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A Brief History of Imperial Examination


 Imperial Examination in the Sui Dynasty (581-618)

After the founding of the Sui Dynasty, the economic power of small and medium landlords was strengthened. Their desire for political power was growing. The imperial examination system satisfied the desire and helped to recruit talents, and thus became one of the ways through which the government selected officials.

 Imperial Examination in the Tang Dynasty (618-907)

The imperial examination system developed systematically in the Tang Dynasty. Students of schools at all levels and ordinary literati not from schools could all take imperial examinations. There were also exams for incumbent officials.Jinshiis only a qualification to become officials. Only passing the exams conducted by Ministry of Official Personal Affairs, couldJinshibe granted positions in the government.

 Imperial Examination in the Song Dynasty (960-1279)

The imperial examination underwent further development in the Song Dynasty. The examinations included three levels: prefectural, provincial and the final imperial examinations. After passing the provincial and final imperial exams, candidates would be granted official positions.

 Imperial Examination in the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368)

The imperial examinations under the Mongol rulers had obvious race discrimination. The imperial examinations were held triennially at provincial, metropolitan and final imperial levels. During the prefectural level, Mongol and other minority candidates only took two exams, while the Han candidates had to take three exams. In the final exam, although all candidates would answer one question on politics, the first two groups were allowed 500 word-limit, while the Han candidates must reach 1000 word-limit. The examination contents for the Han candidates were comparatively difficult.

 Imperial Examination in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)

In the Ming Dynasty,Jinshiexam was the most important part. Candidates passing the county exams were qualified to take theJinshiexams. The form of eight-part essay must be followed when writing articles in exams. Prefectural exam was the primary level of the formal imperial examinations and held in prefectural city. The provincial level exam came after that and was held in provincial city triennially. Those who were admitted in the provincial level exam were provided with qualifications to be an official.

The metropolitan and final imperial examinations were exams at the highest level. The metropolitan exam was held in the following spring after the provincial examination at the Ministry of Rites in the capital. Those admitted were calledGongshiand the first place,Huiyuan.Gongshiwould take the final imperial exam namely under direct supervision of the emperor. The matriculation had three levels of excellence. The first level was granted to three candidates, conferredJinshi. The first three names set apart. The candidate ranking first was calledZhuangyuan(primus), the second,Bangyan, the third,Tanhua.

 Imperial Examination in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912)

In the Qing Dynasty, the imperial examination continue to use the system and procedure of that in the Ming Dynasty.

In the Qing Dynasty, additional provincial exams were organized at the emperor's birthday or enthronement and they were calledEnke.Jinshiof the second and third level of excellence would take another exam after the usual final imperial exam.

The form of eight-part essay was strictly required in the Qing Dynasty. During the reign of Qianlong Emperor (1735-1796), poem was added to exam content, which became a compulsory content of prefectural, provincial and metropolitan level exams.

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