56; 46; 71; 48 folding leaves. Four vols. of manuscript. Various 8vo formats, cont. semi-stiff wrappers (one lower wrapper rather defective). [China:]: 18th or 19th century.
Collection of materials to help prepare for the Qing civil service examinations. The Chinese civilian administration of the Qing empire was carried out by six ministries and various court agencies in Beijing, which headed the regional and local governments of the provinces, prefectures, and counties of China proper. Officials who served in most of the posts in this civilian administration were recruited through a system of examinations. While success at the highest level of the examination system was realized by only a very select few, many classically educated males passed the lower-level examinations, which conferred social status but not, generally speaking, government office. The ubiquity of the exams in the educational trajectories of elite men meant that a voluminous literature with examination-related texts accrued and found a receptive readership.
This collection of manuscript materials forms part of that literature. It contains essays by famous individuals, including Hu Youxin 胡友信 (1516-72) and Li Sijing 李嗣京 (fl. 1615-28) of the Ming dynasty. Essays from the Qing period are included as well, such as Zhang Jiang’s 張江 essay of 1723. In addition to essays proper, the collection contains texts discussing their structure. For example, eleven principles for “broaching the theme” (poti 破題) — one of the sections of a so-called eight-legged essay — are provided for the education of young students of examination prose.
The author of the collection is given as Chenyuan 茞園, “Angelica garden.” We find one individual, the painter Zhang Yu 張敔 (1743-1803), who used this style name. He might be the author of our collection.
Very good condition. Two volumes of the manuscripts have been mounted on later paper. Several of the volumes have minor defects.
Elman, Benjamin A. A Cultural History of Civil Examinations in Late Imperial China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.
Item ID: 9431