Court Confidential

What would the Qing emperors have thought about a world in which leaders communicate strategy and policy via Twitter? It’s unlikely the Qing would have been too keen on mass—never mind “social”—media, but they were innovators in the field of official communications. They ran a system which relied on big data long before there were microprocessors and fiber optics to transmit such information. Keeping tabs on a bureaucracy spanning an empire was a full-time job and required progressive thinking in the fields of communication and information management.

Under the system of court correspondence inherited from their Ming dynasty (1368 – 1644) predecessors, information and communications flowed up via official channels, passing through the relevant ministries, where a bevy of staff and bureaucrats read each dispatch before forwarding it to the appropriate minister for review. Only then would the information, along with a policy recommendation and drafted response, make its way to the emperor. It was a cumbersome—yet very open—system.