Álvaro Semedo


Father Álvaro Semedo [°1585/1586-†1657] was born in the vicinity of Portalegre, and entered the Jesuit College in Evora where later he would be ordained. In March of 1608 he embarked in Lisbon for the Oriental missions and reached Macao two years later. From then on until 1636, he carried out his tireless and energetic apostolic work in the interior of China apart from a brief period of four years spent in Macao. In 1636 Álvaro Semedo was selected by his superiors to represent the interests of the China mission in Europe where he had the opportunity to sojourn for about six years. On returning to Macao he would continue his activities of proselytism in Chinese territory his death in Guangdong. ·

Álvaro Semedo lived in various locations in the Middle Kingdom during the thirty years or more he spent there, living intimately alongside Chinese people from all walks of life and in the meantime he acquired an extraordinary command of Chinese. Consequently, because of his missionarial obligations, Álvaro Semedo became a great expert on Chinese affairs. His knowledge of sinology which he had gained over the years allowed him to write a long, well-informed Treatise on China which would be published in different versions during his visit to Europe. So in 1642 an anonymous resumé of the work was published in Lisbon under the title Breve recompilação dos princípios, continuação e estado da Cristandade da China (Short Recompilation of the Beginnings and Situation of the of Christianity in China). It was a very rare pamphlet comprising of twelve pages, of which there are no known copies to be found today. The following year, the Portuguese historian, Manuel de Faria e Sousa [°1590-†1649], who obtained a complete copy of Álvaro Semedo's manuscript, had it printed in Madrid in a Spanish version as Imperio de la China & cultura evangelica en el por los religiosos de la Compañia de Jesus (The Chinese Empire and Evangelical Culture There from the Religious Members of the Society of Jesus). In the meantime, Alvaro Semedo arrived in Rome where in the same year of 1643, he brought out an Italian version of the work under the title Relatione della Grande Monarchia della Cina [...] (The History of that Great and Renowned Monarchy of China [...]). This was without doubt a more precise and valuable edition as it was compiled under the close supervision of the author. Later, Álvaro Semedo's account would achieve extraordinary success in print and it would be repeatedly edited in various European countries. The Portuguese edition of the complete work, prior to the Italian version, would only be published in 1956 in a translation by Luís Gonzaga Gomes.

The Relatione [...] (History [...]) presented a very broad and detailed picture of Chinese society in the middle of the seventeenth century, for being based on the author's own experiences and his extensive knowledge of the Chinese language and literature, it surpassed the great limitations other Portuguese had who earlier tried to write on the Middle Kingdom. Just as Álvaro Semedo himself confirmed, before the Jesuits' arrival in Chinese territory, he had only known of "[...] aquilo que deixa escorrer, como por excesso, pelas faldas da região de Cantão• [...]" ("[...] that which had flowed out of the foothills of Guangdong [...])." The following passage presents a well informed description of the Chinese examination system, a theme which until then aroused enormous and unquenchable curiosity among the European public interested in overseas affairs.



Of their manner of ∫tudy, and admittance to examination.

They are put to learning from their tender age. They have for beginners certain little bookes, containing good rules and precepts of vertue, good manners, obedience to their parents and ∫uperiors, or ∫ome ∫uch like matter. A few months after, they give them Cla∫∫ical books; which they get all by heart, both the Text and the Glof∫∫e, as perfect as we do our Pater No∫ter. After this, commeth the Ma∫ters explanation. They ∫ay their le∫∫on likewi∫e by heart, the Scholars back being turned towards the ma∫ter with the book lying open upon the table, and u∫e no other phra∫e for ∫aying their Le∫∫on, but only Poixú,·1 which ∫ignifieth, to turn back upon the book, and this is done, that they might not ca∫t their eies upon it to help them ∫elves. They are kept to their ∫tudies with ∫o much rigour, (even the younge∫t of them) that they are allowed no manner of recreation of diverti∫ement.

Every day they write ∫omething, and their ma∫ters copy is laid under the paper, like the black line among us: and the paper being thinne and tran∫parent, the letters ea∫ily appear through, which the boy that learneth doth ea∫ily imitate, forming other letters like tho∫e, which hee ∫eeth under his paper; and by u∫ing this for ∫ome ∫hort time, he becometh accu∫tomed to the fa∫hion of this Ma∫ters hand, which, he imitateth after this manner. Therefore after ∫ome time ∫pent in this exerci∫e, they write one line upon the Ma∫ters copy, and another upon the blank paper by the ∫ide of it; for, as I have ∫aid, the lines are made from the top of the paper to the bottome, till at length, when they can well imitate the copy, they give over writing upon it. In fine, they take very much paines to gain a good hand in writing; for, in their examinations, where their compo∫itions are copied, it is ∫ufficient to have their Grace denied, if there be but found one ill-∫hapen letter, before their exerci∫e be read; they pre∫uming; that no man can be learned, if he read, or write ill; although among us there be many examples to the contrary. For it is wel known, that the escellent Doctour Navarro wrought very ill hand, & our Bartolomeo Philippo, a ∫ingular Scholar, writ to perfect an ill hand, that to the univer∫all grief of all learned men, his mo∫t learned works were lo∫t; although they were many, and no doubt, full of the mo∫t admirable knowledge, becau∫e there was not found any one, that was able to read them; as may be perceived by tho∫e workes of his, that have e∫caped out of that pernicious Chaos.

