Did Hong Kong become a culturally confused society?

Oct 2018
12
Somewhere
Actually it emerged first hand in the Tang prior to the reforms under Gaozu (mostly attributed to Empress Wu Zetian behind the curtain) as a test that merely was similar to fill in the blank -- in the sense that one would be required to choose which classic to focus on, and would be required to provide missing parts of sentences and passages.

As for the development afterward, by the Ming dynasty, a general format for answers -- many with standardized answers -- appears to have been in wide circulation. This is similar to, lets say, the general formatting and approach to an SAT written response, except that a) the test required rote memorization of the 4 books in their entirety, as well as large sections of the classics and b) the questions were much harder, and the format more challenging.

When I asked one of my teachers, Wang Shuizhao, why he did not include works on Eight legged essays, and exam questions in the collection of "discussions on prose" that he edited (历代文话), his answer was not to suggest that this was not relevant to discussions of literature, but simply the collection would be significantly longer than the current 10 volumes he published, as there were thousands of editions of books on the subject of examination answers.

The actual content of the questions, at least from my discussions with scholars in the field, and people who had met real candidates when they were younger, was less relevant than knowing the correct approach and answer to each question. Toward that end, there was a general set list of official answers (or prescribed answers) that almost all candidates were familiar with. With the exception of a few strange years where the examination committee tried strange things, for the most part of the Ming and Qing, the format was relatively keeping with an orthodox structure, and the answers fairly standardized.

This does not mean it did not require a great deal of memory and preparation, and certainly it required a great feat of writing to pull off the format in a good way, but that does not mean it had surprising content, or that the specifics of the subjects -- evaluating specific stances in ancient history or certain policies -- were checking for critical or creative thinking. More often than not "correct" answers appeal to authority. One of my other teachers, Chen Juyuan 陈局渊, for example, made the case that the actual value systems held by most exam takers, as evidenced by their personal correspondence and poetic compositions, were in sharp contrast to the answers they provided on their test. This trend did not begin in the Qing either -- Zhu Xi orthodoxy had been opposed and rejected by many of the intellectuals and successful exam candidates almost as soon as it was accepted as orthodoxy for tests. Rather, the test was more of a gate keeping, with Zhu Xi, and subsequent literary orthodoxy as the standard by which people progressed into the next stage of their careers, wherein their freedom of thought was likely increased, or else, the need to refer to or rely on these orthodox answers was less important.

As a second point, however, as this is actually interesting for our current debates, the general ideal of exam graduates echoes many of our own current graduates from higher level education. Since the Song, there was a general desire among the graduates to strive for high demand positions within the 翰林Hanlin academy, rather than directly push for appointment or political power. Beginning in the Qing (though traced back to the Ming) we also have patterns of people valuing the exam for personal gain, and education being driven by a pursuit for easy employment and monetary wealth rather than actual political ambitions. If we read, for example 儒林外史The Scholars, we see these patterns -- wherein we have elderly people striving their whole lives to pass the test, wherein it is abundantly clear that they are not motivated by a desire to work in government. Current systems, such as the tests to enter current PRC government, as well as our current university systems in the world have echoes of these issues, especially in the humanities. We have all sorts of people in the field of Chinese history who studied their subject and wrote their book (ironically now referred to as their "tenure book") for the sake of securing employment. We have discussions in general on grant application, that discusses what to "say" to get the money you want, which, we might consider, runs contrary to the nature of research for other goals (people need to eat, and if one is eating, it might as well be good food).

From what I can gather, the people most fond of the system they discovered in China were actually organizations like the East India Company, or government agencies (such as the Foreign service) for the sake that such a system of standardized tests allow for regulation and determination of a specific "breeding" (in the sense that one can tell if the applicant thinks the right way, or knows how to play ball).

Well Im not surprised that there are alot of and standardisation in term of the desired answering format, or narration, for the Exam questions, after all it is the most reasonable thing to do since each year there would be tens of thousands of people taking the test. However, even with a standardized format, the test taker would still need to do critical thinking, in a way to 'guess' what kind of answer the examiners want to see. In a way, this is what most standardized tests is like even today, from CIE A levels, SAT, to GaoKao, all of these huge standardised testing have what we call "Marking Scheme", which follow a set of expected answering scheme, but does not mean that these tests doesnt require critical thinking and are only pure memory test.

