The ancient Chinese exam that inspired modern job recruitment

tags: China, BBC News, Confucianism, exams



Getting an office job can be a complicated process. There are the headhunters and references, psychometric testing and endless interviews....

The Chinese had developed an examination system from hell that you had to pass to get into the imperial service. In place since the 7th Century, it consisted of a cascading series of dawn-to-dusk tests for which you had to memorise 400,000 characters of Confucian text and master the fiendishly rigid "eight-legged essay". The pass rate? A mere 1-2%.

But the Brits were impressed, and some thought that exams could help them make a better fist of running the Empire.

Charles Trevelyan, the permanent secretary to the Treasury 1840-59, was horrified by the Barnacle types in the civil service, once describing a colleague, as a "gentleman who really could neither read nor write, he was almost an idiot"...



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