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date: 23 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter focuses on Qian Mu’s theory of “literati democracy” and related claims that the selection of literati officials in imperial China was “meritocratic.” By focusing on China’s early Middle Ages, this chapter shows, first, that before the implementation of civil service examinations in the seventh century, “meritocracy” already was a ruling principle of medieval recruitment systems; and second, that the meritocratic nature of Qian Mu’s literati democracy evinces a close historical relation with the aristocratic world of the Chinese Middle Ages. Although meritocracy has been praised globally as democratic by enthusiastic advocates of “modernization,” this chapter suggests that such meritocracy is as aristocratic today as it was in medieval China.

Keywords: aristocracy, civil service examinations, democracy, early medieval China, literati, meritocracy, recruitment

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