All ETDs from UAB

Advisory Committee Chair

John Van Sant

Advisory Committee Members

Carolyn Conley

Cathleen Cummings

Raymond Mohl

Document Type


Date of Award


Degree Name by School

Master of Arts (MA) College of Arts and Sciences


Though the form of civil service examinations in pre-modern Imperial China was dynamic, their function was comparatively static. In every era, they were principally an institution designed to either assist or outright effect the creation of an economy of social hierarchy designed to ensure social an economic domination. This function changed only with respect to what kind of hierarchy was to be created: either aristocratic, gentry, or just as often ethnic. The exams' evolution culminated in an era of understood autocracy after the Song characterized by the state's structure as one ultimately tailored to enable the despotic rule of one man, though only incidentally this was not always the result. The practice of state myth-creation also served not only to validate the infinite power of the superstructure to socially and economically enable all persons regardless of background, but also to legitimize the divinity of the system and elevate it above suspicion and criticism. Ultimately, the examinations produced a system characterized by a high degree of contextualized meritocracy. That is, a meritocracy of conformity to hierarchy. Scholars can legitimately isolate the security this system provided Imperial elites in late Imperial China as a reason for China's inability to industrialize after 1850, when other countries, namely Japan, successfully used the sheer force of governance to make up for lost time in the race for technological and institutional development.



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