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(literally, promotion by means of examinations), a system of competitive state examinations for acquiring learned degrees in China, in use from the seventh century until 1905; the degrees made applicants eligible for leading positions in the administrative apparatus and the army.

The examinations were conducted in provincial centers (for the first and second degrees) and in the capital (for the highest degree). The number of degrees conferred and their distribution throughout the provinces were determined by the government. Admission to examinations was formally open to representatives of all classes other than slaves, serfs, and persons in “contemptible” professions, such as actors and executioners. In actuality, the examinations were taken mainly by members of the landed class and the bureaucracy. The candidates had to write a composition on an assigned topic, using a strictly standardized form and content and demonstrating knowledge of canonical Confucian literature. Those who passed the examination and received the learned degree were admitted to the privileged shenshih class, from which government officials were recruited.