The Imperial Examination System and its Vagaries / (Part1)

The Imperial examinations in Imperial China determined who among the population would be permitted to enter the state’s bureaucracy. The Imperial Examination System in China lasted for 1300 years, from its founding during the Sui Dynasty in 605 to its abolition near the end of the Qing Dynasty in 1905.

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Early Methods of Official Selection

The celebrity that Jiang Ziya achieved 3,000 years ago lives on, simply in his being regarded as the patron saint of human resources. King Wen first appointed Jiang Ziya state tutor and later prime minister in charge of both civilian and military affairs. Jiang assisted King Wen, and later his son King Wu, in their establishment of the Zhou Dynasty (11th century -256 BC), which ruled for 800 years. China was a slave society during the Shang and Zhou dynasties. Officials, in common with emperors, inherited their exalted positions rather than being appointed on merit. Jiang Ziya, as a talented commoner that rose to prominence within the nation’s ruling organ, was the first exception to this convention. Jiang’s appointment signaled a positive change in approach to the selection of court officials. It was not until the late third century BC of the Han Dynasty that specific rules for the selection of officials were institutionalized.

clip image002 thumb3 The Imperial Examination System and its Vagaries / (Part1)In the Han Dynasty (206BC-220AD) the local administration would select people to take part in administrative affairs according to their merit concerning such factors as honesty, filial devotion 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. The latter innovation, however, gave rise to selections that were made on a purely subjective basis. Nepotism and bribery were consequently rife and only candidates from privileged family backgrounds were appointed to high-ranking posts.

The latter innovation, however, gave rise to selections that were made on a purely subjective basis. Nepotism and bribery were consequently rife and only candidates from privileged family backgrounds were appointed to high-ranking posts. This situation changed for the better in the Sui Dynasty (581-618). It was then that the imperial examination system came into force.

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