The following is excerpted and edited with the authorization of the publishing house from “Burning Tails: Yu Gengzhe Talks about Talented Men and Women of Tang Dynasty”, written by Yu Gengzhe, CITIC Publishing Group, April 2023.
The lively “exam paper” and “warm paper” activities outside the examination room
In addition to the formal procedures, there is another wave of activities outside the examination room, that is, the examination papers and the moderate papers. These activities are more lively than those in the examination room.
There is a remarkable feature of the imperial examinations in the Tang Dynasty – the names of the test papers are not vague, that is to say, the names of the candidates on the test papers are clear at a glance. If the examiner knows the candidate, or has already heard of the name, he will naturally have a tendency to judge the test paper, so reputation is very important to the candidate. In the imperial examination at that time, because the names were not obscured, the attitude of the examiners towards the candidates was very important and sensitive. At that time, many examiners played tricks and cheated for personal gain. Volume 175 of “New Tang Book” records: “Li Zongmin and Niu Sengru assisted the government, and they were cited as Yousi Langzhong and Hongwenguan Bachelor. Then they moved to Shizhong. For treachery and profit. Those who are elected at the age of age all go under the door, and the staff of the office can do whatever they want, ups and downs between their teeth and cheeks. At that time, there were Su Jingyin, Zhang Yuanfu, and Yuqing’s brothers, Ru Shi and Han Gong, were rushed to , the old saying goes: “If you want to get on the stage, ask Su and Zhang; Su and Zhang are still available, and San Yang will kill me.”
In addition to court officials playing tricks, eunuchs also domineering. Especially in the mid-to-late Tang Dynasty, eunuchs were so monopolized that they could not be more powerful. They held military power, abolished the emperor, and denounced court officials. How could such a beautiful thing as the imperial examination be let go. Volume 9 of “Tang Yanyan” records: “Gao Kai’s servant ranks first. Pei Siqian took the head of Lieutenant Qiu’s joints. Kai Ting condemned him. Siqian looked back and said sharply: ‘Next year, the spine will be taken.’ Next year, Kai Jie The sect was not allowed to accept the title of the book, and Siqian entered the tribute court with Huai Shiliang. Then he changed his purple clothes, and went to Kaixia Baikai and said: “The military appearance is good, and Pei Siqian is recommended.” Kai had no choice but to accept it. The book and Siqian Qianqian asked for majesty, and Kai said: “There are already champions, and in addition, they can serve as military commanders.” Siqian said: “The lowly officials will be punished by military appearances. Pei Xiucai is not the champion. Please wait for him.” Kai bowed his head for a long time and said: “However, it is slightly I want to see Bachelor Pei.’ Siqian said: ‘That’s a lowly official.’ Siqian’s words are beautiful, and Kai saw that he changed his appearance, so he had to be polite.”
Minister Gao Kai presided over the imperial examination, and it was the time when the great eunuch Qiu Shiliang was in power. Pei Siqian, a native of Hedong, was an uneducated man. He opened up Qiu Shiliang’s joints (presumably as a result of heavy bribes), and asked Gao Kai to be the number one scholar. Gao Kai scolded him on the spot in the courtyard. Before leaving, Pei Siqian uttered a harsh sentence: “Next year, the spine will be removed to take the shape of the head.” This sentence needs to be explained. In the Tang Dynasty, there was the punishment of the spine of the stick, that is, hitting the back with a stick. In addition to punishing criminals, it was also used to punish small officials in the government. Volume 5 of “Ministry of Chaos and Fields” records: “Li Rizhi, the Minister of the Ministry of Punishment, is Ji Chi. He has never punished him with a stick, and his affairs are also good. He is the Minister of the Ministry of Punishment. He ordered the history to accept the edict for three days, and he could not forget it. Clothes, call for the total collection of history, I want to decide.” The so-called “next year’s ridge to take the first place” means that no matter what the cost, next year will also be the number one.
