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Imperial Examination Museum of China (Jiangnan Examination Hall)

Jiangnan Examination Hall, also named Jiangnan Gongyuan, Nanjing Gongyuan or Jiankang Gongyuan, was honored as China’s largest imperial examination center by World Record Association in 2009. It is located to the east of Nanjing Confucius Temple in Qinhuai District of Nanjing City.

In feudal times, Nanjing was the capital of Jiangnan Province. Gongyuan served as the center for provincial examinations as well as being the headquarters of the examination management department. Therefore, this provincial examination site in Nanjing was called Jiangnan Gongyuan.

 

Rise and Fall of Jiangnan Examination Hall

Jiangnan Imperial Examination Hall was originally built in 1168. It reached its zenith during the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1348 - 1911). During the Tongzhi Period (1861-1875) in Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911), there were 20,644 examination rooms. Together with its auxiliary buildings, the whole examination hall covered an area of more than 30 hectares (74 acres). It started from the Yaojia Lane in the east, ended at West Gongyuan Road in the west and extended to Jiankang Road in the north and stretched as far as Qinghuai River in the south.

In 1905, the imperial examination system was abolished and consequently the Jiangnan Examination Hall became redundant from September 28 in that year. In 1918, most of the examination center was demolished apart from the Mingyuan Tower, Zhigong Hall, Hengjian Hall and a few of the imperial examination cells.

In the 1980s, the Imperial Examination Museum of China was set up on the original site of Jiangnan Examination Hall to commemorate the history of the imperial exam culture in China that had spanned more than 1,300 years.

 

Architectural Layout

According to historical records, the original front gate of Jiangnan Examination Hall was constructed entirely of wood. The present gate has three entrances. Today the middle one is the only entrance in use while the two side ones are normally closed. Above the middle gateway is an inscription with two Chinese characters ‘Gong Yuan’. A pair of carved stone lions stand in front of the gate. To the left and right sides of the gate are two archways.

Passing through the front gate, one will see two pavilions with the inscriptions of two Chinese phrases ‘Zheng Qi’ and ‘Yan Su’ separately, which means “be neat and serious”. The pavilions are flanked on either side by three rooms for government officials. Walking toward the west, one will find the second gate opposite which is a dragon screen. The Golden List or “Jin Bang” in Chinese was posted on the reverse of the dragon screen. The Golden List announced the exam results naming the successful candidates.

There were 18 Gongyuan in the Qing Dynasty. Other than Jiangnan Gongyuan they all were built with a rectangular or square layout. Initially, Jiangnan Gongyuan had been rectangular. However, it was extended many times. and became fan-shaped as a result.

 

Mingyuan Tower

Mingyuan Tower is the main building in Jiangnan Examination Hall and was built originally in 1534. Taking a square shape at the base, it is a three-storey wooden tower. Standing on the top of the tower, one has an overview of the whole examination hall. No wonder, as it served as the command post for the examiners during the imperial examinations.

 

Zhigong Hall

Zhigong means ‘extremely just, open and fair’. Zhigong Hall is the main exhibition room of the Imperial Examination Museum. It provides an introduction to the imperial examination system of ancient China and exhibits some relevant relics. One can see 103 clay figures in a display case, which shows a scene in which the three most successful candidates of an imperial examination are paraded on horseback in honor through the streets.

In the hall there is a table recording the names of all the top three candidates of each imperial examination held during the Qing Dynasty. It also shows that Jiangsu, Zhejiang and Anhui rank as the Top Three Places having the largest number of top three successful candidates in the imperial examinations. No wonder there is a saying ‘Southern China is famous for having many scholars’.

 

Imperial Examination Cells

The Imperial Examination Cells lie to the east and west of Mingyuan Tower. As the name suggests, these cells are the examination rooms for the candidates taking the imperial examinations. They also served as temporary dormitories.

The examination cell is a room formed by two brick walls and a roof. It has no door. The candidates would have to bring their own waterproof cloth to hang over the door frame to keep out the wind and rain. Inside each cell are two wooden planks. The upper one is used as the desk during the examinations while the lower one forms a seat. In the evening, the candidates put these planks together to make a bed. Because the cell width is just about 1.33 meters (4.36 feet), they would have to curl up.

 

Feihong Bridge

Jiangnan Examination Hall is divided into two parts by a pool, one for supervising examinees, and the other for grading the papers. The pool is crossed by a stone bridge called Feihong Bridge, namely Flying Rainbow Bridge. It’s about 15 meters (50 feet) long and 6 meters (20 feet) wide. The guardrails of the bridge are engraved with some auspicious embossments offering good wishes for the examinees.

Feihong Bridge has a very important symbolic meaning. In order to prevent the collusion of invigilators and markers, Gongyuan regulations stated that no officials were permitted to pass over the bridge during imperial examinations.

Feihong Bridge is famed as one of the Three Treasures of Jiangnan Gongyuan. The other two are Mingyuan Tower and Stone Inscriptions.

 

Gongyuan Street

To prevent examinees from cheating and seeking help from the outside, the examination hall is enclosed by two high walls with brambles planted on the top. The gap between the two walls forms the famous Gongyuan Street.

 

How to get there

 By Subway:
Take subway line 3, and get off at Confucius Temple Station.

 By Bus:
Take bus no. 1, 4, 7, 30, 31, 40, 44, 49 or 166, and get off at Jiankang Road & Confucius Temple Station.
 
Admission Fee CNY 25 for adults
Free entry for children below 4.3 feet (1.3 meters)
Sightseeing Bus Ticket fare is included in the admission fee.
Opening Hours 09:00 – 21:00

 

Recommended Nearby Attractions

Bailuzhou Park
Former Residence of the Wang and Xie Families