Innovation of Education in Ming & Qing Dynasties

Innovation in Education System

Bailudong Institute in Mt.Lushan, Jiangxi, greatly developped in the Song Dynasty
Bailudong Institute in Mt.Lushan, Jiangxi, 
greatly developped in the Song Dynasty
In the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) subjects raised by government had been much less than that in the Tang Dynasty, but the examination for 'jin shi' was still fashionable. Most of the prime ministers of high rank also had to pass the exam in this subject which then was regarded as an exclusive subject of prime ministers. Meanwhile, regardless of form and content, the system underwent great innovation.

Firstly the extension of matriculation was broadened. In the former dynasties like the Tang Dynasty, each year the 'jinshi' were no more than twenty to thirty in number but in the Song Dynasty, there were as many as hundreds of people passing the exams and even those who failed the exams many times could apply for tolerance of the emperor and so serve as officials with less important positions.

Secondly, the frequency of exams was limited to a fixed 'once every three years'. The local tests came first in autumn and in the following spring the qualifying candidates would trudge to the capital for the higher imperial examination.

Thirdly, so far as content was concerned, while the earlier examinations laid much stress on the ancient classical texts, the great reformer Wang Anshi (1021 - 1086) advocated an innovation which was much more practical. He changed the blank-filling of verses into composition about the verse, giving free reign to the ability of the candidates. However this was opposed by other grandees and did not last for long.

Finally, to prevent the practice of favoritism, examinees' names were closely covered on their papers which were then exchanged among different local examiners. This did indeed greatly reduce the incidence of cheating.

In the Song Dynasty, few governmental schools were erected, but it was the vogue for scholars to set up numerous private educational organizations - 'shu yuan'. The function of this kind of school was to cultivate talented people, to encourage a devotion to learning, as well as to spread culture. The four most reputed 'shu yuan' were named Bailudong Institute of Jiangxi, Songyang Institute and Yingtianfu Institute of Henan, and Yulu Institute of Hunan. Scholars were invited to give lectures and students were provided with dormitories, desks and food while basically studying on their own. Subsequently, most of these institutes became places where students prepared for exams.

Full-Bloom in the Ming Dynasty

With the coming of the Ming Dynasty, the imperial examination system reached its period of full bloom. Great attention was given to the administrative procedures and the tests became more rigorous.

Central government managed to found schools called 'guozijian', and strengthened their function to be the only road by which people could take the exams. There were in total three stages leading to realizing the dream of becoming an official: provincial examination (xiangshi), metropolitan examination (huishi) by the Board of Rites, and Palace examination (dianshi) by the emperor himself. Only students of 'guozijian', commonly known as 'xiucai', could participate at the provincial level as their starting point.

Beijing Guozijian, Imperial College of Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties
Beijing Guozijian, Imperial College 
of Yuan, Ming and Qing Dynasties
Imperial College in Nanjing, Ming Dynasty
Imperial College in Nanjing, 
Ming Dynasty
The provincial and metropolitan examiners tested only 'eight-legged' essays and people easily realized that the quality of that sort of essay was the key to achieving a pass. Therefore, it became usual for them to concentrate too much energy on it, neglecting other forms and contents. They were required to write in a fixed style with a fixed word count - it had to be eight paragraphs, while imitating the tone of the classics. Eventually, it was realized that this method was harmful as it stifled both creativity and imagination. Once these book worms had passed their exams, they could go further to take the simpler test set by the emperor. There were no failures during the Ming Dynasty, but each candidate's placing on the pass list was decided personally by the emperor.

Declination in the Qing Dynasty

Examination in the Qing Dynasty
Examination in the Qing Dynasty
Since the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) was dominated by the Manchu ethnic group, they gave their people priority over the Han people. Manchu people attending the imperial examination were not tested but required only to undertake some translation, yet the Han people were still formed a majority of the examinees. As the tight hold on affairs held by the Qing Dynasty became more and more unpopular, the education system also needed fresh ideas and input as it was a disservice to the country. A trend appeared towards the way in which the positions of court officials could be purchased and this sometimes even gave rise to unlawful pass to the degraded system It is interesting to note that one of characters depicted in the novel 'Fan Jin Zhong Ju' is quite a typical victim of the declining system. The hero Fan Jin took pains time and time again to achieve a pass the provincial examination. Never one to give up, he was in his fifties when his efforts were finally rewarded. When he got the news that he had finally ranked on the list of successful candidates, he was in a delirium with great joy!
- Last modified on Apr. 24, 2019 -
Questions & Answers on Innovation of Education in Ming & Qing Dynasties
Asked by U_R_A_DUM_GUY | Dec. 02, 2015 13:17Reply
What kind of things did Ming kids learn in school?
Answers (1)
Answered by Amy from DENMARK | Dec. 04, 2015 02:32

Students mainly studied Confucianism and classic Confucian books, such as the Four Books (The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The Confucian Analects, and The Works of Mencius) and the Five Classics (The Book of Songs, The Book of History, The Book of Changes, The Book of Rites and The Spring and Autumn Annals).
Asked by TheGamer64 | Dec. 02, 2015 12:51Reply
What different schools did they have in Ming China?
I mean, we have elementary school, then middle, then high, and finally college. But what did they have?
Answers (1)
Answered by Lucy from SINGAPORE | Dec. 04, 2015 03:11

They have Kai Meng, Xi'an Xue, Zhou Xue and Guozijian, which were similar as today's education system.
Asked by Harry_Potter_Fan_137 | Nov. 30, 2015 12:03Reply
Was ming dynasty education revolutionary in any way?
I know that it was the flare of education, but did it do anything unique that has never been done anywhere else?
Answers (2)
Answered by Ken from IRELAND | Dec. 02, 2015 02:42

Harry, internship should be the unique contribution. Those who studied at the "imperial college (Guozijian)" had chances to work as interns at the government organizations in the imperial city for three months. These excellent interns were sent to the Ministry of Official Personnel Affairs and kept doing the same job. However, if there were any vacancies, they would be appointed as officials. Those who didn't finish their internship were sent back to imperial college to keep studying.
Answered by Harry_Potter_Fan_137 | Dec. 03, 2015 13:09

Thanks, Ken
Asked by 973 | Nov. 24, 2015 11:47Reply
who was the first emporer of the ming dynasty?
Answers (3)
Answered by Dick from SPAIN | Nov. 25, 2015 02:08

He is Zhu Yuanzhang, also known as Emperor Taizu of Ming Dynasty.
Answered by 973 | Nov. 30, 2015 12:04

Did he do anything specific to education?
Answered by Ling from SPAIN | Dec. 02, 2015 02:28

Yes, of course. After he unified China, he established the highest education institution in Nanjing, which was called Imperial College. Meanwhile, he ordered to set up schools across the country. Confucianism was widely taught at school.
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