Benjamin A. Elman returns to discuss one of the perennial topics in Chinese studies, the role of the examination system. He argues against the notion that the examination system should be interpreted as a mechanism providing social mobility in late imperial China. Instead, he views the Ming-Ch'ing period examinations as a means of political, social, and cultural reproduction for the prevailing social system. Elman also adopts a cultural relativist stance to attack the presentist notion that the examinations somehow held China back from modernization. He rejects approaches that evaluate the late imperial period only in terms of a universal process of modernization and argues instead that the examination system and the educational process built around it functioned as a gyroscope that stabilized China over half a millennium.
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