The exhibition in this area is divided into three topics: “ The Manchu State” “Official Documents,” and “ Government Examinations.” The exhibition includes not only imperial decrees, edicts, memorials, tribute documents and other documents from the office of the Grand Secretariat and offices of book compilation, but also examination questions, examination papers, rosters of successful examination candidates, and even large and small placards of the palace examination. The archives are highly valuable for the light they shed on institutional, political and economic practices in the Ch’ing dynasty.
Qing (1644-1911)official documents can be divided into three categories:
1. Imperial pronouncements, such as decrees, edicts, registers, orders, rescripts, and various ritual writings.
2. Memorials from officials to the throne, such as routine memorials, private memorials, palace memorials, and letters.
3. Interdepartmental communications, such as petition, appeals, notifications, and public notices.
In general, the Qing documents followed the Ming (1368-1644) system, but some changes were made. A new system of palace memorials began during the Kangxi reign (1662-1772). After the abolishment of the private memorials in the early Qianlong reign (1736-1795), palace memorials as well as routine memorials became the main forms of communication from officials to the throne. Our collection consists largely of routine memorials, with relatively few palace memorials.
During the Qing dynasty, as in the Ming (1368-1644), those who intended to join the bureaucracy had first to participate in county and prefectural examinations to obtain student status, known as shenyuan or xiucai. Shengyuan, if ranked top in the annual examination at the county and prefectural schools, could further take the provincial examination held once every three years in the provincial capital. Successful candidates in this provincial examination were known as juren. Juren could go to Peking to take the metropolitan examination given by the Ministry of Rites the following year. Those who passed this examination were given the title of gonshi, and admitted to the palace examination conducted by the emperor two months later to determine the ranking of the candidates, which was divided into three groups, each given somewhat different jinshi titles: jinshi jidi, hinshi chushen, and tong jinshi chushen. The three jinshi of the first group were known as zhuangyuan, bangyan, and tanhua respectively.
The Qing dynasty’s examinations held in the provincial and national capitals were divided into three sessions, each session lasting one day. The first examination included an essay on three subjects chosen from the Four Books and one poem in five-character rhymed verse. The second involved five essays on questions from the Five classics. These essays had to be written in the eight-legged style, a rigid form of literary convention. Last came an essay on past or present government policies. To guard against the possibility of partiality, all examination papers were copied by clerks with vermilion ink and the candidates’ names and other information on the cover were concealed. After each provincial, metropolitan, and palace examination, a roster of successful candidates was submitted to the emperor and the vermilion copies of test papers were printed.
In 1905, the Qing government terminated the civil service examination. With this act, a system which had begun in the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D.) and lasted over thirteen centuries came to an abrupt end.