Holders of Purchased Degrees in the Chinese Civil Service during the Late Qing (1850-1912)

Bijia Chen, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Cameron Campbell, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
James Z. Lee, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology

We examine holders of purchased degrees in the Qing civil service from 1850 to 1912. While the best-known feature of the Imperial Chinese civil service was the use of competitive examinations to select officials, in fact during the Qing period large numbers of officials had purchased degrees as their sole qualification. Systematic, large-scale studies of these officials are rare. Understanding the careers and role played by purchase degree holders in the late Qing is important because at the time, the Chinese state was under stress as a result of foreign invasions, domestic rebellions, and natural disasters. One of the measures it took to raise revenue was to increase the sale of degrees that qualified holders for office, but the implications for the civil service of this increased supply of purchase degree holders is largely unknown. Especially in the final decades of this period, the state also sought to reform the civil service, and the implications of these reforms for holders of purchased degrees are largely unexplored. We examine trends over time in the characteristics of degree holders such as their geographic origin, location of service, and types of position held. One basic question is whether holders of purchase degrees were more concentrated in the wealthiest provinces and counties than exam degree holders, and whether this changed over time. Exam degrees were subject to provincial quotas, but purchased degrees were not. We also examine their career dynamics. While our analysis is descriptive and exploratory, it is nevertheless important because it will illuminate a large portion of the Qing bureaucracy that has been largely ignored in previous studies during a crucial period in Chinese history. For the analysis, we make use of 2,397,304 quarterly records of 160,821 officials for the period 1850-1912 from the China Government Employee Database-Qing (CGED-Q).

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 45. Education, Discrimination and Social Stratification