The Confucian civil service entrance examinations were designed to ensure that only the most capable and intellectually well endowed men joined the bureaucratic civil service in China. The examination was meant to ensure that recruitment of men into the civil service was through merit rather than through the basis of social status. The exam was administered in three levels, the district, provincial and national levels and was based on the study of the Confucian classical works to test the memory and intellectual ability of the candidates.
The civil service examination system ensured that the bureaucracy that characterized the successive imperial administrations of China was maintained. Through the examination, civil servants were recruited into administrative positions within the imperial regimes in the three levels that the examination was administered. The civil service was an important part of any imperial regime at any given time, and through the civil examination system, any regime in power was able to maintain its administrative arm by using the examination to make selection of the most able men to run the civil service (Keay 198).
Since the Confucian civil service examination system allowed entry into governance position through merit, it partly contributed to the changing of dynasties. Emperors were usually overthrown by men who had risen through the ranks of civil service to the highest level of the civil service at the national level. Usually, these men were usually from poor and socially low backgrounds, but the examination system gave them an avenue to rise to power (Adler and Pouwel 289).
The Confucian civil service examination system also influenced the political structure of China by ensuring national stability. Despite the changes in emperors and dynasties, the Confucian examination system ensured that the civil service could continue independent of the imperial regime in place. This independence of the civil service ensured national stability even when the political dynasty or emperor was changed, and this resulted in the development of a relatively stable administrative system in the national administration (Adler and Pouwel 275).
The Confucian civil service examination was administered in all the districts of China. This led to the development of an administrative system that was composed of individuals who were drawn from all the parts of the country, thus reducing the probability that it could be dominated by members from one region. This ensured that political stability was maintained, since no one regional legion of civil servants could marshal forces to overthrow the regime (Keay 192).
The Confucian civil service examination system was a method through which social mobility in the Chinese society was made possible. When an individual passed a particular level of the civil service examination, whether in the district, provincial or national level, all his family also rose in status to this level. The examination was thus a way which ensured that social stratification in the Chinese society was not rigid, as the examination offered a system through which members low in the social strata could rise to higher social status (Adler and Pouwel 281).
One requirement for the candidates in the Confucian examination system was that they be male. This led to the development of a society which stifled the intellectual development of women. The literacy level of men was usually about 40% and contrasted greatly with that of women which was about 10%. This requirement that only men could take the civil service examination meant that the Chinese society developed to disregard the leadership role of women who were excluded from the civil service (Adler and Pouwel 285).
Adler, Philip and Pouwel, Randall. History of world civilizations to 1500, Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2007. Print.
Keay, John. China - A History. New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2009. Print.