What Is The Role Of Cultural Governance In Imperial China

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Civil Service Examination in Imperial China: Cultural Governance and Social Mobility Glance through history and one can see China’s military power was never enough to manage the vast territorial land in its possession. Yet, unlike Europe, China seems to maintain its unity despite dynastic turmoils and military conflicts. The sense of “Chineseness” and Chinese culture went through changes, but remained structurally intact from the imperial period to even today. It is clear that imperial governments relied heavily upon a cultural form of governance, embedding and establishing political authorities within every aspect of life, to rule China. The civil service examination system was a critical part of Imperial China’s cultural governance. As a…show more content…
The prestige of officialdom was first initiated by the state, in which all civil service graduates were guaranteed employment and remuneration. It caused a ripple effect on the public. Entry into officialdom became the Chinese man’s foremost aspiration, and hence heightened the status for those who did pass the exam. Men with Confucian values who possessed command of the literary skills were admired by the public. Success in the civil examination became one of the defining characteristics of the Chinese gentry class, and Shi (scholar-officials) became the highest ranked social class in China’s hierarchical structure. It successfully perpetuated and reinforced the state’s dominance through an “educational gyroscope” centered on the civil examination, surrounded by the imperial state, gentry society, and Neo-Confucian culture (Elman 8). The cultural pressure of the exams consequentially reinforced state government’s legitimacy and authority in the territory. In fact, the exams became so popular that it transcended state powers. Although the examination system was first established for the emperor to limit the development of regional military powers and political aristocratic elites, it grew to a point when even the emperors had to learn Confucian values, from teachers selected by the exams, for their own imperial legitimacy (Elman…show more content…
It successfully embedded political authorities, within not only political but social and religious aspect of life as well, through the elevated power of literati, language of lineage, and imperial metaphors in religion. However, the lucrative remuneration, extreme social prestige, and political power that comes with officialdom made the civil examination extremely difficult. In 1850, two million candidates entered the county examination, and only three hundred passed the metropolitan exam. The odds of success in all stages of the examination process was one in six thousand or 0.01% (Elman 14). This level of competitiveness contributed to the imagined notions of social hierarchy and mobility since only wealthy families had the resources to educate their sons in Mandarin and classical literary, and were able to take advantage of the exam quotas. Successful candidates from humble backgrounds were extremely rare, which made them the content of legends, a false advertisement of the examination as a vehicle of social
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