The civil service examinations taken by the bureaucrats and administrators of imperial China were not merely academic. They also served as social rites of passage. Moreover, they were designed to test the moral aptitudes of test-takers for a lifetime of upholding Confucian ideals. Naturally, they were a source of individual stress, as well as a key part of imperial power and authority for centuries, outlasting several dynasties. This episode looks at the roles civil service examinations played in premodern China, and the mythos that grew around them.
Hilde De Weerdt, Competition over Content: Negotiating Standards for the Civil Service Examinations in Imperial China (1127-1279.) Harvard University Press, (2007).
Benjamin Elman, A Cultural History of Civil Examinations, University of California Press, (2000).
Mark Edward Lewis, China Between Empires: The Northern and Southern Dynasties, Harvard University Press, (2011).
--, China’s Cosmopolitan Empire: The Tang Dynasty, Harvard University Press, (2012).
Walter Scheidel, Rome and China: Comparative Perspectives on Ancient World Empires, Oxford University Press, (2009).
Music: "Evening Melodrama" by Kevin Macleod (www.incompetech.com)