But regardless of all the controversies, the Chinese Examination system form the foundation of what we now know as a standardised test, which is still widely employed in todays world, and responding to NordicDemosthenes , the system is still much better than anything europe had to offer at the time.
 
Oct 2018
56
Toronto/Shanghai
Well Im not surprised that there are alot of and standardisation in term of the desired answering format, or narration, for the Exam questions, after all it is the most reasonable thing to do since each year there would be tens of thousands of people taking the test. However, even with a standardized format, the test taker would still need to do critical thinking, in a way to 'guess' what kind of answer the examiners want to see. In a way, this is what most standardized tests is like even today, from CIE A levels, SAT, to GaoKao, all of these huge standardised testing have what we call "Marking Scheme", which follow a set of expected answering scheme, but does not mean that these tests doesnt require critical thinking and are only pure memory test.

But regardless of all the controversies, the Chinese Examination system form the foundation of what we now know as a standardised test, which is still widely employed in todays world, and responding to NordicDemosthenes , the system is still much better than anything europe had to offer at the time.
You see, this is where we disagree. Jews, Muslims and even ecclesiastic sections of the church's of Europe had alternative methods of recruitment available. This comment seems to be drawn from Sun Yat-sen's essay on the topic, but does not consider that maybe these tests don't test anything but skill at taking tests and are not indicative of any real learning or ability.

There is little data to corroborate that a test-based system is particularly effective at anything, in terms of practical and useful knowledge being imparted to students, and in terms of this knowledge being applicable to the real world. The method of evaluation, at least from my perspective, does very little other than evaluate. If the end goal is functionality -- that is, have these educated people work in forms of government, or in society -- the test is hardly the best method. As I mentioned before, the majority of exam candidates, especially successful ones, were less concerned with affairs of state than personal gain, and less interested in their placements and more in just studying full time. That's why so many of them went home after passing, or went into landlording -- Yang Liansheng wrote a couple essays about this in the early 20th century which still are interesting.

But even so, as i said, the answers tended to be repetitive, at least in content, to the point where one did not need to believe, only regurgitate. The issues of this system were first discovered really by Wang Anshi, who tried large scale reform, and a shift from "classical knowledge" toward what may be deemed practical knowledge. As the shift in government from more ceremonial to functional progressed from the late Tang onward, the exam actually lost much of its appeal. The clerical class ended up doing most of the administrative work, and the exam, especially at the national level, was more a way that people from good family could get wealthy if successful (Again, a big if, since the test was not easy and the fail rate quite high).
 
Oct 2018
12
Somewhere
You see, this is where we disagree. Jews, Muslims and even ecclesiastic sections of the church's of Europe had alternative methods of recruitment available. This comment seems to be drawn from Sun Yat-sen's essay on the topic, but does not consider that maybe these tests don't test anything but skill at taking tests and are not indicative of any real learning or ability.

There is little data to corroborate that a test-based system is particularly effective at anything, in terms of practical and useful knowledge being imparted to students, and in terms of this knowledge being applicable to the real world. The method of evaluation, at least from my perspective, does very little other than evaluate. If the end goal is functionality -- that is, have these educated people work in forms of government, or in society -- the test is hardly the best method. As I mentioned before, the majority of exam candidates, especially successful ones, were less concerned with affairs of state than personal gain, and less interested in their placements and more in just studying full time. That's why so many of them went home after passing, or went into landlording -- Yang Liansheng wrote a couple essays about this in the early 20th century which still are interesting.

But even so, as i said, the answers tended to be repetitive, at least in content, to the point where one did not need to believe, only regurgitate. The issues of this system were first discovered really by Wang Anshi, who tried large scale reform, and a shift from "classical knowledge" toward what may be deemed practical knowledge. As the shift in government from more ceremonial to functional progressed from the late Tang onward, the exam actually lost much of its appeal. The clerical class ended up doing most of the administrative work, and the exam, especially at the national level, was more a way that people from good family could get wealthy if successful (Again, a big if, since the test was not easy and the fail rate quite high).


