How were offocials selected in Ancient China?

The huge empire of ancient China requires lots of human powers to manage. Therefore, selecting officials was critical. The way China used to select officials in local and central government changed throughout the history. In the early stage, Chinese government was run by certain clans, which means government officials could be hereditary. In Han dynasty, a system named Cha-Ju was established to select officials. In this system, local governments like prefectures and countires were responsible to nominate new officials based on candidates' filial morality, honesty and talent. During Jin dynasty and Southern and Northern Dynasties, the dominante system was called the Nine-Rank system. In this system, new governors were nominated based on their social status in the hierarchy of nine ranks. These systems have significant and obvious limitations and some real talented people never got a chance to become an official. In Sui and Tang dynasties, the Imperial Examination, also known as Keju system, was established to select people with real talent and to encourage more people to be educated. In the Keju system, everyone got an equal chance to enter the administration system of the empire. There were different levels of the exam held by different levels of government. The highest level exam was called Dianshi which literally means "the test in the palace hall", and this level of exam usually was given by the emperor himself. People got the first place in Dianshi were called Zhuangyuan, which was one of the highest honors and biggest dreams that scholars of ancient China had. This examination system is considred as one of the greatest inventions that ancient China ever had. The Keju system lasted for more than 1300 years until it was abolished in 1905 by Guangxu Emperor of Qing dynasty. In the interactive map below, you can find some interesting data regarding the highest-level Keju exams during Northern Song, Ming and Qing dynasties. You can explore the distribution of successful candidates in different dynasties, as well as some basic information of those who passed the highest-level exam and became highly ranked officers in the central court.


Data are from the China Biographical Database at Harvard University and the China Data Center at University of Michigan. Please not that the biographical database is big in size so it might take a while for the map to load after the layer is selected.

This was a part of a creative class project done by Shan Ye for an Asian history class at University of Michigan.