The xunfu 巡撫, occasionally called futai 撫臺, fujun 撫軍, fuyuan 撫院 or buyuan 部院, was the administrative head of Chinese provinces (sheng 省) during the Ming 明 (1368-1644) and Qing periods 清 (1644-1911). For the Ming period the title is translated by Charles O. Hucker as "grand coordinator", for the Qing as "provincial governor". The term xunfu is derived from his task to undertake inspectional tours (xun 巡) throughout his province, and to "soothe" (fu 撫) the troops and the people. Such temporary offices had already been created during the Song period 宋 (960-1279), especially during times when natural disasters had afflicted a region.
The office of xunfu was created in 1391 when Zhu Biao 朱標 (1355-1392), Prince Yiwen 懿文太子, was ordered to inspect the province of Shaanxi. Only in 1421 the Minister of Personnel (libu shangshu 吏部尚書) suggested appointing twenty-six persons to take over the administrative coordination of the provinces. Yet during the Xuande reign-period 宣德 (1426-1435), the office of governor was still an ad-hoc position and not a permanent institution. The first permanent governorships were bestowed in 1430 to six persons in the provinces of Northern Zhili 北直隸 (modern Hebei), Southern Zhili 南直隸 (modern Jiangsu), Shandong, Shanxi, Henan, Jiangxi and Hu-Guang 湖廣 (modern Hubei and Hunan).
In the beginning the "grand coordinators" (xunfu) were mainly entrusted with the collecting of revenues in the shape of tax grain, the overseeing of canals and waterways, caring for law and order, and to guard the frontier zones. Later on they were also entrusted with the administration of the military garrisons. During the Ming period most governors had obtained the jinshi degree, and only a few had just excelled as juren. The governors of the central provinces were appointed by a joint decision of the ministries of Personnel and Revenue (hubu 戶部), those of the border provinces by the ministries of Personnel and War (bingbu 兵部). That distinction was given up in 1535, and all governors were selected by the Nine Chamberlains (jiuqing 九卿).
Grand coordinators were concurrently given the titles of Censor-in-chief (duyushi 都御史), Vice Censor-in-chief (fu duyushi 副都御史) and Assistant Censor-in-chief (jian duyushi 僉都御史), or that of Military superintendent (tidu junwu 提督軍務), when they were also entrusted with military matters (junwuzhe 軍務者). In case of larger authority of command, the epithets *Associate (military superintendent) (zanli 贊理) or *Adjutant (military superintendent) (canzan 參贊) were added, and when they took over the command over a whole provincial army, the title Supreme commander (zongdu 總督; a term in the Qing meaning governor-general). Therefore accumulations of civilian and military titles were often seen in the Ming period, such as zongdu jian xunfu 總督兼巡撫 (shortly called dufu 督撫; during the Qing period du-fu meant governor-general and governor), tidu jian xunfu 提督兼巡撫 or zongli xunshi futai 總理巡視撫治.
The duties of the governors were to oversee the military garrions, the administrative personnel, to care for judicial matters, to pass on imperial edicts, caring for peace and order, and to supervise the provincial examinations (xiangshi 鄉試). A governor disposed of the command of the troops in the provincial capital (biao 標).
The governors were assisted by three officials, namely provincial administration commissioners (buzhengshi 布政使), surveillance commissioners (anchashi 按察使) and (not in all provinces) Commanders (zhihuishi 指揮使). These were expected not only to support the governor, but also to curtail his power. Additionally, each governor had once a year to report to the court in a personal audience. In the late Ming period various court factions gained greater influence on the appointment of governors, managed to have their favourite candidate appointed, and thus won supporters outside of the capital.
The Qing dynasty followed this pattern and appointed governors for the provinces of Shandong, Shanxi, Henan, Jiangsu, Anhui, Jiangxi, Zhejiang, Hubei, Hunan, Shaanxi, Xinjiang (from 1884), Guangdong, Guangxi, Yunnan, and Guizhou. Because of their strategic importance the provinces of Zhili, Gansu, Fujian and Sichuan were (for most of the time) headed by governors-general (zongdu 總督), an office that was a new institution under the Qing. In 1906 the three Northeastern provinces (dongsansheng 東三省) of Fengtian 奉天 (modern Liaoning), Jilin and Heilongjiang were transformed into regular provinces, also headed by governors. During the Qing period the governors had the official rank 2B and were concurrently bestowed the titles of Vice Minister of War (bingbu shilang 兵部侍郎) and Vice Censor-in-chief (fu duyushi).
The Yongzheng emperor 雍正帝 (r. 1722-1735) decreed in 1723 that holders of the title of governor were concurrently given the titles of Right Vice Minister of War (bingbu you shilang 兵部右侍郎) and Right Vice Censor-in-chief of the Censorate (duchayuan you fu duyushi 都察院右副都御史) when they had been vice minister (shilang 侍郎) before. If they had been Academician (xueshi 學士, see Hanlin Academy), Vice Censor-in-chief, minister (qingyuan 卿員, see jiuqing 九卿) or provincial administration commissioner, they were to be given the concurrent title Right Vice Censor-in-chief, and if they were Left Assistant Censor-in-chief (zuo jian duyushi 左僉都御史), central government officials of the fourth rank (sipin jingtang 四品京堂) or pacification commissioner (anchashi) were promoted to governor, they were concurrently to be called Right Assistant Censor-in-chief (you jian duyushi 右僉都御史). In 1749 it was ordered that if the office of governor was not taken over by a vice minister the holder was bestowed the concurrent title of Right Vice Censor-in-chief, otherwise he was promoted to the official rank 2A (except for holders of the title of Vice Minister of War that were to be deprived of it when taking over the office of governor).
During the Xuantong reign-period 宣統 (1909-1912) the military and salt administration was put into the hands of the central government. This contributed to a decrease of influence of the provincial governors.