You see, this is where we disagree.
Even if most of the test taker have no passion in government participation whatsoever, or it is for personal gain, this alone is not an indicative of ineffectiveness. Even today, most of people taking major in engineering or science have no passion whatsoever in their respective field, most of us choose our study not based not passion but for practicality (to find good jobs, prestige, money,etc) it is understandable that most of the exam takers back then were also driven by personal gain, wether or not they are actually fit for the position is the question.

However, it should be noted that just passing the Imperial Exam is no guarantee that a candidate can climb up to the highest positions in the government, it only secure entry to base level official position based on their results, but promotion and honor to a higher level/power is usually granted by more senior officials or the emperor based on merits and achievements of the the official (and of course, also by connection, money, corruption still exist). Just like a university degree in engineering only help you entry into the field, but your success and position as engineer will ultimately be determined by your work, not your degree. In this case, the imperial exam works as the first filter to select the view people with excellent work ethic and enough intelligence to pass the test, but the rest of their career is not 100% only based on their exam results. For example, if you did pass the exams but not rank high, you may become a county commissioner in some remote location, or staff under a governor; if you ranked high, you might get higher starting position, but it is only a start of your political / civil servant career, and you work up your future career from there.

And also, You're right that the candidates were required to memorise a certain set of books, poetry, classics, etc, but the exams actually contain much more than that. There's also one part on history and civil affairs which requires analysis of past government policies and discussing the reason for the failures and flaws of past governments. There's an essay which the subject matter and context changes every exam, the essay will test literacy skills and creativity as well as volume of personal knowledge. There's last but not least a face-to-face interview and test for those who made it into the highest grades.


The examination was centered around the "Four Books and Five Classics" (四书五经), but it was divided into a variety of formats, such as
  • 墨义, which roughly means that the test-taker would be given a page or multiple pages of some classic, with anywhere between 40-50 places on it indicated for the test-taker to explain the meaning and the significance of the selection, kind of like an identification question.
  • 帖经. A form of "filling in the blank." The test-taker would be given a single passage from a classic and be asked to fill in what came before and after it.
  • 策问. A discussion of contemporary affairs, such as politics, management, production, taxation, etc. Probably the most applicable part of the exam.
  • 诗赋. Poetry. Starting around ~680 there was a movement to include poetry composition within the exam because of a fear that the first two section would be too easy to cheat on.
At this point, the interview was the most relevant part of the examination.
In general, you could sign up for one of many topics, such as 明经(classics), 明法 (law), 明字 (literature), or 明算 (arithmetic). At its peak, the Tang dynasty offered more than 50 such topical tests.
 
Oct 2018
56
Toronto/Shanghai
There was a big change under Wu Zetain wherein the Ming Jing overtook the Jin Shi -- a turn that took another good 100 or so years to crrect. But even so, after the Yuan reforms the answers were standardized, therefore the classics were "correct", and the test was disconnected from reality. IF the goal of the test was to place people in office, as I said, that the test existed and did not usually correspond to success in government or governmental position placement is clearly indicative of the system being broken. I do not see how this is controversial. We might reconsider, for example, the actual function of the state in the Tang -- we know, for example, that aristocratic connections were more important in the Tang in getting real power than test scores. We also know that the tests around the rise of Lu Zhi underwent a little bit of a transition, leading to the Longhu Bang, which was the exception rather than the rule during the Tang. The late Tang and early Song tests were essentially useless.

the 20 or so (later expanded to several hundred) successful exam candidates in general were less central to the government than the magistrate class anyway. Most chose retirement, and of all the Zhuangyuan's, we see very few that are actually regarded as pivotal or significant in history.
 
