Scholar-official

Last updated
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 early-20th century.

Contents

Non-governmental functions

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.

Evaluations

Theoretically, this system would create a meritocratic ruling class, with the best students running the country. The examinations gave many people the opportunity to pursue political power and honor — and thus encouraged serious pursuit of formal education. Since the system did not formally discriminate based on social status, it provided an avenue for upward social mobility. However, even though the examination-based bureaucracy's heavy emphasis on Confucian literature ensured that the most eloquent writers and erudite scholars achieved high positions, the system lacked formal safeguards against political corruption, only the Confucian moral teachings tested by the examinations. Once their political futures were secured by success in the examinations, officials were tempted by corruption and abuse of power.

The Princeton scholar Benjamin Elman writes that some criticized the examination elite as hindering China's development over the last century but that preparing for the examinations trained government officials in a common culture and that "classical examinations were an effective cultural, social, political, and educational construction that met the needs of the dynastic bureaucracy while simultaneously supporting late imperial social structure." [1]

See also

Notes

  1. Elman (2009), p. 405.

Related Research Articles

Qing dynasty Former empire in Eastern Asia, last imperial regime of China

The Qing dynasty, officially the Great Qing, was the last imperial dynasty of China. It was established in 1636, and ruled China proper from 1644 to 1912. It was preceded by the Ming dynasty and succeeded by the Republic of China. The multiethnic Qing empire lasted for almost three centuries and formed the territorial base for modern China. It was the fourth largest empire in world history in terms of territorial size.

Yuelu Academy building in Hunan, China

The Yuelu Academy is on the east side of Yuelu Mountain in Changsha, Hunan province, on the west bank of the Xiang River. As one of the four most prestigious academies over the last 1000 years in China, Yuelu Academy has been a famous institution of higher learning as well as a centre of academic activities and cultures since it was formally set up during the Northern Song dynasty. The academy was converted into Hunan Institute of Higher Learning in 1903. It was later renamed Hunan Normal College, Hunan Public Polytechnic School, and finally Hunan University in 1926.

Imperial examination system used in appointing officials in dynastic China

Chinese imperial examinations were a civil service examination system in Imperial China for selecting candidates for the state bureaucracy. The concept of choosing bureaucrats by merit rather than birth started early in Chinese history but using written examinations as a tool of selection started in earnest during the mid-Tang dynasty. The system became dominant during the Song dynasty and lasted until it was abolished in the late Qing dynasty reforms in 1905.

The Yangban, were part of the traditional ruling class or gentry of dynastic Korea during the Joseon Dynasty. The yangban were mainly composed of civil servants and military officers—landed or unlanded aristocrats who individually exemplified the Korean Confucian idea of a "scholarly official". They were largely administrators and bureaucrats who oversaw ancient Korea's traditional agrarian bureaucracy until the Joseon Dynasty ended in 1894. In a broader sense, an office holder's family and descendants as well as country families who claimed such descent were socially accepted as yangban.

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.

Zhang Juzheng Chinese Grand Secretary

Zhang Juzheng, courtesy name Shuda, pseudonym Taiyue, was a Chinese politician who served as Grand Secretary in the late Ming dynasty during the reigns of the Longqing and Wanli emperors. He represented what might be termed the "new Legalism," aiming to ensure that the gentry worked for the state. Alluding to performance evaluations, he said "Everyone is talking about real responsibility, but without a clear reward and punishment system, who is going to risk life and hardship for the country?" One of his chief goals was to reform the gentry and rationalize the bureaucracy together with his political rival Gao Gong, who was concerned that offices were providing income with little responsibility. Taking the Emperor Hongwu as his standard and ruling as de facto Prime Minister, Zhang's true historical significance comes from his centralization of existing reforms, positing the reformative agency of the state over that of the gentry - the "Legalist" idea of the sovereignty of the state.