The following year was the third year of Tang Wenzong’s Kaicheng (838) Wuwu Division Jinshi Examination, and the chief examiner was Gao Kai. Before the exam, in order to prevent someone from asking for entrustment, Gao Kai also specifically asked his servants not to accept letterheads at will. And Pei Siqian, carrying Qiu Shiliang’s personal letter, put on a purple robe and came to ask for an audience. The purple robe is the official attire of the third rank and above, it is estimated that this attire frightened the porter, and Pei Siqian was able to see Gao Kai.
After a year, Gao Kai seemed to no longer recognize Pei Siqian. Pei Siqian said loudly: “The military appearance is impressive, and I recommend Pei Siqian as a scholar.” The “military appearance” here refers to Qiu Shiliang, who watches the military appearance. Except for the first few years, there was no level of scholar in the Tang Dynasty imperial examination, but the word “xiucai” is often used as a good name for top talents. What Pei Siqian meant was to ask him to be the champion. Gao Kai was in a dilemma, saying that the number one scholar had already been determined internally (judging from this sentence, the imperial examinations in the Tang Dynasty were sometimes done outside the examination room), and other matters were easy to discuss. Pei Siqian insisted on following Qiu Shiliang’s wishes. Gao Kai was helpless, and finally said, then at least I have to see Bachelor Pei himself. Pei Siqian replied proudly, I am. Gao Kai had to comply with the eunuch’s request.
Li Shangyin also encountered this kind of “off-the-job kung fu”. Volume 10 of “Li Yishan Collected Works” records: “At that time, Linghu Buque was the most generous, and every year he wrote old essays and paid tribute to the court. Once he got the test, he would meet the late Xiakou as the leader. At that time, Linghu was very wise. See you in a day In the court, he bowed and said: “Who is the best friend of the eight men?” Hu Zhijin said: “Li Shang’s hermit.” Three ways to retreat, it is not a word of recommendation, so Xiakou and Jidi.” (“And Tao Tao.” “Book of Jinshi”) Li Shangyin failed to pass the imperial examination many times, but Linghuyu, the son of benefactor Linghuchu, could make him get what he wanted with a single sentence. Xia Kai, the chief examiner, took the initiative to ask Linghuxiao who he wanted to come up, which shows how blatantly he asked for it.
A portrait of Li Shangyin.
Except for a few people with backgrounds and backers, most candidates naturally have to rely on their talents if they want to be favored. However, talent can also help candidates get favored or even hired before the exam. Du Mu is a typical example. Volume 6 of “Biography of Tang Talents” records: “Mu, the word Muzhi, is also a man of Jingzhao. Good at writing…
At the beginning of the first year, when I came to Dongdu, the chief minister was Cui Yan, and Wu Wuling, a doctor of Taixue, called Jian Jin and said: “The servant is selected for the Ming emperor with his great virtue and great reputation, and the servant dares not to give Chenlu.” Occasionally, I saw a dozen generations of literati, raising their eyebrows and touching their palms, reading a volume of documents together. What they read was Jinshi Du Mu’s “A Fang Gong Fu”. His person is Wang Zuocai. ‘Because of the recitation of the scrolls and wats, Yan Da added a reward, saying:’Please give me the title! ” Yan said: “I have already won people. He said: “No, please invite the fifth person; if not, please return it with a letter!” ‘The words are fierce. Yan said: “All the students talk a lot, shepherds are sparse, they don’t stick to the details, but they respect what they teach, and they dare not change it.” ‘Later, the virtuous Fang Zhengke was promoted. At this time, it was the second year of Emperor Wenzong of Tang Dynasty (828). The young Du Mu came to take part in the imperial examination. Du Mu was the number one scholar, and he recited “A Fang Gong Fu” for Cui Yan. Cui Yan appreciated it very much, but said that there was already a candidate for the number one scholar, and Wu Wuling asked for the fifth place. People, the words were very fierce. Cui Yan said that he hesitated because he heard that Du Mu had a loose personality and didn’t care about details, but since the recommender was so firm, he naturally obeyed. So Du Mu became a scholar in high school.
Precisely because fame is so important, candidates will visit the dignitaries in the capital before the exam and send their collections of essays, hoping to impress these people with their literary talents and build a reputation for themselves. This is called “line volume”. Before the exam, I was afraid that people would forget me, so I had to send it again, which is called “warm paper”. These activities are public.
