Story of China - R. Van Bergen

Examinations: How Officers are Appointed

The author of a recent book on China mentions as one of the reasons for the long existence of the Chinese nation that all her officers are taken from among the people. That is quite true. Just as every American-born boy may sometime be President of the United States, so every Chinese boy, however poor and humble his parents, may be Prime Minister of China. Many of the highest ministers of State have been poor boys. Wen Hsiang (wen hseeahng), for many years prime minister, was the son of a farmer who leased ten acres of land. His successor in office, Shen Quei Fen (shen khwy fen), was the son of a street peddler who did not earn more than ten cents a day.

To be an officer means honor and wealth. Anyone who passes the necessary examinations may be put into office, and all Chinese may be examined, excepting only the sons of actors, executioners, jailers, and of such people as are supposed to lead a bad life. No person can be examined within three years of the death of his father or mother; for during that time the son is supposed to be mourning, and not thinking of anything else.

Persons from almost every class of society may become candidates for degrees. All officers must be graduates of the second or third degree. Nothing is required except a thorough knowledge of the writings of Confucius and Mencius. The reason of this is that these writings teach virtue, and every officer should be a virtuous man.

Two examinations must be passed before a candidate may present himself for the first or lowest degree. The first examination is by the district judge. If the candidate succeeds, he will be examined by the judge of a Fu City, or county seat. If successful, he receives a certificate of scholarship, but no degree. He may now send in his papers for the real examination.

These papers must state the candidate's name, age, stature, complexion, the place of his birth, the names of his father, grandfather, and principal teacher. It must be signed by two graduates as securities. These graduates are well known, and are responsible for the candidate's character and behavior.

There are from three thousand to six thousand candidates at these examinations, and, since the hall will not hold them all, they are called by districts. No candidate is permitted to enter the hall unless the graduate who is his security is present, to answer for him when his name is called. After he is admitted, the candidate is taken to his seat. He is not allowed to bring any books, but only writing material and a little food.

When the candidates are seated, subjects are given out for two compositions and one poem. The subjects are usually some saying of Confucius or Mencius. Each candidate is supposed to know the rules and regulations. The work must be finished before night. The name of the writer is written on one corner, the paper is folded over and pasted so that the name can not be seen, until the merits of the work have been decided.

Those whose compositions are considered the best, are called for another examination. They must write from memory from a book called the "Sacred Edict," and it must be done with perfect accuracy. After this is finished and inspected, the names of the successful candidates are announced. They receive the first degree, known as Siu-tsai (seeoo-tsie), or "Beautiful Ability." The number of successful candidates is very small. To secure impartiality, this examination is held under the direction of a scholar from Peking.

Every three years the examinations for the second degree are held at the provincial capitals under two graduates from Peking, sent especially for this purpose. Graduates of the first degree, to the number of from 5,000 to 8,000, come from all parts of the province. The wealthiest come with servants and friends; but most of them are so poor that they must borrow the money for their expenses.

The large examination hall in the provincial capital is divided into little cells or closets enough to accommodate about 10,000 candidates. They bring bedding and food with them, for they must remain two days. No friends or servants are permitted to enter. When all the candidates are in, the doors are shut, and no one can enter or leave until the time for writing the compositions is past, and they have been handed in.

Three compositions and one poem must be finished. They are delivered to examiners, who look them over, and those which have bad mistakes are thrown out. Those which are approved are copied in red ink by clerks, and each copy is carefully compared with the original. This is done so that the handwriting of a candidate shall not be recognized.

Examination hall


The papers are now for the second time examined by other scholars, and those which are good, receive a round red mark. All others are refused. The approved compositions are then placed in the hands of the chief examiners, and those of the greatest merit are selected by them.

On the morning of the third day the gates are opened, and the candidates come out. The next day they must submit to another examination, and write other compositions and a poem. Again they are given a day's vacation, and then a third examination is held.

