The Prestigious Chen Clan Academy and the Imperial Examination
The Prestigious Chen Clan Academy
The Chen Clan Academy (simplified Chinese: 陈家祠; traditional Chinese: 陳家祠; pinyin: Chén Jiā Cí) is an academic temple in Guangzhou (Canton), China built by the 72 Chen (It is usually romanised as Chan in Cantonese) clans for their juniors’ accommodation and preparation for the imperial examinations in 1894 in Qing Dynasty.
In the late Qing Dynasty, Chen Ruinan and Chen Zhaonan, Chinese-Americans who returned to Guangzhou, proposed the idea to raise money from all the Chen clans to build a temple for the worship of their ancestors and a place for their clansman to study for the examination. Therefore, the Chen Clan Academy was finished in 1894 with the money donated by Chen families in 72 counties of Guangdong Province as well as some overseas family members. When the imperial examination system was abolished in 1905, the Chen Clan Academy was changed into the practical school of the Chens. Later in 1957, the Guangzhou City People’s Committee approved the Chen Clan’s Academy as a Guangzhou City preserve. Then in 1959 the government introduced a folk arts and crafts gallery into the temple. Now it serves as the Guangdong Folk Art Museum.
The imperial examination (科舉, kējǔ) was an examination system in Imperial China designed to select the best administrative officials for the state’s bureaucracy. This system had a huge influence on both society and culture in Imperial China and was partly responsible for changes in the power structure of the Tang and Song Dynasties that would hold long after their dissolution. The system assisted in the replacement of what had been relatively few aristocratic families with a more diffuse and populous class of typically rural-dwelling, landowning scholar-bureaucrats, organized into clans.
Theoretically, any male adult in China, regardless of his wealth or social status, could become a high-ranking government official by passing the imperial examination, although under some dynasties members of the merchant class were excluded, and it was not until the Song dynasty that a majority of civil servants came into their positions via the examination system. Moreover, since the process of studying for the examination tended to be time-consuming and costly (if tutors were hired), most of the candidates came from the numerically small but relatively wealthy land-owning gentry.
During the Tang Dynasty there was an oral section within the exam, which in practice allowed only elite members from the capital to attend the examination (speakers of other local dialects could not participate). However, there are vast numbers of examples in Chinese history in which individuals moved from a low social status to political prominence through success in imperial examination. Under some dynasties the imperial examinations were basically abolished and official posts were oftentimes simply sold, which increased corruption and undermined public morale. To ensure that examinations were relatively fair (despite difficult requirements and privilege of the better educated), the authorities employed numerous methods such as hiring a bureau of copyists to copy each candidate’s examination answers to avoid favoritism by graders who could recognize one’s signature calligraphy style.