Even the government later stepped in. At least during the Tianbao period, the chief examiner of the Ministry of Rites would require candidates to submit a collection of essays before the exam, which was called the “Nasheng Paper”. This became an unwritten rule. Wen Tingyun, an assistant teacher of Guozijian, once wrote an article “Bang Guozijian”: “The poems received by the Jinshi in the right front are slightly subtle, which can be used for enlightenment; the voices are intense, and the songs are prepared for the wind. The title is difficult to read; Under the circumstances, the heroic words are outstanding. Sincerely, it is appropriate to show the public, and dare not monopolize Huazao. And look up to the list, to show selflessness. Still apply to the hall, and list to the Ministry of Rites. On October 6th, the seventh year of Xiantong, the examiner Wen Tingyun List.” It can be seen that the excellent works in the provincial papers will be listed to everyone to show the impartiality of the tribute.
Some famous poems are actually the works of the examinees when they visited the chief examiner. For example, Zhu Qingyu of the Tang Dynasty “Recent Examination on the Zhangshui Department”: “Last night, the red candles were stopped in the bridal chamber, and I will pay my respects to my uncle before Xiaotang. After putting on makeup, I asked my husband in a low voice. Nothing.” At first glance, it seems to be singing about the bride, but in fact it is a dry poem, expressing my inner feelings when facing the exam with the uneasy mood of the bride seeing her in-laws. For the content of the scrolls and Wenjuan, you can refer to Cheng Qianfan’s “Tang Dynasty Scholars’ Scrolls and Literature” (Shanghai Ancient Books Publishing House).
At the same time as paying a visit, it will naturally be accompanied by the black-box operation of bribery and bribery. Not long after the rise of the imperial examination system, such cases had already appeared in the Longshuo reign of Emperor Gaozong of Tang Dynasty. Volume 190 of “Old Tang Book” records: “Dong Sigong was born in Wu, Suzhou. The chanting he wrote was very important to the people of the time. He was a right historian at the beginning, and he knew how to test meritorious deeds. The third volume of “Feng Shi Hearing and Seeing Records” also records this incident: “In Longshuo, Dong Sigong, the emperor of Zuo Shi, and Wai Lang Quanyuan Chong, a meritorious examiner, tried the same tribute. Sigong, Wu Shi lightly escaped , the Jinshi asked about the eyes, the third division promoted, and the stolen goods were in a mess. Later, the Xitang court reported a change, and was exempted from death, removed from the name, and went to Wuzhou.” “Cefu Yuangui” recorded this incident and directly said that Dong Sigong “asked for the pre-sale strategy. Stolen”, in other words, a power-for-money transaction was made. This is the first scientific examination fraud case recorded in Tang Dynasty. Dong Sigong was exiled to Wuzhou for this.
During the visit, in addition to the candidates bribing the examiners, there is sometimes a strange phenomenon: those dignitaries donate money to the young candidates, and sometimes they have to endure some unpleasantness. why is that?
“The Twelve Hours of Chang’an” stills.
What is “beating the autumn wind”?
Hu Zhenheng’s “Tang Yingui Sign” Volume 26 records: “Tang Shizi should be selected, and he visited the beggars in towns and prefectures many times, until he was disgusted (disgusted and despised).” “It is said that Juzi in the Tang Dynasty “made scrolls to seek confidantes, although the main purpose was to become famous, but at the end of his life, there were also people who used this to make money (beat the autumn wind), that is, to make money.”
“You Xian Advocate” records: “Prime Minister Niu Gong (Niu Sengru) should be elected, and he knows that he is a wonderful man. He especially went to Xiangyang to seek knowledge. He stayed for several months and saw him twice. He met him as a sea guest, and Niu Gong left angrily. Later, he suddenly summoned the guest general and asked, “A few days ago, there was a Niu Xiucai who didn’t make it?” Said: “It’s gone.” “Why do you give it?” Said: “Give it five hundred.” ‘Throw it away in the court.’ Yu Gong hated him greatly, so he called Bin Zuo and said: ‘Something is complicated, and there is a violation. Bring it here, and send a letter if you have already left the boundary.’ Xiaoyu will catch up with him outside the boundary. Mr. Niu will not open the seal, so he bows back.”
