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China's Examination Hell: The Civil Service Examinations of Imperial China

By Jonathan Mirsky | Published in History Today 1982 
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Ichisada Miyazaki, translated by Conrad Schirokauer

China invented the civil service examinations, at least 1,000 years ago, by which men who had memorised the classics were admitted to government administration by correctly answering written questions. In theory any Chinese, except for brothel keepers and one or two other outcasts, could sit the examinations, which were a stupefying ordeal during which some went mad and others died, and since the papers were numbered to preserve anonymity, social background theoretically played no part in success.

For a millennium, until 1904, the Chinese Emperor recruited his top aides by this means, and he examined the topmost candidates himself.


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