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Publisher Description

At a time when conferences and panels are commemorating the one hundredth anniversary of the abolition of the imperial Chinese civil service examinations, we should be reminded that criticisms of the examinations are nearly as old as the examinations themselves. Critical evaluations of the examinations and their effects on society were expressed from the seventh century onwards. Critical voices were heard in memorials sent to the court, in stories, novels, plays, and in angry demonstrations of examination candidates. In each of these media (official documents, literary and artistic genres, and demonstrations) distinct traditions of publicly voiced discontent took shape. (1) The literate elite also voiced critiques of the examinations privately. In the private realm a distinct tradition of discontent with examination culture emerged after the circulation of the essay, "Private Opinion on Schools and Selection through Examinations" ("Xuexiao gongju siyi" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], ca. 1195; hereafter "Private Opinion") authored by Zhu Xi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1130-1200). (2) This essay resulted in a tradition of "private opinions" and discussion on reform in education and inspired those interested in educational reform up to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Zhu Xi's decision to synthesize his critique of the current state of examinations and education in the format of a private opinion requires explanation. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries private discussions (siyi) referred to discussions about state affairs held outside of the court. In political discourse private discussions about state affairs connoted partisanship and factionalism. Zhu Xi's use of the private discussion carried political overtones. In written form, the private discussion assumed the tone and structure of the memorial, the official channel for the communication of reform proposals to the court. Zhu Xi's "Private Opinion" was not submitted to the court. He left his manifesto as a legacy to a future sovereign who might adopt his proposals.

July 1
American Oriental Society
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