The Goals of the Licentiate’s Ledger


In Imperial China it was good to be a licentiate, but it was really just the first step on the long road to achieving high office in the Chinese bureaucracy. The licentiate, or in Chinese, shengyuan (生员)had, after years of study, passed the lowest level of the imperial exam system. Degree in hand, he had certain privileges—access to local government officials—and had accomplished a feat that only a small percentage of people ever would. Despite this very real and very significant achievement, in the overall administrative hierarchy he wasn’t really anyone.

If he had the right quantities of ambition, time and financial support he would (and in imperial China it was always a he) continue studying in the hopes of passing the provincial exams to become a recommended man, juren (举人)。Now he was getting into rarified air. The next stop was Beijing for the metropolitan exam and, finally, the palace exam, administered by the emperor himself where, if years of study combined with the right amount of luck, a man became a presented scholar, jinshi (进士)。With a jinshi degree in hand, the man could look forward to a position in the bureaucracy and the chance to rise to its highest levels. Although certain prodigies obtained the jinshi degree in before age 30, most did not achieve the honor until much later.

With a little bit of knowledge but in need of more, the licentiate, in order to really make something of himself, had more books to read and more essays to write. This blog, then, is my own attempt to continue learning about China—past and present—so that I, like the licentiate, may continue progressing towards my own goals.

Along the way, I will examine connections between China’s past and present with an emphasis—at least at first—on becoming a government official in China today through taking the civil service exam: 中国国家公务员考试. Reflections on current events, reviews of books and reactions to other writing will complement this thread.  


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