Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Jinshi of Lugang

In the Taiwan of yore, having a bian (匾, inscribed board) bearing the same two characters as the one above added immense prestige to any household where it was displayed. The two words, read from right to left, are pronounced jinshi and mean something like "presented scholar." They indicate that someone in the family had passed the highest level of China's imperial civil-service examinations.

According to a chart in the Heritage and Culture Education Center of Taipei (臺北市鄉土教育中心), between 1823 and 1894, only 29 Taiwanese passed the highest-level exams to become jinshi; the first was Zheng Yong-xi (鄭用錫, 1788-1868), builder of Hsinchu's Jinshi Mansion. After 1894, Taiwan residents could no longer sit the exams because the island had become part of the Japanese Empire. During the 18th and 19th century, some 251 Taiwan residents attained juren, the second-highest status in the examination system.

Both of the boards shown here are in Changhua County's Lugang Township (some official sources now spell this toponym Lukang). The top one is in the Ding Mansion; the lower board is in an old residence on Putuo Street which now functions as a souvenir shop. In China's traditional society, business was looked down upon, while literacy, classical education and official appointments were revered. Inevitably, successful merchants - like those who dominated life in Lugang - hired renowned tutors in the hope their sons would achieve academic success, attain high office and bring glory to the family.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool and informative!

    It's funny that nowadays, money is all that matters in Taiwanese society. Of course, people still revere a highly-educated person, but certainly not as much as in the past... and I suspect it's because of the money-earning potential of such a person, and not so much because of the honor that education brings.