The young Niu Sengru once paid homage to the minister Yu Di. But Yu Di didn’t pay much attention to him, and treated him as an ordinary guest. Niu Sengru left angrily. After he left, Yu Di asked his subordinates how much money they gave Niu Sengru, and his subordinates replied five hundred dollars; he also asked Niu if he had accepted it, and his subordinates replied, “Throw it away in the court”. Yu Di felt that something was wrong, so he immediately ordered his men to take five hundred pieces of silk and a letter to chase after Niu Sengru. But Niu Sengru didn’t even open the letter, so he walked away. Yu Di felt quite uneasy in his heart.
It stands to reason that the high-ranking and powerful Yu Di should not care about the attitude of a young Gongsheng, so why did he send someone to chase him to make up for it? The reason is that in the future some of these young examinees will surely be promoted to high positions and become pillars of the political arena. Everyone has descendants, and everyone needs to leave a way out. Although the examinee is young, he should not be underestimated. Maybe the person in front of him will be in power in the future? If you offend him now, will it affect your own children in the future? Therefore, giving money to young candidates is actually a kind of investment. It is weaving a network of contacts and leaving a way for their offspring.
The following story is typical. Volume 6 of “Tang Yulin” records: “Li Xianggong of Anyi, Jifu, was the provincial governor of Xinzhou at the beginning. At that time, Wu Wuling was a doctor, and he was also from Guixi. He wanted to go to the state and told the state herdsmen with his sorrow; he gave several pieces of cloth. Wu Li Gong was displeased with his cis, and he was displeased with his etiquette. His wife remonstrated: “A child wants to be an adult, why should he be disobedient?” Two hundred dendrobium rice, Li Gongguo regretted it. In the second year of Yuanhe, Cui Shilang Ping paid attention to the tribute, and searched for scholars in the world. In the early spring, twenty-seven people will be released to present to the prime minister’s mansion with their names. Only then did I see the first Li The public, the public asked: “Wu Wuling and the first?” The public, the public said: “Wu Wuling is a rough man, why should he be the first?” The Ministry of Rites said: “Wu Wuling’s virtues have not been heard, and his writing style can be recorded. The name has been listed, so it cannot be rejected.” The prime minister’s office cannot be moved, but only And follow it.”
When Li Jifu served as governor of Xinzhou, Wu Wuling, a local son, went to Chang’an to take the exam. He passed by Xinzhou and asked Li Jifu for money. Li only gave him a few bolts of cloth. At this time, his wife advised: “Our children will have a way out in the future, why should we offend Juzi?” So he gave an additional 200 hu rice.
Li Jifu has always been brooding about this matter. In the second year of Yuanhe (807), when Li Jifu was prime minister, Cui Bin, the servant of the Ministry of Rites, came to report to him the list of this year’s imperial examinations. There were 27 people in total. Li Jifu asked, “Is Wu Wuling qualified?” Fortunately, the list of candidates to take care of was still in the sleeves at this time, so Wu Wuling, who had already failed, was temporarily added to it. Li Jifu said very unhappy: Wu Wuling is a rough person, how can he be admitted? Cui Bin replied: I don’t know the virtues, but the writing is not bad. The name has been listed and cannot be changed. Li Jifu could only give up. Time is fate, and Wu Wuling ascended to the first place in one fell swoop by relying on such a unique opportunity.
These stories show such a scene: the imperial examination field is a circular network of personal affection. Since human affection was one of the decisive factors in the imperial examinations in the Tang Dynasty, everyone in a high position had to leave a way for his children. When paying homage, there are requests from high-ranking officials, but high-ranking officials should also stay behind, and dare not treat these young people lightly.