Next; when the Chine∫∫es have learned a good quantity of their letters, and have ∫ome acquaintance with their books, they are in∫tructed in the rules of compo∫ition. Fir∫t, they give them ∫ome di∫ordered compo∫itions, which they are to reduce into order; then ∫ome abbreviations for them to enlarge upon, and afterwards in duetime they give them only the point of Theme; in like manner they do, at their examinations. And becau∫e very three years the mo∫t approved compo∫itions of tho∫e, who have taken degrees, are put in print, others take great paines in them, and get as many of them by heart as they are able.

They have no Univer∫ities, where they ∫tudy together; but all, that are able, take a Ma∫ter into the hou∫e for their ∫onnes, and ∫ometimes two, if there be much difference betwen their childrens ages. This Ma∫ter is alwaies with them without any interruption, and teacheth them not only letters and ∫ciences, but what∫oever concerneth Civill government, good manners, moralitie, and the way how to carry themselves in every thing. If they are per∫ons of Quality, the Scholar never goeth obroad without his Ma∫ter, who ∫erveth to in∫truct him in all Civilities, and good behaviour; particularly in vi∫its; where, as there are many Ceremonies u∫ed, there is ∫omething of difficultie; and they might ea∫ily commit an errour, if their Ma∫ter did not help them. And without doubt, this way is mo∫t decent for their reputation, and more profitable for their ∫tudies, and le∫∫e expo∫ed to tho∫e venemous practi∫es and company, which are apt to teach them ∫uch cu∫toms, as infect their minds; and ∫poile the Decorum of a Gentleman; and much more in China, where, if any one have this evill fame, he cannot be admitted to examinations.

There are nevetherle∫∫e many Schools for children of a meaner condition; where the Ma∫ters have this good quality, that they receive no more than they had never come thither; as it falleth out too often in Europe, where each Ma∫ter endeavoureth to have many Scholars, rather for his own gain than their advancement. For indeed a man, let him be never ∫o able, is but ∫till one man; whence it commeth to pa∫∫e, that ∫ome of their Schollars know the School; but are not known of it. This inconvenience is avoided in China: each taketh no greater chasrge upon him, than he is∫able to give an account of; and each Ma∫ter admitteh no more Scholars, than he can well teach. He is with them all the day long, behaving him∫elf with much gravitie; neither do they ever go out of the School, unle∫∫e it be at measles; and if any one of them doth live far off, his dinner is brought to the School. Their play-daies and time of vacation are only fifteen daies at the beginning of the new year, and ∫ome few daies in the fift and ∫eventh moon: and there are there no Holy-daies, they make all the re∫t of the year an un-interrupted application to their ∫tudies. So ∫en∫ible are they of this truth: That it is nece∫∫ary to take very great paines to bee learned; and, that ∫eldome any one pa∫∫eth with the reputation of a knowing man, without much labour and indu∫trie.

When they are grown up and pa∫t the∫e rudiments, and their parents are not able to provide a ma∫ter for each in particular; ∫ome of the kindred and neighbours joyne together, and take a ma∫ter in common, who dyets with them day by day in cour∫e, and receiveth his Salary from them all, which is not much; but more or le∫∫e according to the cu∫tome of the Countries, and may amount each year to 40 or 50 Crowns; the common Salary being from ten to twenty crownes: be∫ides the pre∫ents which they make them at certain fea∫ts, con∫i∫ting of ∫tockings, ∫hoes, and ∫uch like things. At meals (although it be in the hou∫es of per∫ons of the greate∫t quality) they are to ∫it with the father of the ∫cholar, or at lea∫t with the ∫cholar him∫elfe. Many times they ∫tudy not in their fathers hou∫e, having others more proper for that occa∫ion, either within or without the City, but never farr off: and as much as they can, avoyd their owne hou∫es, knowing well that the multitude of people, and the re∫pect which is payd to their quality at home, are capitall enemies to ∫tudy: hence it cometh to pa∫∫e in other Kingdomes, that the ∫onnes of Lords and great men do for the mo∫t part, prove Ignorants: As if the greate∫t Nobility did not con∫i∫t in the greate∫t knowledge.

There are ordinary Ma∫ters without number, for there being ∫o many that pretend to the degree of a Literato, and ∫o few that attaine to it, the greate∫t part are con∫trained to take upon them the imployment of a ∫choolmaster; ∫o that to ∫et up a ∫choole the year following, they go about to get ∫cholars for that time, from the beginning of the pre∫ent year, but in great hou∫es they commonly receive none for Ma∫ters, but ∫uch as have taken the degree of Batchelour, who continue the cour∫e of their ∫tudies with a de∫igne to take their other degree.

When they have taken any degree, although it be but only of Batchelour, they are then no longer under a Ma∫ter, but forme a kind of Academic, as it were, among them∫elves; where they meet at certaine times every month, one of them openeth a book, and giveth a point or Theme, upon which all of them make their Compo∫itions, which they afterward compare among them∫elves.

