Chinese Imperial Examination


The imperial examination system was applied in the feudal society to select officials from intellectuals. It started from the Sui Dynasty (581-618). A variety of ways were used to select officials in the previous dynasties. For instance, in the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) the local administration would select people to take part in administrative affairs by their merit such as honesty, filial and justice. Later the Nine Rank Judging System was applied in the Wei Jin Dynasties (220-420) to recommend the talents to serve the government. However the candidates were mostly from rich and powerful families. In the Sui Dynasty, Emperor Yangdi initiated imperial examination system in 606AD, which was also called Keju System.
Chinese Keju Examination Imperial Court Examination
Chinese Keju Examination
Imperial Court Examination

This system was further developed in the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD). In the Song Dynasty (960-1279AD) the emperors attached more importance on the examination. They personally presided over the examination and even divide the successful candidates into three groups and conferred them titles. The emperor would announce the names in order of their scores and bestow them a banquet. All the successful candidates would have a post. The person who got the highest score would be granted the title of Zhuangyuan, who was entitled to enjoy favorable benefits and high honors. Therefore most intellectuals took the imperial examination as the only access to official ranks and glory.
In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the branch tested was only one and the contents tested were limited to “the Four Books”, namely the great Learning, the Doctrine of the Mean, the Analects of Confucius and Mencius and “the Five Classics”, namely, the Book of Songs, the Book of History, the Book of Changes, the Book of Rites and the Spring and Autumn Annuals. All the candidates had to write a composition explaining ideas from those books in a rigid form and structure, which was called Eight Part Essay. To start with, two sentences should be used to tell the main idea of the title, which was called “to clear the topic”. Then it should be followed by several sentences to clarify the meaning of the topic, which was called “to continue the topic”. The remaining part had to carry on discussions on the topic in the form of parallelism and antithesis, which was rigidly restricted. The ideas must tally with the ideas from the Four Books and the Five Classics. Liberal ideas were not accepted. The examination was held once every three years. It had four levels: the county examination, the provincial examination, the academy examination and the palace examination. Only when one passed the lower level examination was qualified to attend the next examination. All the candidates for the county examination were called tongsheng. Those who passed were called Xiucai. Those who passed the provincial, the academy and the palace examinations were called Juren, Gongshi and Jinshi respectively. The first three of Jinshi were ranked Zhuangyuan, bangyan and tanhua respectively. All the jinshi would be given a post by the emperor. Their names would be engraved on the tablets. The imperial examination system was terminated in 1905.
The imperial examination really played an important role in the feudal times in China. By this way the talents were found and selected by the emperors to serve the feudal government. At the same time the contents of the examination was so dull which confined the thoughts of the intellectuals. The imperial examination had great influence on Chinese people. It inspired the people to study hard to attend the examination and achieved their wish and pursuit. Even today Chinese people still value education and examination.

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