Of course, there are also local officials who help the candidates out of goodwill. Tao Yi pointed out in his article “Juzi Fighting the Autumn Wind in the Tang Dynasty”: “It is worth mentioning that many local officials in the Tang Dynasty often took the initiative to support Juzi. There are many examples in “Tang Yanyan”. Although Jiangxi Jiedushi Zhong Chuan was born in the army, However, he has been able to treat Xianggong with courtesy for thirty years. Every year when he sends his son to take the exam, he will hold a drinking ceremony in the village, and also give gifts and firewood. Xie participated in the scientific examination for nearly 20 years and failed. He lived in Hannan (now Yicheng City, Hubei Province). The text is Yiwei)’. Lu Yanrang, a poet of the late Tang Dynasty, made a scroll to Wu Rongxing, the official censor, and Wu recommended Lu Yanrang to Cheng Rui, the governor of Jingzhou. Those who failed to pass the imperial examination for many years were called “Tian Huang Jie”. During the Emperor Xuanzong’s reign, Liu Yu retrieved it from Jingnan and won the first place in one fell swoop. If we all imitate it, there will be no need for Juzi in the Tang Dynasty to fight the autumn wind.”
“The Twelve Hours of Chang’an” stills.
The end of the rich and powerful
The system examination is different from the general examination. The participants include Jinshi and ordinary people in white. For example, Gao Shi in the heyday of the Tang Dynasty directly participated in the “Youdao Ke” system exam and was selected in the “Shame Preliminary General Division”. It’s just that the probability of success is relatively small.
Some people really cannot take the imperial examination for some special reasons. For example, Li He, his father’s name is Li Jinsu, “Jin” and “Jin” are homophonic, so Li He could not take the Jinshi examination throughout his life. Han Yu complained for Li He in the article “Invisible Debate”: If the son cannot participate in the Jinshi examination because the father’s name is “Jin Su”, then if the father’s name is “Ren”, will the son not be able to be a human being all his life?
Han Yu looks like.
Li Bai was also unable to take the imperial examination because his father, Li Ke, was a businessman. Volume 3 of “Tang Liudian” records: “The family of industry and commerce shall not prejudge scholars.” Therefore, he was not qualified to participate in the imperial examination at all. This also explains why he entered the family of the former prime minister and invited Princess Yuzhen. Only by following these routes can he become an official.
In the Tang Dynasty, about 30 people were selected for the imperial examination each time, and the admission rate was about 2%. In the Song Dynasty, which was famous for “raising scholars”, in order to win over scholars from all over the world, the proportion of scholars selected through the imperial examination was greatly increased. During the 17 years of Song Taizu’s reign, a total of 188 Jinshi were admitted; and Song Taizong was particularly “active”. During his 21 years of reign, he held 8 Jinshi exams and admitted a total of 1
487, almost 186 each time; when Song Renzong arrived, the number of admissions for each scientific examination increased significantly to about 350. Therefore, the Song Dynasty had serious drawbacks such as excess talent and an imbalance between officials and civilians.
The “Biography of Tang Talents” written by Xin Wenfang in the Yuan Dynasty originally consisted of ten volumes, which recorded the deeds of 278 talented scholars in the Tang Dynasty (120 attached biographies), most of which were closely related to the imperial examination. Xin Wenfang also has a list of women who cannot participate in the imperial examination. In addition to the familiar Li Jilan, Xue Tao, and Yu Xuanji, he also listed a list: “Liu Yuan, Liu Yun, Bao Junhui, Cui Zhongrong, Taoist Yuan Chun, Xue Yu, Cui Gongda, Zhang Yaoyao, Cheng Changwen, Liang Qiong, Lian Shi, Yao Yuehua, Pei Yuxian, Liu Yao, Chang Hao, Ge Ya’er, Cui Yingying, Tan Yige, Mrs. Zhang, wife of Ji Zhongfu, wife of household servant Ji Zhongfu, Mrs. Zhang, wife of Bao Canjun, Du Gao Wife Zhao (recorded as “Liu” in “Southern New Book”), Zhang Jianfeng’s concubine Panpan, Nan Chucai’s wife Xue Yuan, etc., are all talented and beautiful. Maybe they are lucky enough to leave the palace and hurt their favor. You may join the army for thousands of miles to cut off the sound noise; or you may serve for years and stay far away in Fengshui; you may be the wife of a child, or a businessman’s wife. Flower rain in spring night, moon dew in autumn, the mysterious bird will thank you, and Bin Hong will come ; Pounding brocade and rocks, weaving palindrome in Xiangqi, souls and dreams fly far away, and Guanshan is difficult. At this time, with a little bit of life, writing a book of grievances, a word and a couplet, are worthy of tears.” For political figures, such as Shangguan Wan’er, the Song sisters, etc., he may think it is not suitable to be included. In addition, Cui Yingying and others have been seen in notebook novels, so it may not be true.
