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Jiangnan Gongyuan

47 Reviews
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Jiangnan Gongyuan

47 Reviews
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Hugary1 wrote a review Jan 2020
Sydney, Australia4,303 contributions205 helpful votes
+1
This is a fascinating place to see where the public service system began. Over four levels starting at the bottom and working your way up it is informative and an excellent rendering of history. I knew little of this and came away with vastly improved knowledge and a great respect for how this system was set up run and modified over time.
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Date of experience: December 2019
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RockyJohnnyB wrote a review Oct 2019
Saffron Walden, United Kingdom237 contributions107 helpful votes
This is a museum charting 1.5 millennia of Chinese educational history. For those interested in that sort of thing, this museum traces the impressive history of imperial examinations. For those that are not; this is a lovely building with hushed corridors and halls to wander through. Good way to spend an hour or so if you are in town. It’s also close to a central shopping / eating area
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Date of experience: October 2019
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Vincent M wrote a review Sep 2019
New Orleans, Louisiana2,195 contributions872 helpful votes
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Old-School: For those of us with a college diploma proudly displayed on a wall, the Jiangnan Gongyuan and surrounding remnants, is a must-see. Johns Hopkins was my alma mater. Nanjing’s Imperial Academy was world civilization’s nourishing great-great-great-great-grand-mater. The University of Bologna calls itself the “oldest university in the world,” claiming (without hard evidence) to have been founded as early as 1088, but officially chartered way back in 1158 C.E. By comparison, Nanjing’s Confucian Academy was only founded in 258 C.E. Now, I don’t hold a PhD in Chronology, but last I heard, 258 is 900 years BEFORE 1158! Bologna’s claim may be accurate if you read the fine print (“still issuing degrees”), but any claim that Bologna is either the oldest or the longest-running university on Earth is baloney. The Nanjing Imperial Academy was still running in the 20th century. Through no fault of the Academy’s, the Imperial government abolished the imperial examination system in 1905. But for that fatal impediment, the Nanjing Academy would still be doing a land-office business. (Deucedly bad luck if after having spent your entire youth memorizing ancient texts, the government killed the program the day before you were scheduled to take your exam!) Nanjing, more than any other city in the world, fostered learning throughout the last two millennia. None of its rivals—Athens, Alexandria, Baghdad, or Bologna—even comes close. This Academy pre-dates China’s Imperial examination system itself by five centuries. When its Confucian Academy was founded in 258, Nanjing was still the capital of the kingdom of Wu (and Roman emperor Valerian was executing Christians vigorously). The Academy was moved to its present location in 317: more than 1700 years ago (and just 4 years after Constantine legalized Christianity to please his nagging Mum). The year the Nanjing Academy finally closed its doors, Albert Einstein was publishing his Theory of Relativity; the Wright brothers were flying fixed-wing airplanes; the Dufaux brothers were testing out helicopters; a race-car at Daytona was clocked at over 100 miles per hour; and Vladimir Lenin was encouraging lads like Joe Stalin to enrich Bolshevik Party coffers by robbing banks. Name me a college with a lifespan longer that that! The Imperial Examination System: The full flowering of the examination system occurred during the Tang Dynasty, 758 C.E. or so. Under that system, students focused on Confucianism’s “Four Books”: the Analects, Great Learning, Doctrine of the Mean, and Mencius—none of which were actually written by Confucius. (But then, none of the four books of the New Testament were actually written by Jesus; in both cases, the “four books” included memorable quotes of the central figure, and the world view of his early adherents). To these were added five ancient compilations: the I Ching, the Spring & Autumn Annals, Classics of Poetry, Book of Rites, and Book of Documents: these additional texts all date from 2500 to over 3000 years ago, (and survived an empire-wide book-burning 2300 years ago). The Imperial examination system had a rigorous rating system: you’d first climb up the ladder from lower-level prefectural academies to higher-level provincial ones to—if you were extraordinary—the Imperial court-level exams, which were observed by the Son of Heaven himself. The highest rating was jinshi, and within that highest rating three—and only three—examinees attained the highest of the highest, as jinshi jidi. Even these three were ranked in order: Zhuangyuan, Bangyan, and Tanhua. Since the entire system was at heart an Imperial civil service examination system, obtaining jinshi jidi status translated into your being destined to be assigned to the most important and prestigious political assignments in China. Unlike other early academies involved in the Imperial examination system, Nanjing recruited promising students from commoners as well as nobility. Perhaps because they admitted based on scholastic ability rather then family rank, Nanjing Academy consistently had more “Firsts” than any other academy in China. If by “Firsts”, they mean jinshi jidi, then Nanjing’s Academy supplied more of the Empire’s senior administrators than any other