Western antiquity[ edit ] The concept of civil society in its pre-modern classical republican understanding is usually connected to the early-modern thought of Age of Enlightenment in the 18th century. However, it has much older history in the realm of political thought. Generally, civil society has been referred to as a political association governing social conflict through the imposition of rules that restrain citizens from harming one another. The concept of societas civilis is Roman and was introduced by Cicero.
The system continued to play a major role, not only in education and government, but also in society itself, throughout Qing times. The civil service examination system was squarely based upon the Confucian classics and upon recognized commentaries on those classics.
The examination system was the basic support for the ongoing study of the Confucian classics during late-imperial times and could be said to have been the impetus behind the school curriculum that was followed all over China, even at the level of the village school for young boys.
In imperial times educational opportunities were far more restricted for girls and women than were for boys. Some girls did get an education, but this was a minority. The opening lessons in the curriculum that gave these children basic literacy were the Confucian classics and other approved texts.
For a young boy, simply going to school meant beginning the early part of the very curriculum which, if he succeeded at every level, would propel him into the examination system.
What this curriculum meant, among other things, was absolute mastery of key Confucian texts. The vast majority of boys did not participate in the examinations; in fact, a relatively large percentage of boys ended schooling no later than after the first five or six years.
Some scholars estimate that as a result, as much as 40 percent of Chinese males at that time were literate. Having achieved this level of education, the vast majority of boys simply left school and went about their lives. This was true of boys from merchant as well as farming families.
Only those from wealthier families or showing exceptional promise and having wealthy sponsors who were impressed by their potential could continue their studies and compete in the examination system.
The lowest level of the Chinese imperial administration was the county seat, and in the county seat one took the preliminary examination, which, if passed, qualified one to take the examination at the second level, which was at the prefectoral district seat.
The third-level examinations were given in the provincial capitol, and the fourth and highest level of examinations were given in the imperial palace itself.
Theoretically, he was to proctor the palace exams, although in practice he sent someone to represent him in that capacity.
Those who only passed at the provincial-level juren became part of an important provincial elite and held enormous power at that level. Many of these provincial degree-holders could be called to government service, though this was not automatic.
Those who only passed at the prefectoral level xiucai had the most common imperial degree in China. The holders of this degree took positions of leadership in their villages and towns and also became school teachers, maintaining the very educational system in which they themselves had achieved success.
Even a youth from the poorest family could theoretically join the ranks of the educated elite by succeeding in the examination system. The hope of social mobility through success in this system was the motivation for going to school in the first place, whether one was the son of a scholar or a farmer.
This curricular uniformity had an extremely powerful effect on Chinese society, and the major impetus for this uniformity was the meritocracy promoted by the civil service examination system.Rule of Law and Civil Society in China Insights from Chen Guangcheng, author of The Barefoot Lawyer and Chinese civil rights activist.
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