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Impact of Emperial Civil Service Exam on Today’s Chinese Exam System

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Chinese Scholar

Chinese Scholar

From Scholar to Court Official:
When I studied Chinese history and culture in college, I noticed that it is one of the longest standing cultures in the world with more than 5000 years of history. Majority of that 5000 year old history came under the dynastic system, starting with China’s first emperor Qing Shi Huang (known for Xian’s Terracotta Warriors).

I am not trying to give you a history lesson on China but to demonstrate the ties between the dynastic system’s civil service examination (科举考试 originated during Tang Dynasty in the sixth century til 1905) and it’s impact on today’s Chinese academic, exam-based system.

According to Columbia University’s Asia for Educators, “the Chinese scholar-official occupied a position at the top of the traditional hierarchical society, for he possessed prestige, wealth, and power. Because of the difficulty of mastering the classical Chinese writing style, only a tiny fraction of the population of China was fully literate, and government officials were selected from this small group of highly educated scholars.” How scholars became part of the imperial court serving the Emperor of China was by testing exceptionally well their civil service exam. This goes to show that China’s obsession with exams in determining who was qualified to move on to the next grade or ‘ranks’ of government has been tied to an age old Imperial tradition dated as far back as the Tang Dynasty. 1500+ years-old habit dies hard.

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  1. […] TEACHING ON SCHOLARSHIP AND SELF STUDY Confucius believed that the key to self mastery was through scholarship and self study.  To this day, his teachings on scholarship and study is very much engrained in Chinese society. Confucius stated “He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.” (Analects 2.15)He encouraged men to be gentlemen by recommending diligent study under a master familiar with the rules of correct behavior and learning from the classics. In time, Confucius’s emphasis on education and his belief that position and rank should be based on merit, led to the establishment of an imperial bureaucracy in which admission was based not on birth but on how well the applicant did on the civil service examinations. […]

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