Sunday, May 15, 2011

Learning Today: May 16th, 2011. The Eight-legged essay of China.

Welcome to Learning Today. I come across a huge number of facts in my daily procrastinating, and I thought--why not share those facts with the world? Or at least with the tiny number of humans and web-bots that read this blog?

Our inaugural bit of wisdom comes today from China's imperial examination system. Civil servants in Imperial China were chosen on the basis of their performance on a test. Hooray meritocracy, you say! Not so fast. This wasn't a test of actual practical things. This was a test of the Chinese classics. It was horrifically difficult. The leader of the Taiping Rebellion, Hong Xiuquan, failed his examinations over four times--despite scoring in the top one percent of applicants. People would spend their lives taking the exams. Makes GRE test prep look peachy, no?

Why were the exams so hard? For an example, look at the dreaded eight-legged essay. Not only did the eight-legged essay give strict limits on the word count, structure and expression, but it demanded that writers not mention anything that happened after the death of Mencius in 298 B.C. From Wiki:

Words, phraseology, or references to events that occurred after the death of Mencius in 298 BC were not allowed, since the essay was supposed to explain a quote from one of the Confucian classics by "speaking for the sage"; and Confucius or his disciples could not have referred to events that occurred after their deaths.[1]

That's what I call learning.

1 comment:

MariaThomas said...

It is very interesting topic! I am not good at writing, that's why I've to use writing services like to help me write my essay.