Although they have no univerities and particular ∫chooles, neverthele∫∫e they have generall ∫chooles, which are very capacious and magnificent, and mo∫t richly adorned, for the examiners, and tho∫e that are to be examined; of which there is a wonderfull great number. The∫e ∫chooles are in the Cities and Townes, but the mo∫t ∫tately ones are in the Metropolies of the Provinces, where the examination of Licentiats is held. The∫e fabriques are of a bigne∫∫e proportionable to the multitude of people which flock to them. The form is almo∫t the ∫ame in all. Tho∫e of Cantone are not bigge: becau∫e they admit not of above foure-∫core, to take their degree; whereas in others, they are admitted from an hundred to a hundred and fifteen, which is a great difference. The whole ∫tructure is compa∫∫ed about with a wall, having a faire and ∫umptuous gate towards the South, opening into a large ∫treete, where a numerous multitude are gathered together. This ∫treete or Piazza is 150. Geometricall paces broade, each pace con∫i∫ting of five foote: There are no hou∫es in it, but only porches and walks with ∫eats for the captaines and ∫ouldiers, who are there a∫∫i∫ting all the time of the examination, and keep a ∫trong guard. At the fir∫t entrance, there is a great Court, where do ∫tand the Mandarines of the fir∫t po∫t, with a Court of guard within the gate; then pre∫ently appeareth another wal with a gate, made like tho∫e of our Churches, and openeth & [and] ∫huts in two leaves or pieces, when it is not convenient that all ∫hould be opened: when you are pa∫t that gate, there appeareth a large place, in which there is a pond of water, extending from one tide to another, over which ∫tandeth a ∫tone bridge of perfect Architecture, which endeth at another entrance or gate, guarded by Captaines, which ∫uffer none to go in or out, without expre∫∫e order from the officers. After this gate followeth another very ∫pacious Court, having on each ∫ide rowes of little hou∫es or chambers for the per∫ons that are to be examined; placed on the Ea∫t and We∫t ∫ide thereof. Every chamber is foure palmes and a halfe long, (every palme is nine inches Engli∫h) and three and a halfe broade, and is in height about the ∫tature of a man: they are covered with Tarra∫∫e or Play∫ter in ∫tead of Tyle; within each of them are two boards, the one fa∫tened to ∫it downe on, the other moveable for a Table: which after it hath ∫erved them to write upon, they make u∫e of, when time is, to eate on. There is a narrow entrie, which leadeth to them, that admitteth but of one man a brea∫t, and that hardly too; the doores of one row open toward the back∫ide of the other.


At the time of the examination; there is a ∫ouldier to a∫∫i∫t in every one of the∫e little chambers, to guard and ∫erve the per∫on to be examined; ∫itting under his little Table: They ∫ay, he hath a gagge of wood in his mouth, that he ∫hould not ∫peak and trouble the ∫tudent. But if it be in his power to remedie it, it is not likely, that he doth entirely complie with his obligation.

At the end of this narrow wntrie I ∫pake of, is rai∫ed a Tower upon foure Arches with Balu∫ters without on all ∫ides, within which there is a Salone or great Hall, where do a∫∫i∫t ∫ome officers and per∫ons of re∫pect, who ∫tay there to give account of what pa∫∫eth in all the little chambers, which they have placed in their ∫ight. At the foure comers of this Court are foure great Towers, with their Bell or Drum, which is ∫ounded, as ∫oone as there happeneth any noveltie or di∫order, to give notice thereof to whom it doth concerne. Nigh to the∫e Towers are other Buildings with a large Hall, furni∫hed with ∫eats and Tables, and other nece∫∫aries for the bu∫ine∫∫e that is to be performed there; which is the fir∫t examination of the compo∫itions; at which the more ordinary officers do a∫∫i∫t, ∫itting in tho∫e ∫eates.

Going through the Hall by the gate which looketh Northward, thee is to be ∫eeen another Court, and pre∫ently another Hall of the ∫ame form; but the furniture thereof is more rich and co∫tly, it ∫erving for the Pre∫ident, and more honourable officers. Then follow likewi∫e other appartaments and lodgings for the ∫aid per∫ons, and for all the other officers and examiners; every apartament hath a Hall, ∫eats and Tables to negotiate and eat at; a chamber with a bed, and Canopie of∫ilke, and other hou∫hold-∫tuff proper to that end they are de∫igned for. There is al∫o a walke with little gardens and low Trees. There are al∫o joyned to the∫e, other le∫∫er chambers for Notaries, Secretaries, Pages, and other officers of their families; be∫ides the∫e are other chambers for the Mandarines and inferiour officers, and for their ordinary ∫ervants, with Butteries, Larders, Kitchins, and what∫oever is nece∫∫ary for the accommodation of ∫o great a multitude; every thing being dispo∫ed and ordered even to admiration.

Anciently the nobilitier and kindred of the King were not admitted to any ∫ort of office or publique charge; no, northo∫e of them that ∫tudied, were allowed to come to the examinations, to take their degrees. About 20 yeares ∫ince, after many earne∫t ∫olicitations made by them, and oppos∫itions by the contrary part, they had the privilige granted them, to be admitted to all examinations; and the examiners are obliged to confer degrees on ∫ome of them, but not to many. The common people of all ∫orts and all vocations are admitted, except tho∫e that are infamous, as the ∫ervants of the Mandarines (not their hou∫hold Servants, but tho∫e which ∫erve them in their Tribunalls and Courts of ju∫tice;) Sergeants, Bayliffs, Catchpoles, Rogues, Executioners, and guardians of their publique women, called Vampa. Likewi∫e tho∫e are not admitted, again∫t whom lyeth any tax, or accu∫ation of ill manners, until there be ∫ati∫faction given of their amendment.

