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A unique experiment This is an article taken from our China in Focus magazine written by Justin Crozier. Justin Crozier examines how China's Imperial examination system and its modern remnant - the Eight Legged Essay and the Gao Kao - are unique attempts in world history to aim for a government of wisdom.
In "On a Chinese Screen", notes from his encounters during a journey on the Yangzi inSomerset Maugham relays his conversation with a great Confucian philosopher. The Chinese philosopher, who has studied in Berlin and Oxford, concludes that all wisdom is to be found within the Confucian canon.
In a bitter mood, he denounces the modernity that is sweeping China, and extols the Confucian system of old: We sought to rule this great country not by force, but by wisdom. And for centuries we succeeded. But these fruits of Chinese ingenuity are in many ways peripheral to the historical development of Chinese civilisation, and to Chinese society today.
Gunpowder may have been discovered in China; but it was chiefly used for fireworks; the value of the compass was squandered by the insularity of the Ming government and its failure to capitalise on Zheng He 's explorations. Paper and the printing press were remarkable developments, but were really just perfections of technology already in use in various parts of the world from a very early age; papyrus or vellum, or the scriptoria of monasteries.
The most truly unique aspect of Chinese culture - and the one with the most powerful legacy - is the Confucian examination system with which the Son of Heaven's empire was staffed with civil servants over the best part of two millennia.
The Imperial examinations represented a remarkable attempt to create an aristocracy of learning, which in itself represent a remarkable advance over the warrior and hereditary aristocracies that dominated in the rest of the world.
The Chinese examination system, archaic, laborious and daunting as it may have been, was nevertheless, was a glorious attempt at intellectual meritocracy. The Imperial Examination The origins of the exam system lie in the Han period, but the early scholarly examinations were consolidated during the Sui period, and began to be truly effective under the Tang Dynasty.
Between the Tang period and the late Qingthe civil service examinations dropped out of use for short periods and underwent occasional reform. But the content remained remarkably constant.
The core texts consisted of the Four Books and the Five Classics, works attributed to Confucius and certain of his disciples, along with a number of approved commentaries. Until the Guanxu Reforms ofthe notorious eight-legged essay, a rigid traditional format, was the mainstay of the exam papers.
Rote learning of the Confucian classics was fundamental to success in the exams, and the scholar who obtained the highest degree, the jinshi, would have his memory trained to a tremendous degree. Joining the Imperial Civil Service To obtain a civil service post, a candidate had to pass through several stages, starting with preliminary local exams, and progressing, if successful, through to district, provincial and palace examinations.
Exams were held every three years. The district degree was the shengyuan, which entailed exemption from both corporal punishment and the corvee labour dues, the right to wear a scholar's robes, and a small state salary. Essentially, a successful candidate became a member of the gentry.
To obtain a civil service position, a scholar generally required the juren provincial degree, which would take would take years of study, and even a candidate could not reasonably expect to do so before he was thirty. Many candidates who were eventually successful did not achieve office until they had reached a venerable age.
The jinshi degrees were prospects for only a very few exceptional scholars. For the very highest ministerial posts, the best examination essays were selected by the Emperor himself.
A Meritocratic Aristocracy Aristocracy-by-examination had far-reaching consequences. A high degree of national stability was ensured despite changes of emperor and dynasty because the civil service, fuelled by the exam system, could continue independently of the imperial regime.How many paragraphs in an IELTS Writing Task 2 Essay?
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