- Paperback: 146 pages
- Publisher: Yale University Press; Revised ed. edition (September 10, 1981)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0300026390
- ISBN-13: 978-0300026399
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.3 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #987,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China Revised ed. Edition
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In mentioning the purpose and benefit of having such an examintaion system, the author conveys the ideals of a system built, ideally, to judge candidates (on the most part) on their merits and learning rather than appearence, connections, etc. Initially set in place as a way of weakening the influence and power of the aristocracy (an effective one at that), the examination system helped standardize learning for the civil service in China. Miyasaki points out the faults in this system as well, detailing some rather complicated methods of cheating as well as the scandals and ensuing banishments or executions which followed them.
Although these exams didn't include anything concerning mathematics of science learning, they often demanded specific and exacting word-for-word answers from the writings of Confucious, the commentaries of Confucian scholars, the ancient poets, etc. Questions were often obscure...imagine having studied for years only to be unable to answer an obscurely worded question, all of that time wasted! Miyazaki also presents the reality of many students of the era--while the examination system was supposed to select based upon merit, it still cost money to travel to the exams, and to pay the chief examiner, to whom a passed student was likened a disciple of, the usual "gratuity" upon passing. Miyazaki offers a convincing arguements and evidence that it was still virtually impossible for some people to gain standing and position in spite of their true merit. Nor was the stress and wory done after one test! After passing the district exam, the candidate could look forward to taking the prefectural exam, another qualifying exam, Provincial exam, Metropolitan exam, and then for the very cream of the crop the Palace exam and court review. Whew! Oh, and then retests every few years to demonstrate continued competence.
Interesting explanations of how papers were graded, disqualifiers, the amazingly spartan conditions available for students (you got to bring your own container to relieve yourself, not to mention your own food, bedding, etc--imagine coming from the other end of the empire!), and odd instances such as reports of hallucinations and at the local level at least, visitations by ghosts. Supernatural events seem to lessen as the competence level goes up, although in the cramped stalls these men occupied, often for several days it isn't hard to see how an individual with claustrophbia, schizophrenia, or simple homesickness might have broken down.
I was pleased to see that in addition to the many levels of civil exams described, Miyazaki also offered an interesting view of China's Miltary Examination system, which graded candidates based upon the ability to hit targets with arrows, then a 3-portion test concerning strenth where the candidate would bend a bow of three possible strenths, then showing skill with wielding a halberd of 80, 100, or 120 catty weight by "brandishing it in front of one's face, swinging it around one's back and returning it to the front, and finally spinning it like a water wheel, all without toucing the ground" (pg 103), and lastly demonstrate ability to lift stones by weight. Lastly an indoor session where the works of Sun Tzu, Wu Tzu, and Ssu-ma Fa were used for a written exam--the Classics of battle strategy. According to Miyazaki, cheating was rampant here, but more likely to be overlooked as the disciples of martial pursuits were often viewed as little more than "semisavage military men" (pg 104)-- putting into place the importance of academics first, and then the martial.
The best and easiest overview of this complex system, I ejoyed reading about the travails of this now-extinct system. Translator Conrad Schirokauer also includes a list of more recent readings on China's exam system in English.
Still it is easily the best work on the subject out there.