academy. The one critically important limitation to the system was that no matter how high your rank, you would never ever be assigned to your own native province: for perfectly good reasons. If in mid-19th century America, governors of southern states had been northerners like Webster and Lincoln, and governors of northern states been southerners like Davis and Calhoun, the States would have stayed United. The Chinese Empire knew that their system was a powerful unifying force. Faculty: Interspersed throughout the area are statues of instructors and examiners from various eras and in varied dress. Most plaques provide information only in calligraphy. A Westerner without help can only glean the period in which the instructor lived, or which the statue represents (see 1500, and “1701 to 1754” photos.) One ancient instructor is holding a scroll in one hand, and carrying a handbag with the other: I spotted a handbag just like it in size and design, but made of canvas rather than concrete, in a Fuximiao shop (see Handbag-Toting photo). My favourite was a pair of statues: one mandarin is sitting and reading a scroll with astonishment; the second one, behind him, is pulling his goatee, perhaps in utter disbelief. Perhaps the news-scroll has something to do with the latest Guangdong Parliament shenanigans related to Guexit: (see All the News Fit to Print photo). The Students’ Slammer: Student life at the Academy was no bed of roses. It was more akin to Newgate Prison or the Black Hole of Calcutta. In 1168—more than 900 years after the academy’s founding—the gigantic Jiangnan Imperial Examination Hall was built. At its height, in the mid-19th century, in addition to examination halls, Jiangnan had the Mother of all Student Dorms: 20,644 separate cells: each one 6 ft high, 4 ft deep, and 3 ft wide. A single line of cells would contain from 50 to 100 cells, separated from the next line by a narrow alley. Each cell was equipped with two wooden boards: by days the lads rigged them up as a desk and bench, by night, they rearranged them as a wooden bed. The students literally burned the midnight oil on the eve of a final exam (see Candidates’ Oil Lamps photo). The entire complex: cells, commons, examination halls, covered 30 hectares (74 acres), from Jiankang Road (where the Metro station now is) to the Qinhuai River. The vast Fuximiao shopping area you now see there—Starbucks, KFC and all—sits over what was once Jiangnan Imperial Examination Hall. Student Health and Cheaters: Nanjing is 32 degrees N, the same latitude as Savannah, Juarez, Ammon and Marrakesh, none of which are noted for their bracing climate. During examination time in Nanjing, weather would be hot and humid, with abundant mosquitoes, flies and rodents: the first can carry fevers; the second, cholera; the third, plague. (I was in Burma four or five years ago when Rangoon had a fly-borne cholera outbreak; cholera’s not always water-borne). Taking exams can be hazardous to your health. So can giving them: one of the placards states “Mr. Shang Yanliu, who was the last Tanhua in Chinese history … used to take part in 5 examinations and spend 45 days in the examination cells.” Presumably at least one Zhuangyuan or Bangyan outlived Mr. Shang; otherwise he’d have been the last jinshi jidi in Chinese (and the rest of the world’s) history. Cheating was an issue, because perfect memory of precise passages from the Analects and other classics was required; a single calligraph amiss meant failure. Hence the allure of smuggling something in as you were supposed to be writing your submission in your cell, based on memorization alone. Sport: Here and there, exhibits give you hints of student life in the Academy: you can see shoehorn-shaped “game chips” and an ink drawing showing students playing a curious game with those chips. The adjacent legend, with a long explanation in calligraphy and a brief title in English: says “Tempest in a Teapot,” which might be the name of that game. (Oddly enough, extremely similar phrases can be found in dozens of languages around the world: my favorite is the Korean “typhoon in a teacup.” See Tempest in a Teapot photo). Perhaps even without attaining top academic standing, a sporting lad might make a name for himself among his civil service peers on the “playing fields of Nanjing.” Western Admiration: The Imperial Examination system was an admirable system, which over the centuries did much to unify China. When the Portuguese reached China, Jesuit missionaries promptly carved themselves a niche in the Forbidden City (their superior Western astronomical lenses provided greater precision for imperial family astrological purposes). But in exchange, the Jesuits—intellectuals themselves—encountered Master Fuxi and China’s empire-wide Examination System. What’s this? Rule by the philosophical? The Jesuits were enchanted, to the point of translating Kong Fuxi, and introducing him to Europe, as “Confucius.” The British were so impressed by the Imperial examination system, that they modeled their Indian Civil Service on China’s system. And their ICS may well be the only positive thing you can say about the British Empire, other than their IPA. Sic Transit: But as the Chinese Empire lost its grip, and confidence, to Foreign Devils and unequal treaties, some of its own wisest men took a look at what ailed the Empire, and focused on the Examination curriculum. While the West was expanding knowledge in leaps and bounds, China’s best minds were focused entirely on ancient philosophy, poetry and rites. Six years ago, in a TripAdvisor review of the Mandarin’s House in Macau, I quoted its home-owner, Zheng Guanying, the author of “Words of Warning in Prosperous Times,” as writing: "Oh woe! What they learn, is not what they need; what they need is not what they