After all the papers are in, and have been carefully examined, the result is announced. The successful candidates number about one out of every hundred. These receive the second degree of Kyu-jin (keeoo-gin), that is "Promoted Men."

Men who are of weak health can not support the fatigue of these examinations. Several are found exhausted, and not a few die, in which case the body is carried over the back wall, as it would bring bad luck to take it through the front door. Whenever a candidate breaks any of the rules, he is reported and his name is posted on the outer door of the hall. After this he is not allowed to enter until another examination comes around.

Every three years another examination is held at Peking. Graduates of the second degree are helped with their traveling expenses by money from the treasury. They come from all parts of the empire, and from two hundred to three hundred candidates succeed. These may be kept at Peking, or they may be appointed to office in the provinces. Their degree is Tsinsz'—"Entered Scholars," or Doctors.

There is another examination at Peking for Han-lin (hahn-lin), or "Member of the Academy." This, however, is an office, and not a degree.

There are also military examinations. These consist in lifting heavy weights, bending bows, shooting arrows at a target, shooting from horseback, and sometimes shooting at a mark with a gun.

The chief part of a military examination is to shoot at a mark with bow and arrow from horseback. It is amusing to see it. The horse is led into a trench by a groom. This trench runs in a perfectly straight line, and is about two feet wide, so that the rider can not easily be thrown off by the horse shying. When the rider is seated, the horse is started by a cut from the whip of a groom. The arrow is shot at a bundle of straw about six feet around, and not more than five feet distant from the trench. The successful candidates are made officers of the army.

I have told you that about one in every hundred of the candidates for the second degree succeeds, and that there are usually about 8,000 in every province. What becomes of the other 7,920? Some of them continue studying, and present themselves every three years until they die of old age or perhaps broken-hearted. Many of them enter into business; but most of the graduates of the first and second degree are the literati, that is, scholars who hold no office. They are usually poor, and many are engaged as teachers in village schools, or as tutors in the families of wealthy men.

All the learning these men have acquired after many years of hard study, is a knowledge of the writings of Confucius and Mencius. They object, naturally, to go to school again, and to learn the studies which we think necessary. They, therefore, oppose every effort to introduce our schools or school system, and, since they possess great influence among the people, it is difficult to see how China can be reformed.

It has frequently been said that degrees and offices can be bought in China. It is true that literary degrees may be secured for money, but such a degree does not entitle the bearer to office. Every rank in China is shown by a certain uniform, but especially by the button on the hat. This rank brings with it certain privileges, and wealthy people are willing to pay a reasonable price for them. It may be stated that the road to an office can be reached only through the gate of examinations. But it would not be so easy to deny that money may be, and is, used to influence promotion.

Mode of punishment


You have seen from this that all that is necessary to enter official life in China is an extensive knowledge of the books of Confucius and Mencius. A scholar in these writings may be made a judge or hold some other responsible position. The Chinese have a Constitution and a good Code of Laws. But they are scarcely ever studied, and the judge trusts to his own sense of what is right in deciding a case.

All cases of whatever nature that are brought into court are decided by the same judge. Most of the disputes about debts or payments are settled by the village elders. Six tablets are placed at the governor's palace where complaints can be inscribed; but the usual rule is to write the complaint, and to carry it to the governor or judge.

The Chinese, however, dislike to make an appeal to the Court. In criminal cases, no judgment can be given until the criminal has confessed, and for that purpose torture may be employed. It is stated that more persons die from this than from execution by law.

The most common punishment for criminals is flogging with a bamboo weighing from two to two and two-third pounds. From ten to one hundred blows are given. Transportation, perpetual exile, and death are also punishments for various crimes. Visitors in China often see Chinese with a board round the neck, upon which the name, residence, and offence of the bearer are written. This is the Kia (kee-ah), or cangue. The frame of this board weighs from twenty-five to thirty pounds, and is made so as to rest upon the shoulders without chafing the neck, but it is so broad that the man can not feed himself. A policeman stands near him to see that he does not run off.