Aug 2015
1,843
Los Angeles
There was a big change under Wu Zetain wherein the Ming Jing overtook the Jin Shi -- a turn that took another good 100 or so years to crrect. But even so, after the Yuan reforms the answers were standardized, therefore the classics were "correct", and the test was disconnected from reality. IF the goal of the test was to place people in office, as I said, that the test existed and did not usually correspond to success in government or governmental position placement is clearly indicative of the system being broken. I do not see how this is controversial. We might reconsider, for example, the actual function of the state in the Tang -- we know, for example, that aristocratic connections were more important in the Tang in getting real power than test scores. We also know that the tests around the rise of Lu Zhi underwent a little bit of a transition, leading to the Longhu Bang, which was the exception rather than the rule during the Tang. The late Tang and early Song tests were essentially useless.

the 20 or so (later expanded to several hundred) successful exam candidates in general were less central to the government than the magistrate class anyway. Most chose retirement, and of all the Zhuangyuan's, we see very few that are actually regarded as pivotal or significant in history.
Do you have source on these?

As far as I know on the tests we seen, the question were open ended. It asks you how would you deal with certain problems. We also seen some surviving answers to these questions. And while the LENS in which people take on the problem are the same, after all, they all come from one big school of Confucianism, but the individual takes are certainly different.
 
Oct 2018
56
Toronto/Shanghai
Do you have source on these?

As far as I know on the tests we seen, the question were open ended. It asks you how would you deal with certain problems. We also seen some surviving answers to these questions. And while the LENS in which people take on the problem are the same, after all, they all come from one big school of Confucianism, but the individual takes are certainly different.
Individual takes are rarely acceptable actually. In English, there was a book Competition over content by Du Weerdt is a good place for Song debates. For pre-Tang, one can read Al Dien's essay, I think it is is in State and Society in Early Medieval China, wherein he goes over original forms of the test. For the test in the Tang, the bibliography is quite extensive -- the Cambridge History on the subject is a good place to start in English -- Joesphine Chiu-Duke's To Rebuild the Empire is a good place to start on the late 8th century pivot. That being said, most people focus their monographs toward one single period -- there is a lot more work, as well, on Ming and Qing examinations, since the material relating to the exam, and the importance of the exam are generally larger. One of my teachers, Linda Rui Feng, wrote much of her PhD thesis and monograph on the subject of the exam community in the Tang, but I cannot recommend it as I find the scholarship mediocre.

The weird fascination with the Imperial Exam, which, for most of history, was a restricted space, stems from the fact that literary fame was usually tied to it, and, more importantly, historians tended to focus on people involved within this limited group of people. Huang Zongxi's monographs attest to this, in that 学 as he termed it, was essentially a world inhabited by these people, who seemed only concerned with the things around them (儒林 could be seen as an extension of this idea). To what extent the questions in the scholarly community were important in the course of the affairs of state, however, is another matter. It makes sense that exam candidates would write about their world, and often, as was the case from the Ming onward, publishers would publish a great deal of books for the sake of these exams (the same way we have a trove of new books on SAT or MCAT or GRE answers being coughed out every year). One of my teachers, actually found a very strange thing in terms of the literary history of the Qing. When Korean diplomats came to the capital, often they recorded who was in general high esteem in the literary community. Often the most popular in a given year were those who had performed well on the test, often, in the scheme of political or literary or even intellectual history, being almost unknown. There was a prestige associated with the test, but, as I would point out, it did not often extend to actual success beyond the world of the test.
 
Aug 2015
1,843
Los Angeles
Individual takes are rarely acceptable actually. In English, there was a book Competition over content by Du Weerdt is a good place for Song debates. For pre-Tang, one can read Al Dien's essay, I think it is is in State and Society in Early Medieval China, wherein he goes over original forms of the test. For the test in the Tang, the bibliography is quite extensive -- the Cambridge History on the subject is a good place to start in English -- Joesphine Chiu-Duke's To Rebuild the Empire is a good place to start on the late 8th century pivot. That being said, most people focus their monographs toward one single period -- there is a lot more work, as well, on Ming and Qing examinations, since the material relating to the exam, and the importance of the exam are generally larger. One of my teachers, Linda Rui Feng, wrote much of her PhD thesis and monograph on the subject of the exam community in the Tang, but I cannot recommend it as I find the scholarship mediocre.
Sorry I will need you to actually quote them.

