Sample History Essays on Chinese Civil Service Exam System


In medieval China and Europe, people highly regarded education, and it played a central role in their lives. In China, education prepared young boys to become civil servants in the emperor’s administration (Reily 1). On the contrary, young men pursued an education in medieval Europe for knowledge sake and prestige. Young men who studied subjects like law received enormous respect and admiration from society (Kreis para. 11). In China, boys who excelled in education and became administrators in the emperor’s regime were a source of pride to their families, and society held them in high regard. This paper is going to compare the method of preparing a young Chinese boy for taking and passing the civil service examination with the method of teaching and the curriculum of the 12th-century medieval university.

The Method Of Preparing A Young Chinese Boy For Taking And Passing The Civil Service Examination And The Method Of Teaching And The Curriculum Of The 12th Century Medieval University

            The Chinese believed that it was a good idea for boys to begin learning when they were still very young. Boys started their homeschooling when they were slightly above three years under the tutelage of their mothers or a suitable person. Boys mainly learned classics at the beginning of their studies because subjects such as mathematics were regarded as relevant for people who wanted to pursue a career in business (Reily 1). Passing the civil service test meant that boys needed to study four books, teach Confucius, the five classics, and know how to write essays and compose poems (Reily 2).

In Europe, the education of male children did not start as early as in Chinese education. Students did not attend universities in order to gain wealth or administrative positions in the government; their sole motivation was to better themselves and gain more status in society. In the 12th-century university curriculum, students learned Roman law, Latin classics, and theology (Kreis para. 13). Advanced scholars traveled to different parts of Europe to learn from new sources of knowledge. For example, some students traveled to Spain to learn from Islamic texts especially in mathematics and medicines; while others traveled to Constantinople to read translated Greek manuscripts (Kreis para. 14).

The main method of learning in medieval China was memorizing, and students needed to memorize up to 400,000 characters in subjects that were tested in the civil service examination. These subjects included analects and six other documents from different books (Reily 2). In medieval Europe, the main methods of learning were reading texts from different subjects, and students were interested in any form of knowledge they could find. The first task student in Europe needed to accomplish was mastering Latin because it was the language of academics at the time. Students also developed an interest in logic because it enabled them to reason clearly. They travel to Greece to study the logic of Aristotle; the mathematics of Euclid; the medicine of Hippocrates; and the astronomy of Ptolemy (Kreis para. 17).

Education in Medieval China and Europe was only accessible to the Rich. In China, children from poor families could not afford the required texts and tutors. In Europe, poor young men could not afford tuition in universities such as Bologna in Italy; Oxford in England; and the University of Paris. Moreover, they could not pay for travels students undertook in search of knowledge (Kreis para. 20). In China, a clever boy, who could memorize without difficulty would proceed to study a historic text called “The Beginner’s Search”. After completing this text, the boy would then proceed to study the five classics and four books that were officially studied at school. When authorities had about a very bright boy, they arranged for a difficult examination for the boy to test his skills (Reiley 2).

Formal education in Chinese schools started when a boy was eight years old. Students were supposed to repeat what a teacher said or read aloud from their books. Because the boys learned when the urge to play was strong, those caught misbehaving in class were scolded by the teachers or hit by a ruler. Apart from formal subjects, the boys also learned how to conduct themselves properly (Reiley 3). For instance, they were taught when to use dreadful words, and how to bow before their superiors and equals (Reiley 3). In Europe students started by studying in the faculty of arts for three years, and successful ones could proceed to study for their masters and doctorates.


            Both medieval China and Europe embraced education and considered it important. The main aim of Chinese education was to produce administrators for the emperor. Students mainly learned subjects that were considered relevant in administration, and they solely learned through memorization. In Europe, students learned a variety of subjects mainly through reading. Students did not pursue education for material gain. Education was meant for self-betterment and prestige.


Works Cited

Kreis, Steven. Lecture on ancient and medieval European history: lecture 26-The 12th-century renaissance. 11 Oct. 2006. Web 28 Feb. 2014 <>.

Reily, Kevin. “Ichisada Miyazaki: The Chinese Civil Service Exam System.” Reily, Kevin. Worlds of History. A Comparative Reader, Volume I: to 1550. New York: BedfordSt. Martin, 2010. Print.