Society of the Song dynasty History of Chinese society from 960–1279

Chinese society during the Song dynasty (960–1279) was marked by political and legal reforms, a philosophical revival of Confucianism, and the development of cities beyond administrative purposes into centers of trade, industry, and maritime commerce. The inhabitants of rural areas were mostly farmers, although some were also hunters, fishers, or government employees working in mines or the salt marshes. Conversely, shopkeepers, artisans, city guards, entertainers, laborers, and wealthy merchants lived in the county and provincial centers along with the Chinese gentry—a small, elite community of educated scholars and scholar-officials.

The Donglin movement was an ideological and philosophical movement of the late Ming and early Qing dynasties of China.

Han learning, or the Han school of classical philology, was an intellectual movement that reached its height in the middle of the Qing dynasty (1644–1912) in China.

Four occupations ancient Chinese occupation categories; consists of shì (gentry scholars), nóng (peasant farmers), gōng (artisans and craftsmen), and shāng (merchants and traders)

The four occupations or "four categories of the people" was an occupation classification used in ancient China by either Confucian or Legalist scholars as far back as the late Zhou dynasty and is considered a central part of the fengjian social structure. These were the shi, the nong, the gong, and the shang . The four occupations were not always arranged in this order. The four categories were not socioeconomic classes; wealth and standing did not correspond to these categories, nor were they hereditary.

Three Offices, or Samsa (삼사·三司), is a collective name for three government offices in Joseon Dynasty that functioned as major organ of press and provided checks and balance on the king and the officials. These were Office of Inspector General (Saheonbu·사헌부), Office of Censors (Saganwon·사간원), and Office of Special Advisors (Hongmungwan·홍문관).

The Imperial Clan Court or Court of the Imperial Clan was an institution responsible for all matters pertaining to the imperial family under the Ming and Qing dynasties of imperial China.

New Text Confucianism is a school of thought in Confucianism that was based on Confucian classics recompiled in the early Han dynasty by Confucians who survived the burning of books and burying of scholars during the Qin dynasty. The survivors wrote the classics in the contemporary characters of their time, and these texts were later dubbed as "New Text". New Text school attained prominence in the Western Han dynasty and became the official interpretation for Confucianism, which was adopted as the official ideology by Emperor Wu of Han. Represented by Confucians such as Dong Zhongshu, this school advocated a holistic interpretation of Confucian classics and viewed Confucius as a charismatic, visionary prophet, a sage who deserved the Mandate of Heaven but did not attain kingship due to circumstances. The school competed with Old Text Confucianism in the later Han dynasty and its dominance waned as the latter became the new orthodoxy. The school fell into obscurity during the chaotic period after the fall of the Han dynasty and remained so until late Ming dynasty in the 17th century.

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.

Zhu Yun Qing dynasty person CBDB = 29951

Zhu Yun was a preeminent Qing scholar and official who had profound influence on the Imperial Library in Four Treasures project and academia of the time.

This is a Chinese name, the family name is Wang.

Qing literati were officially designated as literate or cultivated persons. Parallel to wenren are two terms, "shi"(Chinese:士), scholar, and "shen"(Chinese:绅), often defined as gentry or official. Candidates who achieved the lower degree were called shengyuan (Chinese:生员). Those who pass the second test could take the third test - known as the highest test, held in Beijing every three years. The people who pass this final test were jinshi which is the highest level a literati may reach.

Susan Louise Mann is an American historian of China best known for her work on the Qing dynasty and the role of women and gender in Chinese history. She was professor of History at University of California, Davis from 1989 until her retirement in 2010.

Political systems of Imperial China

The political systems of Imperial China can be divided into a central political system, a local political system, and a system for the selection of officials. There were three major tendencies in the history of the Chinese political system: the escalation of centralisation, the escalation of absolute monarchy, and the standardisation of the selection of officials. Moreover, there are the ancient supervision system and the political systems created by ethnic minorities, as well as other critical political systems which may be mentioned.

References

Further reading