time. Covering 40 thousand square meters and boasting over 280 houses, it became China's first yamen (government office) museum in 1984.


内乡县衙正门 Front Gate

The ancient Neixiang Government Office has 3 doors. In the middle is a 100-meter passage serving as the function of central axis, in the east is a drum for plaintiffs to beat for appealing for justice, and in the west are two stone tablets inscribed with several lines of characters: "Framing others and bypassing the immediate leadership and present appeals and complaints to higher levels are not allowed".


寅宾馆 Yinbin Guesthouse

Walking into Neixiang Government Office, you will find Yinbin Guesthouse on the right, aimed at providing accommodations to people such as higher officials, friends of the county magistrate, etc. To promote Chinese couplets culture and Neixiang Government Office's clean governance culture, an exhibition on Chinese couplets culture has been held here since 2015, filling the gap of couplets culture exhibition in China.


膳馆 Dining Hall

Opposite Yinbin Guesthouse is Dining Hall, which was built to entertain higher-level officials. There is a black stone tablet in front of the hall. In 2000, the Palace Museum in Beijing, Zhili Provincial Governor's Office in present-day Baoding city of North China's Hebei province, Huozhou Government Office in present-day Linfen city of Northwest China's Shanxi province and Neixiang Government Office launched an ancient government office-themed tour route, linking the 4-tier (state, province, city and county) administrative division system of ancient China together. So, it is usually said that dragon's head is in Beijing while its tail is in Neixiang since dragon usually refers to power in Chinese culture.


双祠院 Courtyard dedicated to worshiping the God of Land and the God of Government Office

Behind Yinbin Guesthouse is a courtyard dedicated to worshiping the God of Land and the God of Government Office. Behind it is a workplace for staff responsible for arresting criminals. To help more tourists gain a deeper understanding of the ancient Chinese tax system, an exhibition on ancient Chinese tax system has been held here since September 2014, which costs over 1.2 million yuan and covers an area of 708 square meters, with hundreds of cultural relics displayed, filling the gap of ancient tax system exhibition in China.


三班院 Workplace for staff responsible for arresting criminals

China's last surviving Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) prison is located right opposite the workplace mentioned above. Because the prison is located in the southwest of Major Court, it is usually called South Prison.


仪门 Ceremonial Gate

Ceremonial Gate is usually closed except for the first day of the arrival of a new county magistrate or the occasion greeting officials at or above the city level. It is also stipulate that civil officials and military officers are required to dismount here.


戒石坊 Stone Memorial Archway

Walking through Ceremonial Gate, you will see a stone memorial archway with 3 doors and 4 pillars, on which "Justice Breeds Trust" is inscribed. On the back of the memorial archway is engraved with several lines of characters written by Huang Tingjian, a famous calligrapher of Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127), which means "The officials' salary is from the ordinary people, and don't think that they are easy to bully". Sitting in the Main Court, the county magistrate is easier to see these characters, serving as a warning.


六房 Functional Institutions

Along the central axis are functional institutions responsible for the county's political affairs, criminal affairs, civil affairs, finance, agriculture, transportation, culture, education, etc.


大堂 Main Court

Main Court is the place where the magistrate tries criminals and holds major ceremonies. In the court, there are two kneeling stones of Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the east for plaintiffs, while the other for defendants. The stone for defendants is longer because some cases involve accomplices.


大堂 Main Court

Generally, a county was usually governed by a 7th-rank official in ancient China, but Neixiang was different. It was ruled by a 5th-rank official. One reason is that Neixiang's location is of vital importance since it lies at the junction of Hubei, Henan and Shaanxi provinces, and the other is that Neixiang administered a larger area, including the present-day Xixia county and several towns in the southeast of present-day Xichuan county.


仪仗 Ceremonial flags

Ceremonial flags and weapons embodying power and status are also exhibited at Main Court, belonging to Gao Yiyong, a Qing Dynasty magistrate who was working here.


There are two rooms right behind Main Court, which were built for doormen. To some extent, they share the same function with today's duty rooms. The doormen were responsible for safeguarding the door leading to the inner chambers.


二堂 Second Court

Second Court is the place where the magistrate conducts preliminary hearings on major and difficult cases, and mediates civil cases related to household, marriage, land, soil, etc. The magistrate mainly mediates disputes at Second Court and tries to reason with both the plaintiffs and the defendants, so as to reduce major issues to minor ones until the termination of the litigation.


刑具 Instruments of torture

Various instruments of torture are displayed at Second Court. The black and red sticks are specially designed. Red represents fire, symbolizing crimes, while black represents water, symbolizing the law, implying that the law and the crimes are incompatible.


万民伞 Umbrella

A special umbrella is also exhibited at Second Court. In the Qing Dynasty, when a popular official was leaving his office, an umbrella was usually presented to him by the local people. The umbrella is usually decorated with cloth strips which write the names of the givers. The more signatories indicate the higher prestige of the official. The umbrella is a metaphor, meaning that the official provides shelter for his people during his administration, just like an umbrella.


夫子院 Workplace for the magistrate's private assistant

Behind Second Court is the workplace for the magistrate's private assistant. The private assistant has no rank and is not an official, but is usually hired by the magistrate or comes from the magistrate's hometown to help deal with the government affairs. There is an osmanthus tree in the yard. With a history of more than 700 years, it witnessed the development of Neixiang Government Office. The wing rooms on both sides were served as the workplace for the magistrate's private assistant.


三省堂 Third Court

Third Court is the place where the magistrate deals with public affairs and receives higher-level officials. Cases involving confidentiality, privacy, and not suitable for public disclosure would also be heard here.


三省堂前的楹联 The plaques and couplets

The plaques and couplets in Neixiang Government Office are highly praised for their concise language, deep meaning and graceful calligraphy. The most famous one is at Third Court, meaning: What you eat comes from ordinary people, so does what you wear. Don't think they are easy to bully, because you were one of them. Nothing to be proud of in a promotion and nothing to be ashamed of in a demotion. Don't say an official is useless, because all the locals rely on him.



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