I might interpret them different from the way you describe, that there is an semi-official interpretation (for example) of the classics and thus certain answers are expected to have certain 'vibe' in a sense. However, if you want to say these people are saying there is a STANDARD answer, I want to see the quotes.



The weird fascination with the Imperial Exam, which, for most of history, was a restricted space, stems from the fact that literary fame was usually tied to it, and, more importantly, historians tended to focus on people involved within this limited group of people.
Now this is simply false. Literately fame were often disjointed from the exam. The most famous were Li Bai, Du Fu, etc. No one associates literately fame with the exam. You either write a book (exceptionally rare), you commentate on a book, or you write poems.


Huang Zongxi's monographs attest to this, in that 学 as he termed it, was essentially a world inhabited by these people, who seemed only concerned with the things around them (儒林 could be seen as an extension of this idea). To what extent the questions in the scholarly community were important in the course of the affairs of state, however, is another matter. It makes sense that exam candidates would write about their world, and often, as was the case from the Ming onward, publishers would publish a great deal of books for the sake of these exams (the same way we have a trove of new books on SAT or MCAT or GRE answers being coughed out every year).
If your argument that the elites of the time were SEPARATED from common people, I would agree. But that doesn't mean all of them are so detached from reality they ask why don't they eat cake.

But are you suggesting that none of them writes about anything else? The Chinese elites were probably no more or less selfish than any other elites in any other period except when driven by governmental policies.

One of my teachers, actually found a very strange thing in terms of the literary history of the Qing. When Korean diplomats came to the capital, often they recorded who was in general high esteem in the literary community. Often the most popular in a given year were those who had performed well on the test, often, in the scheme of political or literary or even intellectual history, being almost unknown. There was a prestige associated with the test, but, as I would point out, it did not often extend to actual success beyond the world of the test.
You would have to prove that now wouldn't you?

You saying people who have perform well on the text were often unknown.

Let's do a comparison shall we? Let's look at all the first pick in NBA and see how well they have done, and compare with how well the Zhuangyuan has done.

After all, athletic selection were meant to predict NBA success, and the CSE were meant to predict governmental success. I would make the argument that the CSE has indeed provided China with plenty of history driven figures.
 

heylouis

Ad Honorem
Apr 2013
6,266
China
it is very very very! obvious success on test DO NOT correspond to a success on career.

the test is a fair filtering method to remove not qualified candidates. it is not about who can make a best career. think about the number of people actually have some knowledge, can they be assigned positions ALL? no.
is the best winner of the test automatically assigned the highest rank of position among all?
no and no. that was not the case, and still is not the case.

the failure of the ming/qing style test is just a problem HOW TO DESIGN A GOOD TEST. it is not a problem that TEST IS BROKEN.

as long as there still billions of chinese, the test is required. and, yes, success on a test is not the end of the education, the success of career depend on the long term self-learning that beyond books.
 
Last edited:
Feb 2011
1,595
While Hong Kong became economically wealthy as a British colony, the effects to the culture of the society seem to have been altered from China's culture, but not necessarily to the point of becoming western. Today, we see student protests over having to pass tests in Mandarin, but their English standards are not exceptionally high. It almost seems as if the city was caught between two dominating cultures and could not decide between either one, creating cultural confusion.
The British drift is an admixture, but the cleavage here is obviously between Northern and Southern China. The imposition of Mandarin is seen by many as a Northern encroachment against local culture and identity.
 
May 2017
90
Hong Kong
The imposition of Mandarin is seen by many as a Northern encroachment against local culture and identity.
I don't see that is a problem as long as the native Cantonese still strive to learn proper and "decent" verbal Cantonese. In comparison with the Cantonese in Guangzhou I sense that they do have a deeper understanding of the Cantonese language than the Hong Kong people here. Of course on the other hand they speak better Mandarin as well. They like the Cantonese opera more than we do. In general they keep a stronger Cantonese identity and do not expand that so called Northern and Southern China cleavage. Cantonese are known to embrace foreign influence quite easy in tradition.
 

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