The Tang Dynasty used the examination system to identify and appoint administrators. The process spread literacy, not only among the nobility but among the middle-class as well. If a child was from a poor family, but gifted, they might still receive an education from a monastery. There are many folktales from ancient times about poor boys who worked and studied far into the night to pass the examinations and thus achieve status and position.
People are people and students are students, no matter the era. There were several colleges in Chang'an. The dean or administrator wrote a letter to the emperor reporting on the shiftless, lazy, inattentive behavior of the students. Drinking games and gambling were all too prevalent (Benn, 2002). I wonder if they had the equivalent of Thursday night? They also cheated. Some paid to have their exams taken by the few studious scholars among them (Benn, 2002). The combination of the big payout if you passed your exams and the pain of mastering the classics when one had little interest produced the same behavior that it does today when the conditions are the same.
Benn, Charles D. Daily life in traditional China: the Tang dynasty. The Greenwood Press "Daily life through History" Series. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002..
Last update: March 2010
© Marilyn Shea, 2010