Scholar Bureaucrats

Portrait of Jiang Shunfu (1453–1504), a Scholar Bureaucrat. The two cranes on his outfit serve as a "rank badge" and indicate that he is a highly ranked official in the Chinese government.


The Ming Dynasty
Qing Dynasty


We do not use much of the technology available to the rest of world because of the fact that the Chinese government has discouraged the use of technology. The government believes it is much cheaper for employers to increase production by hiring additional workers rather than making large investments in technological advancements. Also the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties favor political and social stability over technological innovation because they fear that new technologies will bring unsettling change. As members of the Imperial court, we must obey the wishes of the emperors.


The most important thing to us is passing the civil service examination in order to get a high ranking position in the government and provide for our families. Preparation for this starts at a very early age; weathly families usually hire tutors to ensure that their children do well on the exam. By the time we are about 11 or 12, we already memorize upwards of several thousand characters necesssary in the Confucian curriculum, including the highly revered Analects of Confucius as well as other standard works. We also receive instruction in calligraphy, poetry, and essay composition as well as commentaries, histories, and literary works for more dilligent students. The test itself is three days and two nights long, with most of this time dedicated to writing "eight-legged essays", or literary compositions comprised of eight distinct sections. Because of the fact that passing both the district and metropolitan exams means a position in the imperial bureaucracy, competition is fierce among the 1 million degree holders fighting for the 20,000 official civil service positions. Those who only pass the district exams, however, will most likely end up working as teachers in local schools or serving as family tutors. Civil service exams give the right for all men, no matter what social class, to apply for high ranking positions and also encourage a rigorous education among Chinese civilians. The 20,000 official civil service positions are extremely important, allowing scholar bureaucrats to serve as intermediaries between the Imperial court and the local society. The most important job that we have is to help manage the local society by organizing water control projects and security measures. What's beneficial about being a scholar bureaucrat is that we are able to enjoy immunity from corporal punishment, favorable legal treatment and exemption from labor services and taxes. We are also very easy to recognize around the Imperial court because of the fact that we wear black gowns with blue borders that are adorned with badges which represent our ranks.


Although not technically a religion,we are highly educated in the belief of Confucianism. Our education and civil service exams are based entirely on the Confucian curiculum; studying several thousand characters in order to comprehend such literary works as the Analects of Confucius. By concentrating on Confucian classics and neo-Confucian commentaries, the exams guarantee that Confucianism will be at the heart of Chinese education and that Confucians will govern the state. Therefore, this belief is highly spread throughout the educated civilians of China.


Blog 1 Sept. 23, 1638
Today, I just finsihed taking the first part of the civil service examinations. I know that by passing both the district and metropolitan exams I may hold on of the 20,000 official civil service positions so that I can provide for my sister and mother back in the country. The rooms which the tests are taken look more like prison cells than class rooms; there is barely enough room for my belongings. Although i survived the "eight-legged essay" part of the exam, I can't help but be afraid of the next two days of this truly brutal exam. What's really scary is how th officials running the exam keep it so deathly quiet; during the test yesterday, a frail boy died, and they simply wrapped his body in a straw mat and threw it over the high walls of the complex. I'm not sure, but sometimes I believe the officials are trying to scare us so they can weed out the weak minded from the strong minded. I only hope i can survive the next two days.

Blog 2 Jan. 17, 1639
I got the results of both my district and metropolitan civil service exams today, and I passed with flying colors! I am so excited because this means that I will now have a high ranking position in the Chinese Imperial court, as opposed to being a school teacher or family tutor. Don't get me wrong, those are fine jobs indeed, but now i can support my sister and mother on the large area of land the government gave to me, and as a scholar bureaucrat, I can help not only my family, but the poorer civilians of China as well. I hope to be assigned to build irrigation systems for farmers or something along those lines. I'm so happy I passed the exams because now I have a world of new opportunities to explore, and my dear mother, who gave the last of my father's inheritance to pay for a family tutor for me, will finally have the house she always wanted.

Blog 3 April 8, 1661
It's been 22 years since I first became a Scholar Bureaucrat, and there throughout the years, I have seen great highs in our Dynasty, however, the thing that has worried me the most is our economy. Five years ago, the Chinese government issued an Imperial Edict which forbade "even a plank from drifting to the sea" as way of discouraging foreign trade in China. Now, in 1661, Emperor Kangxi has issued an evacuation of the southern coastal regions as well. I don't really understand why the government has decided it's necessary to pacify China by ending all maritime trade. How can you have a thriving economy if you cut off all foreign influence? I fear that the Qing Dynasty will fall into a pit of isolationism that will last for many years, but as a member of the Imperial court, I must obey the wishes of the emperor. However, I don't think the merchants are going to take lightly to this...

The Wall

Hey scholar bureaucrats! What's up? It's so good to see that the Confucian belief system is still being used to educate the future leaders of China. Confucius would be so proud of the continued effort to spread his beleifs! Keep staying strong and don't slack off in your Analects readings! As for the civil service examinations go, I'm sure you'll do just fine! As long as you all continue to study and work really hard it shouldn't be a problem for you guys. By the way, you might want to look over all those thousands of characters for the "eight legged essay" section, that section of the test always seems to trap numerous students! Confucius say: keep studying!

Good work on your imperial duties scholar bureaucrats! You guys help make the Qing Dynasty the political giant it is today, and you do a very good job managing the local societies outside the Imperial city. However, you might want to take a look into those water control plans that are being considered for the Shanghai area. I'm sure we all remember what happens when we don't keep the peasents happy, no one wants another set of revolts like what happened in the Ming dynasty, seeing as how they make up about 98% of our population. So get to work on those projects and make sure ther are enough resources to keep the people content within our great dynasty. May the Qing Dynasty last for a thousand years!
--Qing Dynasty

Just throwing this out there, but do you think you guys could maybe talk to your emperor about letting the great nation of Britian have access to a sea port other than the official merhcant guild at Guangzhou? Just a thought, I mean the British empire could certainly improve your economy, and I can assure your emperor that no radical changes will be made if he does consider this oh so small request of ours. With all the riches of the world out there, why would you want to stay isolated anyway?
-- Great Britain!

Hey guys! I think that we should really try to be friends now that the whole Ming Dynasty corruption scandal is over with. I mean I know we don't really get along that well, but hey let's try to be friends, we're not very hostile people and I think it's time we put our differences aside for the good of the powerful and hopefully ever lasting Qing dynasty!
-- Eunuchs
Bentley, Jerry H., and Herbert F. Ziegler. Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past. 3rd ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill, 2006.


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