Wednesday, May 25, 2011

China's Public Examination System

Today this particular posting is also China-related. The Tan Sri Jeffrey Cheah Distinguished Speakers Series at Sunway University featured Cambridge University’s Professor Emeritus David L McMullen – and he gave a talk on “China’s Public Examination System: Did It Produce The Best and The Brightest?”

It was certainly insightful as a lecture – at least I know now that this examination system in Imperial China was designed to select the best administrative officials for the state’s bureaucracy. And it developed and matured during the Tang Dynasty, continuing until their abolition in 1905 under the Qing Dynasty – a history of about 1,300 years. In fact, the modern examination system for selecting civil service staff in China indirectly evolved from the imperial one.

I also learned two things. First, this examination system had a tremendous influence on both society and culture in Imperial China and was directly responsible for the creation of a class of scholar-bureaucrats that was merit-based rather than on the basis of inheritance. Second, the Chinese tradition of respect for formal education is a direct legacy of this Imperial examination system. I am glad I went and it was very well-attended. There were six of us from the Business School who went.

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