Golden Lists of the Qing Dynasty Imperial Examination

Documentary heritage submitted by China and recommended for inclusion in the Memory of the World Register in 2005.

The Palace Examination was the final stage in the sequence of civil service recruitment examinations during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). This examination was prepared and presided over by the Emperor in person. The Golden Lists are the name of the successful candidates and were written on a sheet of yellow paper. They are representative documents of the examination system of the Qing as it had emerged after many centuries of evolution since the Sui Dynasty (581A.D.). In the Qing dynasty, the regularly scheduled civil service recruitment examination was the only way for scholars to seek official positions. The sequence of the examination includes District Examination, Provincial Examination, Metropolitan Examination and the Palace Examination, which was held in the Hall of Preserving Harmony in the royal palace. Those who passed the examination were conferred the title of Jin Shi(进士). They would be selected in three categories and the name lists would be made public on a sheet of yellow paper, which is called Golden List or Yellow List.. There were two types of Golden Lists. The small one would be submitted to the Emperor, and the large one put outside the Chang An Gates. The large Golden List is 150-220cm long and 80-90cm wide. It was written in both Chinese and Manchu in Chinese ink and stamped with the Emperor’s Seal. The Manchu language was written from left to right, while the Chinese was written from right to left. The two languages meet in the middle of the paper by dates and the Manchu and Chinese character of the word List (榜). The paper starts with an imperial command and follows with the name lists of the passers of the three categories. The Emperor’s Seal is put over the dates of the two languages and also the junction of the paper edge. For easy hanging, there are cords on the upper edge of the paper every metre. The small Golden List is 100cm long and 35 cm wide. It is the same with the large one in style and content. The only difference is that it does not have the Emperor’s seal on it.

There are over 200 pieces of small and large Golden Lists in the custody of the 1st Historical Archives with time span from the 6th year of Kangxi reign (1667) to the 29th year of Emperor Guangxu (1903). All documents have high calligraphic value, and can be considered pieces of art in their own right.

Currently, there is only a simple register of these Golden Lists. A detailed catalogue will be available shortly.

The civil service recruitment examination which dates back to more than 1300 years in the Sui Dynasty (581 A.D.) was developed to its zenith in the Qing Dynasty. It is also in this period that this system was brought to an end. The system had international impact and was modelled by Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Ambassadors to the Emperor from Europe introduced adaptations of the examination system in several countries in Europe. It has influenced subsequently civil service systems in many colonies and successor states.

The content of the Qing Dynasty Golden List is both significant and distinctive, as it reflects the core of the examination system—Palace Examination and the format of the List. It is the original evidence for the study of China’s feudal examination system. The names of many prominent historical figures could be found on the list. The 1st Historical Archives hold many documents related to the list that help to interpret those in their contemporary context.

The Golden List of the Qing dynasty is typical Chinese traditional paper document. It was written in Chinese ink on handmade paper. The Golden list is one of the major forms of traditional documents, and is of great significance to the study of Chinese ancient document. Meanwhile this document was written in both Chinese and Manchu, it may serve as reference for those who study the translation of the two languages.

These documents were originally preserved by the Grand Secretariat, and are unique in the world.

  • Year of submission: 2005
  • Year of inscription: 2005
  • Country: China
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