learn." Meaning: enough already with Confucian classics! We need to study science and technology. Under pressure from the modernizers, the Imperial government killed the examination system in 1905. Since that system was the last powerful bond holding the Empire together, by gutting the system, the Empire effectively committed hari-kari; and was itself discarded seven years later. Most of the Jiangnan Imperial Examination Hall was knocked down in 1918. One wonders why they didn’t convert it into a prison. Perhaps those twenty thousand 4’x3’ cells, while good enough for college students, were considered unreasonably cruel quarters for cut-throats and hatchet-men. A few bits and pieces, such as an actual examination hall, and the historic gate where the test results were posted, are still standing (see Academic Mural photo). But even of what little is left, how much is authentic? In 1937, central Nanjing suffered months of aerial bombardment and heavy artillery shelling during the siege, followed by systemic arson and dynamiting once the Japanese took the city. I suspect some of what little you see now, was reconstructed after 1950. I don’t object to that. If the original was obliterated, cheers to them if they try to recreate even a few bits of it. I sincerely hope the French recreate, as exactly as they can, Notre Dame Cathedral, rather than replacing it with an ultra-modern cathedral like the one in Rio. What is certain is that all those 21st century Fuximiao shops—Starbucks, KFC, and all—stand over where tens of thousands of aspiring young scholars once studied and slept. Zheng Guanying’s book inspired men like Sun and Mao. On the one hand, looking at 21st century China, it’s difficult to criticize the modernizers who condemned antiquated systems. But on the other, surely Lin Zexu and Li Hongzhang were two of the most admirable statesmen of the 19th century, world-wide: I’d put Commissioner Lin and Minister Li well above Derby, Crispi, La Vallete, Andrassy and Kruger (though probably not Bismarck). Both Lin and Li were products of the Imperial examination system. Perhaps Californians would be better served by governors who thoroughly knew both Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius, and who only gained the governorship of California via a record of demonstrated ability in prior positions of increasing importance as governor of, say, Delaware, Utah, Massachusetts, and then Texas, before being sent to Sacramento. On the other hand, of course, in such a system, the Californians would never have been governed by the Terminator, unless Arnold Schwarzenegger had been a jinshi jidi. so you can argue it either way. Location: The Imperial Examination Museum of China is on the left bank of Nanjing’s “mother river”, the Qinhuai, the commercial high road of ancient Nanjing. Walking along the riverfront is actually one of the joys of visiting the Academy. The Qinhuai runs for over 100 kilometers before it flows into the Yangtze, but it also forks into four streams before it gets there: two narrow northern forks, and two wider southern ones. I suspect the now-canal-sized Qinhuai that flows imperceptibly past the Academy museum was once the most important stream, since that’s where Nanjing was born. But nowadays it’s a quiet canal, with a covered promenade along the Academy Museum side protecting you from both sun and rain, a scenic pedestrian bridge upstream, a row of canal-bank lanterns downstream, and some charming “old” buildings just across the river, which I suspect are also post-1937 (see Covered Promenade, Footbridge, Lanterns, and Riverfront View photos). From the Fuximiao Metro Station, take exit 3.
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Date of experience: August 2019
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AndreasSchnitte wrote a review Jul 2019
Frankfurt, Germany31 contributions25 helpful votes
I’m quite interested in Chinese history and was therefore looking forward to learning more about the famous civil service examination system during the Imperial time. The museum itself is good in shape and well maintained; you can tell that a lot of thinking and effort went into curating and presenting the exhibition, including a reconstructed set of exam booths in which candidates would write their papers. The architecture is quite impressive too. The museum is, however, catering almost exclusively to Chinese visitors. Some signage is bilingual Chinese/English, but not nearly enough to comprehend the overall story arc of the exhibition. So if you’re a Westerner who can’t read Chinese, or only a select few characters like myself, you will find yourself involuntarily rushing through the rooms because you don’t understand almost any of the displays. Consistently bilingual labelling and signs would help a great deal. In addition, the museum suffers from the very widespread Chinese habit of turning museums into shopping malls. I don’t mind a gift shop or a cafeteria in a museum, but if that sort of thing takes up almost as much space as the exhibition, then it can lead to thorough disappointment.
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Date of experience: July 2019
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Jeremy T wrote a review Feb 2019
1 contribution
Not stroller friendly. Don’t go if you have to push a stroller or wheelchair. Had to sometimes carry the baby on the escalator which was unsafe. Security staff was unfriendly when we pointed out how confusing the exit signs were. He even slammed the door on our stroller. Baby was inside. Exhibition was flashy but lacked the practical aspects like wheel chair or stroller accessibility.
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Date of experience: February 2019
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