They have three ∫orts of degrees, Sieueai,· Kiugin,· Cinfù,· 2 and that we might the better under∫tand them, I might ∫ay, that after their manner they are an∫werable to our Batchelour Licentiate, and Doctour, each degree having ∫everall en∫ignes and badges of honour. Tho∫e that are only ∫tudents, and have taken no degree, have not any particular priviledge belonging to them, but only are re∫pected as Gentlemen, and the people honour them, as the lights of their Country, ∫o much is knowledge e∫teemed among them, who know, how to honour that, which doth de∫erve e∫teeme.


Of the manner of their Examinations, and how their degreees are conferred.

The order and manner, that the Chine∫∫es ob∫erve in their examinations of per∫ons that take their degrees, is very curious. It is to be ∫uppo∫ed, that in the∫e examinations, from the fir∫t of the ∫imple ∫tudent, to the la∫t of the Doctour, con∫i∫teth the bu∫ine∫∫e of the greate∫t importance of this Kingdome: for on the∫e depend the degrees and offices both of honour and profit, the only marke, at which mortalls aime with their chiefe∫t attention. In a word, if there be an employment, wherein the∫e two are coupled (a conjunction which the old proverb hath ∫entenced to be very difficult) certainly it is this. We will begin at the beginning, that is what is performed by the meere and ∫imple ∫tudents.

Before the examination there is fir∫t ∫pread abroad a report, that there will be one, till at length it be publi∫hed by Authoritie. Becau∫e the degrees which are conferred, and tho∫e which pretend, are many, it is not convenient that ∫o great a multitude ∫hould be admitted to the examination of the Chancellour: and to the end that both the fit and unfit ∫hould not enter at that examination, there is an order in the Province, that tho∫e which are to enter, ∫hould be proved fir∫t by two Antecedent examinations in their City or Towne, after this manner. Every Judge in his Territorie doth publi∫h an examination, and appointeth a day for the meeting of all the ∫tudents of his Precinct. And becau∫e ∫ometimes the place of the publick univer∫itie is not ∫ufficient for the reception of ∫o great a multitude, they fill a large field with ∫eats and Tables; and there the examination is held. The Judge giveth the poynt upon which they are to compo∫e. They begin in the morning and are allowed time till night; They give in but one compo∫ition, and when they have fini∫hed it, they con∫igne it to the proper officer; who, putting them together, examineth them all along with great diligence; and chu∫ing out the be∫t, cau∫eth the name of their compo∫ers to be written: this roll of their names is ∫tuck up upon the wall of his Palace; by which it cometh to be known, who they are, that are allowed to pa∫∫e to the up∫tream examination; and this allowance they call, Having a name in their Village.

The compo∫itions thus allowed are carried by the Officer, in per∫on to the Governour of the City: and the ∫ame do all judges of Townes; each within his own juri∫diction; and each City in its Villages, each City being divided into two Villages, with their particular judges, be∫ides the Governour of the City. And all the ∫tudents of the Country, that have been already allowed of, being a∫∫embled together, enter into the generall place of the City, where the Governour of the City examines them again, and giveth them a new point, after the ∫ame manner, as was given them in the Village with this difference; that they u∫e more care, rigour, and diligence, and admit le∫∫e of the Interce∫∫ion of friends, who are ready in all places to pervert the truth. Of th∫e the governour chu∫eth 200, and giveth their names to the Chancellour, who putteth them the third time upon the ∫ame examination, almo∫t in the ∫ame manner; and chu∫eth out among∫t them about 20 or 25, upon whom he conferreth their degree; ∫o that being ∫ifted three times mo∫t exactly, they come at length to be but few in number. Then are given them their en∫ignes and priviledges, with an advertency of their ∫ubordination, not only to the Chancellour, but al∫o to the Prefects; who are two in each City; and are called Hioquon; ·3 that is, Mandarines of the ∫ciences. Their office is to ob∫serve and ∫py out the deportment of each; and to cha∫ti∫e tho∫e, that behave them∫elves ami∫∫e; and (which is more) they may examine them a new, if they plea∫e, and as often, as they think good.

The Chancellour is bound by his office to ∫end through the Province, and to a∫∫emble within all Cities all the Ancient Batchelours, and to examine them, to find wether they ∫tudy; or el∫e addict them∫elves to other imployments different from their profe∫∫ion. He rewardeth the diligent, and ca∫ti∫eth tho∫e that are idle, in this manner: when they are all gathered together in the generall Palace, he giveth them a point for their compo∫itions; the which being ended, their papers are divided into five Decuries or Cla∫∫es; to tho∫e of the fir∫t the giveth prai∫e and rewards; the ∫ame or little el∫e is done to tho∫e of the ∫econd; Tho∫e of the third Cla∫∫e are pa∫∫ed by in ∫ilence; tho∫e of the fourth he cha∫ti∫eth; tho∫e of the last Cla∫∫e, he depriveth of their degrees, priviledges, and e∫ignes of honour, and tumeth them back to be rank'd among the common people: yet neverthele∫∫e with liberty to return again, for their degrees, to their examinations. Of the fir∫t ∫ort are cho∫en the able∫t to the number of 40. For each City, and 20 for each town; and although they have not above eight Crowns pen∫ion a man, they ∫tand the King, through the whole Kingdom in 300000. Crowns. This employment is verey great; for the Cities are 444; the Villages 1250. This is that which a Batchelour is obliged to do, to obtain his degree: let us now ∫ee, what is required of a Licentiate.

