Emphasis on both moral character and talent in selecting government officials has been an intrinsic part of China's meritocratic tradition. From early on, mainstream Chinese political philosophy, particularly of the Confucian heritage, has promoted such an ideal. This quest, however, has also encountered perennial challenges in practice. In this chapter, we examine in historic context the ideal and practice of integrating moral character with talent in selecting government officials. We show that, despite difficulties, searching for virtuous talent in China today has evolved into the most comprehensive and sophisticated process of its kind in history. The first section of this chapter retrieves the history of China's civil examinations and its problems. The second section investigates recent evolutions of China's public servant recruitment as a stepping stone into officialdom. The third section focuses on China's recent reform in the selection of government officials. Finally, we examine to what extent the reformed system causes corruption in China.
A Brief History of China's Civil Service Examinations
The long and complex history of China's civil service examinations has been studied extensively. We do not intend to present a comprehensive or balanced history here. Building on work by others, we highlight some points and aspects to set the stage for our argument.