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A 15th-century portrait of the Ming official Jiang Shunfu. The decoration of two cranes on his chest are a "mandarin square", indicating that he was a civil official of the first rank. Portrait of Jiang Shunfu.jpg
A 15th-century portrait of the Ming official Jiang Shunfu. The decoration of two cranes on his chest are a "mandarin square", indicating that he was a civil official of the first rank.

Scholar-officials, also known as Literati, Scholar-gentlemen or Scholar-bureaucrats (Chinese :士大夫; pinyin :shì dàfū) were politicians and government officials appointed by the emperor of China to perform day-to-day political duties from the Han dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty in 1912, China's last imperial dynasty. After the Sui dynasty these officials mostly came from the scholar-gentry (紳士 shēnshì) who had earned academic degrees (such as xiucai, juren, or jinshi ) by passing the imperial examinations. The scholar-officials were schooled in calligraphy and Confucian texts. They dominated the government and local life of China until the mid-20th century. The American philosopher and historian Charles Alexander Moore concluded:

Chinese language family of languages

Chinese is a group of related, but in many cases not mutually intelligible, language varieties, forming the Sinitic branch of the Sino-Tibetan language family. Chinese is spoken by the ethnic Chinese majority and many minority ethnic groups in China. About 1.2 billion people speak some form of Chinese as their first language.

Pinyin Chinese romanization scheme for Mandarin

Hanyu Pinyin, often abbreviated to pinyin, is the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland China and to some extent in Taiwan. It is often used to teach Standard Mandarin Chinese, which is normally written using Chinese characters. The system includes four diacritics denoting tones. Pinyin without tone marks is used to spell Chinese names and words in languages written with the Latin alphabet, and also in certain computer input methods to enter Chinese characters.

Emperor of China Sovereign of Imperial China

The Chinese emperor was considered the Son of Heaven and the autocrat of All under Heaven. Under the Han dynasty, Confucianism replaced Legalism as the official political theory and succession theoretically followed Salic primogeniture. The Chinese emperors who shared the same family were classified into historical periods known as dynasties. The absolute authority of the emperor was notionally bound with various duties and obligations; failure to uphold these was thought to remove the dynasty's Mandate of Heaven and to justify its replacement. In practice, emperors and heirs sometimes avoided the strict rules of succession and dynasties' ostensible "failures" were detailed in official histories written by their successful replacements. The power of the emperor was also often limited by the imperial bureaucracy staffed by scholar-officials and eunuchs and by filial obligations to surviving parents and to dynastic traditions, such as those detailed in the Ming dynasty's Ancestral Instructions.


Generally speaking, the record of these scholar-gentlemen has been a worthy one. It was good enough to be praised and imitated in 18th century Europe. Nevertheless, it has given China a tremendous handicap in their transition from government by men to government by law, and personal considerations in Chinese government have been a curse. [1]

Since only a select few could become court or local officials, the majority of the scholar-literati stayed in villages or cities as social leaders. The scholar-gentry carried out social welfare measures, taught in private schools, helped negotiate minor legal disputes, supervised community projects, maintained local law and order, conducted Confucian ceremonies, assisted in the governments collection of taxes, and preached Confucian moral teachings. As a class, these scholars claimed to represent morality and virtue. The district magistrate, who by regulation was not allowed to serve in his home district, depended on the local gentry for advice and for carrying out projects, which gave them the power to benefit themselves and their clients.

Welfare is a type of government support for the citizens of that society. Welfare may be provided to people of any income level, as with social security, but it is usually intended to ensure that people can meet their basic human needs such as food and shelter. Welfare attempts to provide a minimal level of well-being, usually either a free- or a subsidized-supply of certain goods and social services, such as healthcare, education, and vocational training.

County magistrate Public office in imperial China

County magistrate sometimes called local magistrate, in imperial China was the official in charge of the xian, or county, the lowest level of central government. The magistrate was the official who had face-to-face relations with the people and administered all aspects of government on behalf of the emperor. Because he was expected to rule in a disciplined but caring way and because the people were expected to obey, the county magistrate was informally known as the Fumu Guan, the "Father and Mother" or "parental" official.

Landed gentry in China

The term "landed gentry", or "gentry", originally used for Britain, does not correspond to any single term in Chinese. One standard work remarks that under the Ming dynasty, the elite who held privileged status through passing the Imperial exams were called shenshi 紳士 or jinshen 縉紳. These literati, or scholar-officials, are "loosely known in English as the Chinese gentry". Through education this elite held a virtual monopoly on office holding, and overlapped with an unofficial elite of the wealthy. After the Tang dynasty, the Song Dynasty developed the civil service exam to replace the nine-rank system which favored nobles. Under the Song dynasty, their power and influence eclipsed that of the hereditary and largely military aristocrats. They are also called 士紳 shishen "scholar gentry" or 鄉紳 xiangshen "local gentry". Attempts have been made to define them as a social class who had passed the examinations and so were eligible to hold office, as well as retired mandarins or their families and descendants. Owning land was often their way of preserving wealth.

See also


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Cabang Atas Chinese gentry of colonial Indonesia

The Cabang Atas — literally 'highest branch' in Malay — was the traditional Chinese establishment or gentry of colonial Indonesia. As a privileged social class, they exerted a powerful influence on the political, economic and social life of pre-revolutionary Indonesia, in particular on its local Chinese community.

The four arts, or the four arts of the Chinese scholar, were the four main academic and artistic accomplishments required of the aristocratic ancient Chinese scholar-gentleman. They are qin, qi, shu and hua.


  1. Charles Alexander Moore (1967). The Chinese Mind: Essentials of Chinese Philosophy and Culture. U of Hawaii Press. p. 22.

References and further reading

International Standard Book Number Unique numeric book identifier

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a numeric commercial book identifier which is intended to be unique. Publishers purchase ISBNs from an affiliate of the International ISBN Agency.

Max Weber German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist

Maximilian Karl Emil Weber was a German sociologist, philosopher, jurist, and political economist. His ideas profoundly influenced social theory and social research. Weber is often cited, with Émile Durkheim and Karl Marx, as among the three founders of sociology. Weber was a key proponent of methodological anti-positivism, arguing for the study of social action through interpretive means, based on understanding the purpose and meaning that individuals attach to their own actions. Unlike Durkheim, he did not believe in mono-causality and rather proposed that for any outcome there can be multiple causes.

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Chinese classic texts or canonical texts refers to the Chinese texts which originated before the imperial unification by the Qin dynasty in 221 BC, particularly the "Four Books and Five Classics" of the Neo-Confucian tradition, themselves a customary abridgment of the "Thirteen Classics". All of these pre-Qin texts were written in classical Chinese. All three canons are collectively known as the classics.

Imperial examination system used in appointing officials in dynastic China

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Jinshi was the highest and final degree in the imperial examination in Imperial China. The examination was usually taken in the imperial capital in the palace, and was also called the metropolitan exam. Recipients are sometimes referred to in English-language sources as imperial scholars.

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China is one of the oldest civilisations said to exist in the world. During its ancient era, China was ruled by a system known as the feudal monarchy. More specifically, ancient Chinese political systems can be categorised into central political system, local political system and officials selecting system. There were three major tendencies in the history of Chinese political system: the escalation of centralisation, the escalation of absolute monarchy, and the standardisation of officials selecting. Moreover, there are ancient supervision system and political systems created by ethnic minorities as well as other critical political systems to be mentioned comparably.