The examination of the∫e is held every three years, in the chief City of each Province, upon the ∫ame day through out the whole Kingdom; which u∫eth to be in the eighth moone; and commonly falleth out to bee about the end of our September, or beginning of October. The examination la∫teth about 25 or 30 daies; although they, that are to be examined, are not held to it above three daies only; and tho∫e are the ninth, the twefth and the fifteenth of the aforesaid month. The chief examiners are the greate∫t Officers of the whole Province, be∫ides others of that precint who are a∫∫i∫tant to them: But above all, the Pre∫ident; who commeth, even from court, purpo∫ely to his Province. The∫e are the fir∫t, that do a∫∫emble in the general Palace; and with them their Secretaries, notaries, and other people appointed both for their Guard and ∫ervice; and likewi∫e Phy∫itians, for fear they might have need of them; becau∫e, while∫t this action la∫teth, no per∫on is permitted to come out, or in, to them.

Without, there remaineth a vigilant Officer, to provide what∫oever is required from within, only the Chancelor is here excu∫ed from this confinement, becau∫e he is the common ma∫∫ter of all Batchelours. There are ∫ome, which are ∫o infallibly certain of their knowledge and abilities, that there was on in Kiamfi, who, after the ∫tudents were locked up for their examinations, made a li∫t of tho∫e whom he conceived, ∫hould receive their degrees, and having ∫et it up in publick, he erred only in ∫ix, of hundred and fifteen, which were elected.

When the Officers are a∫∫embled, the ∫tudents (which in the larger Provinces and Univer∫ities exceed the number of 7000) make their appearance, at nine of the clock in the morning, keeping their order, and without any contra∫t; (as it often happeneth at the examination of Batchelours, with ∫uch confusion, as is often the occa∫ion of undecent and unfortunate accidents, and ∫ometimes murders, as I once ∫aw in the City of Sumkiam in the Province of Nankim,· and in that of Kiamfi.) At their entrance they are all ∫earched, to find what they carry about them; and if the lea∫t paper be but found about any one of them, he is pre∫ently excluded. And for the le∫∫e trouble in ∫earching them, they are all obliged to wear their hair loo∫e and hanging down, their leggs naked, and ∫hoes made of cord, their garnment without lining, or any fold what∫oever, with their inke-horne and pen∫els about their necks; (for as we have ∫aid before, they u∫e no other pens but tho∫e.) As ∫oon as they are entred, they retire into tho∫e little chambers, we ∫pake of before; each into one, with his ∫ouldier to watch him, who ∫itteth at his feet under his little table. Then they lock up the gates, ∫etting their guards of Souldiers; who keep ∫o ∫trict and rigorous a watch, that during the examination they do not ∫uffer any one to pa∫∫e through that ∫treet, much le∫∫e do they permit any one to go out.

Then pre∫ently are the points expo∫ed, which the Pre∫ident hath already written in large letters on white Tables of Charam; the which hang publickly at the four corners of the cro∫∫e way between the little hou∫es; ∫o that every one may ∫ee them from his own chamber, the Points or Theames are ∫eaven; four out of the four la∫t books of their Philo∫opher4 which are common to all; and three from every Kim, ·5 that is, out of every part of his books of ∫ciences; each ∫tudent nece∫∫arily profe∫∫ing only one of them.

Upon each point the ∫tudent is to write briefly, Elegantly, and ∫ententiou∫ly; ∫o that every one is to make ∫even compo∫itions, which are to be written in a faire and well ∫hap'd letter, without any Abbreviation. If they afterwards mend or correct any thing, they are to write underneath, in what line that Emendation is made. They make two copies of their compo∫itions; the one ∫ub∫cribed with the name and Sirname of their Father and Gran-Father, with the years of their own age, together with an In∫cription, as ∫eemeth good to each of them. The∫e they ∫eale up with the In∫cription only on the out∫ide: pre∫ently they con∫ign the open copies to the officers appointed pointed to receive them, and then go their waies. The ∫ealed copies are kept according to their number in a place appointed for them; the open copies are given to certain Notaries, who copy them out in red letters, that the compo∫ers hand might not be known; and after that, they are given to the Examiners, who di∫tributing them among them∫elves, do, the two following daies, examine and review them, with ∫o much rigour, that the lea∫t errour is ∫ufficient to exclude the ∫tudent. I ∫hall give you a plea∫ant example.

Among their letters, there is one called Ma, 6 which ∫ignifieth a hor∫e: this is compo∫ed of a perpendicular line cro∫∫ed with three others, and underneath hath a ∫troke, which endeth with a concavity like to our letter S. In this concavity they put 4 pricks in a row, one after another. In ∫tead of th∫e four pricks when they write with Abbreviation, they put only one line. Now there was a ∫tudent, who in hi∫ compo∫ition wrote it after this la∫t manner; and although his compo∫ition was excellent, yet becau∫e he had not writ this letter after the fir∫t manner, the examiner ∫ent him away with the∫e words, without four legs the hor∫e cannot go.

