Benjamin A. ELMAN

Starting during the Ming dynasty (1368–1644) and continuing for hundreds of years, the “Eight-Legged Essay” was the required eight-part response to civil service examination questions based on Confucian thought. The extremely formulaic essay, which had both critics and defenders over the years, evolved as a way for official examiners to impartially evaluate the work of tens of thousands of candidates.

Most accounts of the development of the late imperial examination essay begin with modernist apologies.

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