Mandarin is a name which the Portuguese originally gave to the Chinese nobility, being Portuguese for quan, "ruler". The mandarins were considered as noblemen, but their rank is not hereditary. The government proceeded from the Emperor alone, who set it in movement as a hierarchy of officials or Mandarins. Of these, there were two kinds - learned and military Mandarins - the latter corresponding to military Officers. The Learned Mandarins constituted the higher rank, for, in China, civilians take precedence of the military.
The imperial state was staffed by a small civil bureaucracy. Civil officials were directly appointed and paid by the emperor and had to have passed the civil service examinations. Officials, who were supposed to owe their primary loyalty to the emperor, did not serve in their home provinces and were generally assigned to different places for each tour of duty. Although the salary of central officials was low, the positions offered great opportunities for personal enrichment, which was one reason that families competed so fiercely to pass the examinations and then obtain an appointment. For most officials, officeholding was not a lifetime career. They served one or a few tours and then returned to their home districts and families, where their wealth, prestige, and network of official contacts made them dominant figures on the local scene.
By one estimate, in 1836 there were, in all, from 13,000 to 14,000 civil mandarins, called governors, and 18,000 military mandarins. In the whole Chinese State, by the end of the 19th Century there were about 15,000 civil, and 20,000 military Mandarins.) The Mandarins who have not yet obtained an office, nevertheless belong to the Court, and.are obliged to appear at the great festivals in the Spring and Autumn, when the Emperor himself guides the plow. These functionaries are divided into eight classes. The first are those that attend the Emperor, then follow the viceroys, and Bo on. The Emperor governed by means of administrative bodies, for the most part composed of Mandarins.
As in the Indian civilization, the leading class was an intellectual one; less priestly than the Brahmin and more official. But unlike the Brahmins, the mandarins, who were the literate men of China, were not a caste; one was not a mandarin by birth, but by education; they were drawn by education and examination from all classes of the community, and the son of a mandarin has no prescriptive right to succeed his father. As a consequence of these differences, while the Brahmins of India were, as a class, ignorant even of their own sacred books, mentally slack, and full of a pretentious assurance, the Chinese mandarin had the energy that came from hard mental work. But since his education had been almost entirely a scholarly study of the classical Chinese literature, his influence was entirely conservative. Before the days of Alexander the Great, China had already formed itself and set its feet in the way in which it was still walking in the year 1,000 AD. Invaders and dynasties had come and gone, but the routine of life of the civilization remained unchanged.
Every mandarin underwent a severe and close examination respecting his natural and acquired talents, before he received a civil or military appointment; and there were public schools or seminaries to which candidates may repair to obtain the requisite qualifications lor such important and honorable stations. Even after a student had successfully passed the final examination at Peking, - its severity often costs the lives of many candidates, - he was not, by that fact alone, assured of a position, since, in China, the sale of offices was a recognized institution, accepted by every one as a matter of course. In order to secure an appointment, therefore, the successful candidate must have financial backing. This backing is often provided by native syndicates, consisting of capitalists who, recognizing the ability and promise of a graduate, furnished him the necessary means wherewith to buy a position.
The commonest form of purchase is that of the privilege of competing for higher degrees without passing through lower grades. Where actual office is brought into market it is generally coupled with the condition that applicants must have gained one or two degrees in the regular way. In either case a certain respect is paid to the competitive system, so that people have not wholly lost confidence in it nor ceased to stake on it the labor of a lifetime. As the salaries were ridiculously inadequate, the mandarin, after his appointment, is able to repay the syndicate and also to provide for his underlings, relatives, and friends, only by dint of continued and systematic exactions from those over whom he has been vested with authority.
Every Chinese official was supposed to be qualified to undertake every branch of human enterprise, from railway engineering to street scavenging, from the interpretation of the law to the execution of criminals, and to accept full responsibility for the consequences of his acts or the acts of his subordinates. In effect, however, this jack-of-all-trades attitude was offset by the natural wish for expert aid, and by the equally natural tendency to create a gainful office whenever possible. These extra-official functions are delegated by the responsible officials by the exercise of patronage.
In China this delegated employment was actually so-called, chai-shih; and the director of an arsenal controlling the expenditure of millions, the officials of the likin collectorate, the viceroy's adviser on international or on railway matters, and a deputy who did little more than carry messages, were alike in theory only the delegates ad hoc of the appointing power. These unofficial officials were selected from the official class, the class known as "expectant" Hien Fu or Tao, men qualified to serve in the posts for which they were expectant, inscribed on the register of the Board of Civil Office, but not yet nominated to a substantive post. Entry to this state of expectancy was in theory the result of examination in literature; this was a glorious tradition; as late as the 17th century it was in the main probably true, but by the end of the 19th century money and political influence were the keys which opened the gates of political preferment.
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