When that is done; they let up, on the outward wall, a large catalogue of the names of ∫uch, who have made any fault in their compo∫itions, which ∫erveth for advice to them, to return home to their hou∫es, which they pre∫ently do partly out of ∫hame, and partly out of nece∫∫ity, becau∫e they will not be ∫uffered to enter at the following examinations.

The ∫econd time they enter again, on the twelfth day of the month, where they are proceeded with as before, excepting that they give them only three points, concerning ∫uch doubts and difficulties, as may occurre in matter of government: to under∫tand, how hey would behave them∫elves in it, and how they would advi∫e the King. Then again upon the through examination of the∫e ∫econd compo∫itions many are ∫ent away and excluded from the third examinatioon; and have only three points given them concerning the lawes and ∫tatutes of the Realme. When the compo∫itions of this la∫t examination are received, they ∫hut up the generall Palace for fifteen daies, more or le∫∫e; and during that time, by comparing and chu∫ing the be∫t, they are reduced to a ∫mall number, who do really de∫erve the degree. Then they con∫ign them to the Pre∫ident, who maketh the la∫t ∫crutiny, and ranketh them in their places and order, there being a great difference in being of the fir∫t, or of the la∫t; not only for their reputation, but al∫o to be the ∫ooner provided of ∫ome good place or office.

After this la∫t diligence is ended, which is u∫ed about the copies of the compo∫itions, pre∫ently they open the originall compo∫itions, that were ∫ealed and laid by, that by the In∫criptions they might find out the names of the Authours; which they write down in certain cla∫∫es according to their merits. This catalogue is expo∫ed to the view of innumerable people, who are ∫taying without to expect it; ∫ome for their Son or Brothers ∫ake, ∫ome for their Father or friend, ∫ome for their Master or Patrone; and ∫ome only to ∫ati∫fie their curio ∫itie.

At the time when the∫e names ∫tand expo∫ed, being written in very large letters, from the top to the bottom of a long paper, two palmes and a halfe broad, there ∫tand ready without, ju∫t ∫o many hor∫es which are to carry tho∫e that receive their degree of Licentiate; each hor∫e being marked with his number of 1.2. etc. And to every one of tho∫e servants, who are appointed to lead the Hor∫es, there is given a ticket, with the name of the Graduate, and the number of that place, which belongeth to him. Who pre∫ently runneth to ∫eek him out (it being not ea∫ie to find him, becau∫e they do yet ∫tand retired) to give him notice of his election, and to beg ∫ome reward of him, and ∫o ∫taies with him to wait upon him, till he departeth to go to the Court.

The ∫tudents having notice given them of their promotion, come all on hor∫e-back to the Palace-general, every one in his order; where the Proveditor and Mini∫ter of the Kings Exchequer-chamber, ∫tandeth ready expecting them, with the en∫igns of their dignitie, as the Cap, Gown, Tippit, and Boots, which he ∫olemnly putteh upon them, and when they are thus adorned, they go pre∫ently to give thanks to the Pre∫ident of the examinations: who receiveth them on foot, and treateh them, as his equals, though he be alwaies to them in the ∫tead of a Ma∫ter: and they do ∫o depend on him; and bear him ∫uch extraordinary re∫pect, that it is a thing almo∫t incredible to be related. Among them is ∫o much love and amity, as if they were really brethen; for they are called brothers of the examination; and like ∫uch do they re∫pect one another. After follow diver∫e ceremonies, and ∫everal banquets pre∫ented by the Officers altogether. They are three in all, as I remember, and are all very ∫umptuous, but the third is of ∫ome profit al∫o: for in this, there is ∫et to every one of them three tables; the fir∫t covered with diver∫e meates; the ∫econd with hens, fowle, veni∫on, and other fle∫h, which is to be all raw; the third with dryed fruits: and all this is to be ∫ent home to their hou∫es, that they might ∫pend it there, at their own plea∫ure and di∫cretion.

A∫∫oon as the∫e men have obtained their degree, they become pre∫ently great, honoured, nay adored; and, I know not how, ∫uddenly rich. After this, they go no longer on foot, but either on hor∫e back or in a Sedan. And not only the graduate, but his whole family, change their condition, and he beginneth to think of purcha∫ing his neighbours hou∫es, and to build him∫elf a Palace. This will yet ∫eem more wonderfull to him, that knoweth, that many of them come out of their countries a very great way on foot, carrying at their backs, that habit, which they are to wear in the City; having ∫ometimes their hands daubed with clay, wherewith they lately were mending up their poor cottages: of which ∫ort of blades I have ∫een ∫ome come to Nankim.

