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Imperial Examinations

A system of examinations in Imperial China and to a lesser extend also in Vietnam, that was organized in order to select candidates for the civil service, including for certain high-ranking offices at the Imperial Court. Wealthy families, especially merchants, often opted into the system by educating their sons, e.g. the Chen Clan from Guangzhou, who in the Qing Dynasty (ca. AD 1644 - 1911) founded the Chen Family Temple, a centre of education used to prepare their junior members for the Imperial Examinations (fig.). There are records of Imperial Examinations as early as in the Han Dynasty (BC 206 - AD 220), though the system became the main path to civil office only in the mid-Tang Dynasty (ca. AD 618 - 690). In 1905, near the end of the last Dynasty, the system was abolished. Steles erected on a stone Bi Xi turtle (fig.) and inscribed with the names of doctoral laureates can still be seen in Hanoi's Temple of Literature (fig.) today, as well as the ceremonial hats and ao quan, i.e. the ceremonial robes, worn by the civil mandarins who successfully passed the Imperial Examinations (fig.). See also Kui Xing, Temple of Literature, and LIST OF CHINESE DYNASTIES.