China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China

China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China

China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China

China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China

Excerpt

EXAMINATIONS! EXAMINATIONS! EXAMINATIONS! All over the world competitive examinations so determine a man's status and career that in many countries practically everyone is involved in one or another examination system sometime in his life. With increasing bureaucratization in both public and private institutions the outlook is for more rather than fewer examinations. Meanwhile, examinations are being scrutinized as never before, and on an international scale, judging by the diversity of nationalities represented by the contributors to the 1969 World Year Book of Education, devoted to the subject of examinations.

In this perspective, China's lengthy and well-documented experience merits greater attention than it has received, for many of the problems involved in devising and administering examinations were encountered first by the Chinese. As do all examiners, they labored to keep the tests fair and the testings honest, going to great lengths in their perpetual struggle against cheating, although to the very end the contest of wits remained a draw. The debates over the contents of the examinations, the search for tests that would be both objective and meaningful, the concern with discovering men of high moral character as well as of scholarly and literary attainment are just a few of the large topics inviting comparative analysis.

The Chinese examinations invite comparison, but the Chinese case is unique in that the system of civil service examinations stood alone as the preferred route to success, in contrast to the number of alternative examination systems that are available in most modern countries. In traditional China, government service was by far the most honorable and, in every sense, the most worthwhile occupation; and the examinations played a large part in determining the composition of the elite, by molding as well as selecting the men who operated the political system and dominated the society. Reinforcing a traditional veneration for learning, the examinations gave practical value to education while defining what was to be studied and how . . .

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