Amban (pl: ambasa) is a Manchu word meaning "high official," which corresponds to a number of different official titles in the Qing imperial government. For instance, members of the Grand Council were called Coohai nashūn-i amban () in Manchu and Qing governor-generals were called Uheri kadalara amban ().
The word amban was transcribed into Chinese as 昂邦 (angbang).
By far the most known ambans were the Qing imperial residents (Manchu: Seremšeme tehe amban; Chinese: Zhùzhá Dàchén 駐紮大臣; and Tibetan: Ngang pai) in Tibet, Qinghai, Mongolia and Xinjiang, which recognized Qing authority, but were not governed as regular provinces and retained many of their existing institutions.
The Qing imperial residents can be roughly compared to a European resident in a protectorate (e.g. a British Indian princely state), the real rapport depending on historical circumstances rather than a general job description for every amban, while his authority often was very extensive, rather like a provincial governor.
The Qing Emperor appointed an amban in Tibet (Chinese: Zhùzàng Dàchén 駐藏大臣), who represented Qing authority over the Buddhist theocracy of Tibet, and commanded over 2,000 troops stationed in Lhasa. The chief amban was aided by an assistant amban (Bāngbàn Dàchén 幫辦大臣) and both of them reported to the Qing Lifan Yuan. Their duties included acting as intermediary between China and the Hindu kingdom of Nepal (Ghorkhas Country); a secretary (Yíqíng zhāngjīng 夷情章京) dealt with native affairs. Three Chinese commissioners (liángtái 糧台), of the class of sub-prefects, were stationed at Lhasa, Tashilumbo and Ngari.
The Qing imperial resident in Tibet was introduced in 1727 and most ambasa were appointed from the Manchu Eight Banners, a few were Han Chinese or Mongol. The Emperors used ambasa to supervise Tibetan politics, and the Qianlong, Jiaqing and Daoguang Emperors each decreed that the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama were bound to follow the leadership or guidance of the ambasa in carrying out the administration of Tibet.
Zhao Erfeng, a Han Chinese Bannerman, was appointed as Amban of Tibet by the Qing government. He was killed during the Xinhai Revolution by Chinese Republican Revolutionary forces intent on overthrowing the Qing dynasty. After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912, the Manchu Amban Lien Yu and his Chinese soldiers were expelled from Lhasa.
Altishahr, meaning six cities, consisted of Uyghur cities of Yarkand, Kashgar, Khotan, Kuche, Aksu, and Yangi Hisar (or Ush-Turfan). The Qing dynasty's wars with the Zunghar Khanate pushed them into the area and by 1759 they had obtained control of this region. After the rebellion of Yakub Beg, Altishahr was incorporated into the administration of Xinjiang, which became a formal province in the Qing empire in 1884. Between 1761 and 1865, the Qing Empire appointed an imperial resident (Manchu: hebei amban; Chinese: zǒnglǐ huíjiāng shìwù cānzàn dàchén 總理回疆事務參贊大臣) to Altishahr, which today forms part of southern Xinjiang. The imperial resident, who resided in Kashgar, Ush Turfan or Yarkand and exercised Qing authority over the region. The imperial resident was controlled with local imperial agents (Manchu: Baita icihiyara amban; Chinese: Bànshì dàchén 辦事大臣), who were sent to most important cities in the region, where they ruled in conjunction with the local officials (hakim beg, Chinese: 阿奇木伯克), who were given ranks in the Qing civil service and were ultimately accountable to the imperial agent.
In the holy city of Urga, an amban (Chinese: Kùlún bànshì dàchén 庫倫辦事大臣) was stationed in order to assert Qing control over the Mongol dependencies. He controlled all temporal matters, and was specially charged with the control of the frontier town of Kiakhta and the trade conducted there with the Russians. Urga was also the residence of the Jebtsundamba Khutuktu, who was the spiritual head of the Mongol Khalkha tribes. The Khutuktu ranked third in degree of veneration among the dignitaries in the Tibetan Buddhism, after the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama. He resided in a sacred quarter on the western side of the town and acted as a spiritual counterpart of the Qing amban.
After the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1912, the Manchu amban was expelled by Mongol forces, fleeing to China proper via Russia.
In the early Qing, the word amban was also used in the title of the military governors (昂邦章京, angbang-zhangjing, which is a transcription of the Manchu amban-jianggin; R.L. Edmonds translates the title in English as "military deputy-lieutenant governor") in the northeastern provinces of the Qing Empire, viz. Jilin and Heilongjiang. The first amban-jianggin appointed in the region was the Ninguta garrison commander Sarhuda, who became the amban-jianggin of Ninguta in June 1653.