Imperial Examination System in China

Imperial Examination System in China

One of the great innovations of ancient China was to recruit officials through open examinations. This idea even influenced the West in their formation of civil servant systems in modem times.
In the Shang Dynasty(1600 BC-1046 BCH aristocrats took on main positions in the court and served as officials in government departments. The enfeoffment system was also implemented at this time. During the Western Zhou Dynasty, rulers attached great importance to the blood relationship based on patriarch principles and set up the social estate system accordingly. During the Warring States period, the feudal landlord class adopted the system of granting titles of nobility according to meritorious s services performed in battle fields. In addition, aristocrats extensively accepted small and middle landlords or scholars as their family tutors( 门 客) in favor to the consolidation and development of the feudal regime.
In the Han Dynasty(206 BC-200 AD), ministers, high-ranking officials, and local authorities recommended to the imperial court talented and virtuous people. The court would offer them government posts or promote them from lower positions to higher ones. In addition, emperors would directly employ some people to be officials, working in; the court local authorities would also employ persons and appoint them to work in local government departments.
Since the Sui Dynasty(581-618 ), the system of imperial examinations was gradually established. Unlike former recruitment, the imperial examination system allowed the participation of people from all social stratums, regardless of family background or recommendations. All men, virtuous and healthy, could take the exam.
During the Tang Dynasty ( 618-907 ), appointments to government positions, however, went mainly to aristocrats rather than to people who passed the civil service examination. Only ten percent of government officials were selected from the imperial examinations.
There were two kinds of examinations during the Tang Dynasty. One kind involved Confucian studies and Five Classics; the other Daoism. Exam questions had many sections: interviews, writing , and poetry. Other subjects included history, law, calligraphy, and mathematics. 
In the Song Dynasty(960-1279 ), the examination was based entirely on the Confucian Classics. Over fifty percent of government officials were recruited from the civil service examination. The candidates had to memorize the Five Classics, interpret passages, master their literary style, and use Confucian philosophy to interpret the Classics and construct political advice. The Daoist examination was totally discarded.
By the end of the Song Dynasty, the imperial examination became insupportable. Since the contents of imperial examination 'were narrow, and since written examinations alone did not show the candidates' practical experience, the system of imperial examinations gradually lost its worth and hindered the development of society. This system was abandoned for a time in the Yuan Dynasty and the Heavenly Kingdom of Taiping( 太平天国 ), and was completely abandoned after the fall of Qing Dynasty.