SOCIAL MOBILITY AND CURRICULAR UNIFORMITY UNDER THE CONFUCIAN SYSTEM
The civil service examination system was an important vehicle of social mobility in imperial China. Even a youth from the poorest family could theoretically join the ranks of the educated elite by succeeding in the examination system. This assurance of success in the examinations dependent only on one’s ability rather than one’s social position helped circulate the key ideas of Confucianism -- concerning proper behavior, rituals, relationships, etc. -- through all levels of Chinese society. The hope of social mobility through success in this system was the motivation for going to school in the first place, whether one was the son of a scholar or a farmer. But even for the farmer’s son who did not do well enough to take the exams even at the lowest level, going to school had the major payoff of working literacy, and this literacy was acquired through mastery of the same basic texts that others who went on to pass the examinations at the highest level also studied. This curricular uniformity had an extremely powerful effect on Chinese society, and the major impetus for this uniformity was the meritocracy promoted by the civil service examination system.