Undoubtedly, the Chinese Civil Service Curriculum is the longest academic assessment system in human history. It was formed around 146 BCE and, in 1905, was eventually abolished. The test, taken only by boys, qualified applicants to work for the imperial government and helped form China’s socio-cultural, political, academic and economic spheres. It was one of the first known manifestations of meritocracy and helped develop China to a large degree to be the great nation it is today. The China Civil Service Examination is therefore discussed in this essay; it discusses how applicants qualified for the examination and how it shaped the goals and beliefs of young people in China.
Preparation for the Examination.
Due to the rigorous nature of the examinations, preparations for the examinations begun very early; when the candidate was just about three years of age. He was supervised closely by either his mother, baby sitter or any other suitable adult. At this stage, the young boy was taught a few characters which only required few strokes. After learning how to hold the brush, he would progress to the Primer of One Thousand Characters, which had one thousand characters and was ideal for training students on character writing and memorization. A boy with good memorization skills would go ahead to read history texts e.g. the Meng Ch’iu (The Beginner’s Search) and later the Four Books and the Five Classics (Miyazaki, 298).
At the age of seven, the boy would progress to formal education which usually took place in a temple, village or private schools. Memorization took center stage in these institutions with students being forced to memorize more than 400, 000 characters in classical, historical and literary works (Miyazaki, 298). They were also taught honorific terms i.e. bowing to their superiors and equals, before finally siting for the examinations.
The demanding nature of the examinations forced students to devise ways to get good ratings without having to go through the exhausting syllabus. The examinations primarily centered on the Four Books and the Five Classics which sometimes repeated passages and examinations. Therefore, students predicted questions which were most likely to be examined and concentrated on those questions (Miyazaki, 299). If the predictions were correct; the students would pass with flying colors, but if not; the results would be disastrous.
Effects on the Goals and Values of Young People in China
The examinations motivated young boys, especially from humble families, to pursue their goals in life. The examinations were set up to abolish hereditary aristocracy and usher in meritocracy; therefore, young boys from humble families considered the examinations a channel to work for the imperial government and finally wield power. Young boys from rich families, who were accustomed to eating from the silver spoon, now had to work hard in their studies to earn a position in the government. In summary, the examinations promoted fairness and equality among young people in China.
Contrastingly, with time, the examinations also led to the emergence of poor morals within the Chinese youth. Values such as hard work and honesty were quickly abandoned as the youth found ways to “cheat” the system. Other young people who had failed the examinations soon established unscrupulous business concerns of publishing past papers to aid in these dishonest practices.
In conclusion, while the examinations served as a tool for promoting fairness; their emphasis on non-technical work left China with a technical skills deficit. This among other reasons led to it abolition.
Miyazaki, Ichisada. The Chinese Civil Service Exam System. 1st ed.