The Real China Model

As a historian, however, I cannot let pass unchallenged the characterization of premodern Chinese political culture as “meritocratic.” Over the last 20 years, research has shown that the keju was far from the “ladder of success” it was long widely reputed to be. We know that in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), for instance, merchants’ sons were not allowed to take the examinations at all, and that in the Qing (1644-1911), as Benjamin Elman, a scholar from Princeton University, has decisively shown, “the content of the civil service competition clearly excluded over 90 percent of China’s people from even the first step on the ladder to success.”

History, Politics