The∫e solemnities being ended, the Graduates pre∫ently prepare to go to Court, to be made Doctours; and if they will take any government upon them, they are pre∫ently provided with ∫ome place or other: But if they accept of any government, they lo∫e their preten∫ion of being examined afterward for Doctour. Although there is none who at fir∫t doth not attempt it; But if any one doth not ∫uceed in it, and begin to be ∫omewhat in years, having a mind to put him∫elfe pre∫ently into the world, he accepteth of a Government, having only the title of Licentiate, but ∫uch very ∫eldome come to very high preferments; although there have been found ∫ome of them, who have had the good fortune to be advanced to the quality of Vice-roy. For this journey to Court they have every one of them given them 80 crownes, out of the Kings exchequer, to bear their charges: and it is very certaine (as I have been informed by some Chine∫∫es of credit,) that the whole expences, which every Licentiate ∫tands the King in, from the time he taketh his degree, till he cometh to be placed in the Court amounteth to 1000. crownes; which throughout the whole Kingdome, (according to my account,) maketh a million and halfe of crownes. So much doth in co∫t the Prince in forming of his wi∫emen, and making them capable of the Government of his crowne: ∫o great a reward doth he propo∫e to them, that they might a∫pire to be ∫ufficiently learned.

The Licentiates, who are made every three yeare, throughout all the Provinces, are about fifteen hundred, more or le∫∫e; and this is no great number in re∫pect to tho∫e, which procure, their degree in all the generall Palaces. In that of Cantone,• which is one of the la∫t, having not above 7500. little chambers in it, the compo∫itions of the fir∫t day are about 96148. from whence may ea∫ily be inferred, how great the number of the pretenders is. And now we will give a particluar chapter concerning the ∫upreme degree.


Of the degree of Doctour.

The degree of Doctour is ∫olemnly conferred at the Court, in the ∫econd Moone of the yeare, which an∫wereth to our month of March. They proceed in it according to the ∫ame form, which was observed in the degree of Licentiate ; excepting that the en∫ignes of honour are different, and the examiners of greater qualitie; they being the chiefe of the royall Colledge called Hanlin,·7 and their Pre∫ident is always the Colao, ·8 the greate∫t dignitie, next to the King, of this Empire: although he differently exerci∫eth the charge of Pre∫ident; for, in this Tran∫action, they of the royall Colledge have a definitive vote; and the compo∫itions being di∫tributed among them, after the fir∫t election, they, who are elected and approved by them, cannot be refu∫ed or rejected by the Pre∫ident.

All the Licentiates of the Kingdome are admitted to this examination, as well as old ones, as the new. And anciently there was no precedent examination to inable them for this admittance, becau∫e it was accounted ∫ufficient to be a Licentiate, to have entrance at the examination of Doctors: But becau∫e among their compo∫itions there were many ∫o ill made, that it was time lo∫t to read them, and did render the compo∫ers incapeable, not only of the degree of Doctour, but likewi∫e of pretending to it; therefore about 15 years ∫ince, there was introduced another examination for the receiving of them, which is in practi∫e to this day: from whence it happeneth, that many are not received, to their great ∫hame and ∫orrow: which is a whole∫ome in∫truction to others not to ∫pend their time in fea∫ting and recreations.

In this examination are to be cho∫en 350. upon whom the degree of Doctour is conferred. The en∫ignes of honour, excepting the Bootes, which are the ∫ame in all, are very different from tho∫e of the Licentiates, both in co∫t and ornament. They have al∫o a girdle given them, which they alwaies weare in their places of Government, which are be∫towed upon them; but is more rich and precious, according to the offices they are advanced to. When they received their degree, and put on theiren∫ignes of honour, they all a∫∫emble, within a Hall of the Kings Palace prepared for that purpo∫e, where they are examined the ∫econd time in one only compo∫ition, the poynt being about the Government and employment which they are to be admitted to. At this examination, in former times the King did u∫e to a∫∫i∫t in per∫on, but now there a∫∫i∫teth a Colao in his name.

The examination being ended, they pa∫∫e into another Hall, where the new Doctours do make their reverence to the King, and pre∫ently the Colai pre∫ents to him three of them, which have obtained the fir∫t places; then the King whith his owne hand be∫toweth a reward on each of them. He to whom he giveth the fir∫t gift, being the chief of all the re∫t, hath a particular name belonging to him everafter; as al∫o, to the ∫econd and the third: The fir∫t they call Chuam, Yuen, the next Pham, Yuen; the third Thoan, Hoa; and this name is of ∫o great e∫teeme and reputation, that in a few daies after the examination, there is ∫carce any person through out the whole Kingdom, that doth not know them by the∫e names; and not by the names of their fathers and Countrie; which is a wonderfull thing in ∫o va∫t a Kingdom as that is. The honour is as great, as that our Dukes and Marque∫∫es. As well for the re∫pect, which is paid them throughout the whole realme; as for the places of authority and tru∫t, where they are put to govern; being the very ∫ame, which were anciently conferred upon tho∫e Lords, who∫e authority was in another way, corre∫pondent to that, which now the∫e Doctours have.

The∫e ceremonies being accompli∫ht, there is yet another examination, which althought it be voluntarie, there are few that ab∫ent them∫elves from it. A new point in given; they make their compo∫itions; and according to them there is an Election made of tho∫e, who are to be admitted to the royall college. They ∫elect only 30 of the mo∫t de∫erving, and of them they admit five every year; who only for being entred in ∫o ∫mal a number, are alway providing with profitable places of government. The other twenty five have particular Palaces a∫∫igned to them; where they a∫∫emble, and become as Scholars under the di∫cipline of a Colao, who almo∫t every day cau∫eth them to compo∫e ∫omewhat; and exerci∫e them∫elves in all that belogeth to their learning, and ∫peculative government. This continueth till the next examinations, at which new per∫ons enter, and the other go forth, and according to their degrees of antiquity, are provided with places of greate∫t importance at the court; from whence (unle∫∫e it be to be Pre∫idents of the examinations, or ∫ome other particular employment, that la∫teth but a ∫hort time, and by the Kings order) they never go out; no not to be vice-royes; which imployment is accounted below them, becau∫e only tho∫e of the royal colledge are capable of the dignity of a Colao.

