China: Understanding Its Past by Eileen H. Tamura, Linda K. Menton, Noren W. Lush, Francis K.

By Eileen H. Tamura, Linda K. Menton, Noren W. Lush, Francis K. C. Tsui, Warren Cohen

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Each lane was about two meters wide and disproportionately deep, extending farther than the eye could see. Lining one side of each lane were countless small rooms or, more accurately, cells. These examination cells . . had neither doors nor furniture and amounted to no more than spaces partitioned on three sides by brick walls and covered by a roof. The floors, naturally, were packed dirt. Each cell was equipped with only three long boards. When placed across the cell from wall to wall, the highest became a shelf, the middle one functioned as a desk, and the lowest served as a seat.

He then had these aspirants examined on their knowledge of the Confucian classics. Those who did well were appointed to government posts. Thus began the link between Confucianism and the training and selection of government officials. After the Han dynasty came a long period of disunity and local wars, during which the practice of examining candidates for government posts all but disappeared. D. 587–618), the practice reappeared. The first Sui emperor held regular government examinations and asked those who did well to help him run the country.

Then, too, although no fees were charged, taking the examinations was costly. The candidate had to pay for travel and lodging, buy gifts for the examiners, and tip the staff. For these reasons most scholars came from wealthy landowning families. Although government positions could not be inherited, sons from scholarly families often became scholars. These families could afford to have their sons study for many years before taking the examinations. An occasional peasant family suffered extreme hardship so that one son could go to school, perhaps pass the provincial examination, get a government position, and honor his family.

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