Of course, we must point out that in the past, people attached great importance to the destructive effect of the imperial examination system on the political foundation of the elites, and believed that this was a major change in the development of Chinese history. However, the imperial examination system in the Tang Dynasty had far more loopholes than later generations, especially the lack of ambiguity. As a result, favors, authority, money, etc. could all affect the results of the imperial examination. .
There is another phenomenon, that is, the aristocrats were indeed caught off guard when the imperial examination system first emerged. However, due to their great fortune and high level of education, they quickly adapted to the imperial examinations. Adapt to the imperial examination. Since ancient times, “educational fairness” has more pointed to “the right of all people to receive education”, and the top class of educated people will always have a great overlap with the upper class. The emergence of the imperial examination system did provide the theoretical possibility of “becoming a farmer in the morning and ascending to the Tianzitang in the evening”, and greatly promoted the development of folk education in the Sui and Tang Dynasties. However, after experiencing the initial shock, the traditional aristocratic families quickly adapted to the new channels of entry into office. For example, Li Deyu, who highly respects the family’s yin and yang, recalled that his grandfather once disdained the imperial examination, but for the benefit of the family, he participated in the imperial examination and won the first place in one fell swoop. “The minister has no name, and he is not a Jinshi if he is not a scholar. However, the ancestor Tianbao of the minister has no other chance to be an official, so he reluctantly followed his plan and became the first in one fell swoop. Since then, the family has not kept the “Wenxuan”, because it is not rooted.” (“New Book of Tang Dynasty”) “Election Records”) His family is the Li family of the noble Zhaojun. Another big family, the Qinghe Cui family, has a total of 287 members. According to Xia Yan’s “Research on the Family Tradition and Culture of the Qinghe Cui Family in the Middle Ages” by Xia Yan, there are 84 people whose paths to official careers have definite records – 18 of them entered the officialdom, and 66 entered the imperial examination. official. There is a phenomenon in the imperial examination field in the late Tang Dynasty, that is, families such as Hongnong Yang, Fanyang Lu, and Xingyang Zheng have a very high rate of examination. Apart from the fact that these families value education and have a wide network of contacts, there is another reason-these families have daily education. There are a variety of unique test-taking skills in the training. In addition, the imperial examination system was not vague at that time, and the room for maneuver was even greater. Therefore, the impact of the imperial examination system on the nobles did not happen overnight, but a tortuous development process.
It can be said that a variety of reasons contributed to the end of the aristocracy. Although the aristocrats of the powerful have more advantages than the children of the poor in the imperial examination, the imperial examination after all allows everyone to sit in the same examination room and compete with the same rules. , finally made progress, because at that time, the children from poor families were not even eligible to enter the competition. In addition, the reform of the personnel system in conjunction with the imperial examination is also conducive to the disintegration of the social foundation of the powerful families. Even the low-level civil servants like the head secretary and county lieutenant had to leave their hometown and travel hundreds of thousands of miles. Therefore, the children of the powerful family could not rely on the power of the family in the hometown like before the Tang Dynasty. Moreover, for the convenience of the exam, and in order to visit the powerful, the children of the powerful family were forced to move to prefectures and counties close to the two capitals. In the late Tang Dynasty, Huang Chao moved to the whole country and killed countless nobles. “Tianjie trampled all the bones of the princes”, which was naturally a heavier blow to the already declining aristocrats. After the Song Dynasty, there was no real aristocratic politics in China.
Excerpt / Li Yongbo
Proofreading / Lucy