All the new Doctors are that year put into ∫ome employment, unle∫∫e there be any, that is not of competent years. That which helpeth this multitude to imployments, is that the ∫ame year there is held a generall vi∫itation throughout the whole Kingdome; by which there are ∫o many of the old Mandarines turned out, that there are many places made void for the new ones; and, as this degree is of high account, the vi∫its, congratulations, Fea∫ts, and Pre∫ents, which are made upon this oca∫ion, are almo∫t incredible. The reward for bringing the fir∫t newes, is many times worth 200 Crownes to the Me∫∫enger, but commonly 50, a∫∫oon as the friends and kindred of tho∫e who are named among the three fir∫t abovementioned, hear of their promotion, pre∫ently they erect unto them triumphall arches in their Cities or Villages, not of wood coverd with Canva∫∫e or pa∫t-board; but of pure Marble ∫umptuou∫ly wrought; in the front whereof is engraved the name of the Per∫on, for whom they were erected; the place he hath obtained, and the year of his Doctour-ship; in a word, the world is the same throughout. It is a vain thing to beleeve, that he which hath not power, ∫hould be admired, heard or received with applau∫e; whether it be done out of zeale to the truth, or out of flattery and intere∫t.

Revised reprint of:

[SEMEDO, Alvaro], THE HISTORY/OF/ That Great and Renowned / MONARCHY /OF/ CHINA. / Wherein all the particular Provinces are accurately / de∫cribed: as al∫o the Di∫po∫itions, Manners, Learning Lawes, /Militia, Government, and Religion of the People. / Together with the Traffick and Commodities /of that Countrey. /Lately written in Italian by F. ALVAREZ SEMEDO, a Portughe∫s, / after he had re∫ided twenty two years at the Court; / and other Famous Cities in that Kingdom. Now put into Engli∫h by a Per∫on of quality, and illustrated/with ∫everal MAPPS and FIGURES, to fatisfie the curious,/and advance the Trade of Great BRITTAIN. / To which is added the Hi∫tory of the late Inva∫ion,/and çonque∫t of that flouri∫hing Kingdom/by the TARTARS. / With an exact Account of the affairs of CHINA, /in the∫e pre∫ent Times. / LONDON, / Printed by E. Tyler for Iohn Crook, and to be ∫old at his Shop at the / Sign of the Ship in S. Pauls Churchyard. 1655, Part. l, chaps. 7-8, pp. 35-45.

For the Portuguese text, see:

PIRES, Tomé, LOUREIRO, Rui Manuel, intro., Relação da Grande Monarquia da China, in "Antologia Documental: Visões da China na Literatura Ibérica dos Séculos XVI e XVII", in "Revista de Cultura", Macau, 31 (2) Abril-Junho [April-June] 1997, pp. 181-188 & For the Portuguese modernised version by the author of the original text, with words or expressions between square brackets added to clarify the meaning.

For the original source of the Portuguese text, see:

SEMEDO, Álvaro, GOMES, Luís Gonzaga, Relação da Grande Monarquia da China, Macau, Direcção dos Serviços de Educação e Juventude - Fundação Macau, 1994, pp. 81-100 [First edition: 2 vols., Macau, Notícias de Macau, 1956] & Partial transcription.


Numeration without punctuation marks follow that in Alvaro Semedo's original text selected in Rui Loureiro's edited text in "Revista de Cultura" (Portuguese edition), Macau, 31 (2) Abril-Junho [April-June] 1997, p.188.

The spelling of Rui Loureiro's edited text [Port.] is indicated between quotation marks and in italics <<" " >> & unless the spelling of the original Portuguese text is indicated &followed by the spelling of John Crooks' English translation [JC], indicated immediately after, between quotation marks within parentheses <<(" ")>>.

1 "poixu" [original Port.] ("Poixú" ) = beishu ·[Chin.].

2 "sieuçai"•[original Port.] ("Sieueai") = xiucai · [Chin.]; "kiugin" [original Port.] ("Kiugin") = juren · [Chin.]; and "cinfu" [original Port.] ("Cinfú") = jinshi · [Chin.].

3 "hioquon" [original Port.] ("Hioquon") = jiaoguan • [Chin.]: a mandarin [Chinese government official] in charge of educational activities.

4 Meaning, Confucius (°552-†480BC). Sishu (The Four Books) are the Lunyu (The Anaclets), Daxue (The Great Learning), Zhong Yong (The Doctrine of the Mean) and Mengzi (The Book of Mencius).

5 "kim" [original Port.] ("Kim") = juan · [Chin.]: the 'volume' or a 'section' of a book.

6 "" [original Port.]("Ma") = ma [Chin.]: 'horse'.

7 "Hanlin" [original Port.] ("Hanlin") = Hanlinyuan · [Chin.]: the 'Imperial Academy'

8 "colao" [original Port.] ("Colao") = gelao · [Chin.]: the 'First Secretary of State'.

* First edition: Rome, 1643.

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