French Concours & 科举 (Chinese Imperial Exams)

French Concours (Entrance Exams for Grandes Écoles) was influenced by Chinese Imperial Exams (科举\ko-gu in ancient Chinese, today in Hokkien dialect) from 7th century (隋朝) till 1910 (清末).  The French Jesuits priests (天主教耶稣教会) in China during the 16th -18th centuries ‘imported’ them to France, and Napoléon adopted it for the newly established Grande École Concours (Entrance Exams), namely, “École Polytechnique” (a.k.a. X).

The “Bachelier” (or Baccalauréat from Latin-Arabic origin) is the Xiu-cai (秀才), only with this qualification can a person teach school kids.

With Licencié (Ju-ren 举人) a qualification to teach higher education.

Concours was admired in France as meritocratic and fair social system for poor peasants’ children to climb up the upper social strata — ” Just study hard to be the top Concours students”! As the old Chinese saying: “十年寒窗无人问, 一举成名天下知” (Unknown as a poor student in 10 years, overnight fame in whole China once top in Concours). Today,  even in France, the top Concours student in École Polytechnique has the honor to carry the Ensign (flag) and be the first person  to march-past at Champs-Elysées in the National Day Parade.

Concours has its drawback which, albeit having produced top scholars and mandarins, also created a different class of elites to oppress the people. It is blamed for rapidly bringing down the Chinese Civilization post-Industrial Age in the last 200 years. 5 years before the 1911 Revolution, the 2nd last Emperor (光绪) abolished the 1,300- year-old Concours but was too late. Chinese people overthrew the young boy Emperor Puyi (溥仪) to become a Republic from 1911.

A strange phenomenon in the1,300-year Concours in which only few of the thousands top scorers — especially the top 3 : 状元, 榜眼, 探花 e.g. (唐)王维, (北宋)苏东坡, 奸相(南宋)秦桧,贪污内阁首輔(明)严嵩… — left their names known in history, while those who failed the Concours were ‘eternally’ famous in Literatures (the top poets LiBai 李白 and DuFu 杜甫), Great writers (吴承恩, 曹雪芹, 蒲松龄, 罗贯中, 施耐庵), Medicine (《本草綱目》李时珍, 发明”银翹散”的吳鞠通), Taipeng Revolution leader (洪秀全)….

Same for France, not many top Concours students in X are as famous in history (except Henri Poincaré) as Evariste Galois who failed tragically in 2 consecutive years.

The French “grandiose ” in Science – led by Pascal, Fermat, Descartes, Fourier, Laplace, Galois, etc. — has been declining after the 19th century, relative to the USA and UK,  the Concours system could be the “culprit” to blame, because it has produced  a new class of French “Mandarins”  who lead France now in both private and government sectors. This Concours system opens door to the rich and their children, for the key to the door lies in the Prépas (Classes Préparatoires, 2-year post-high school preparatory classes for grandes écoles like X), where the best Prépas are mostly in Paris and big cities (Lyon, Toulouse…), admit only the top Baccalauréat (A-level) students. It is impossible for poor provinces to have good Prépas, let alone compete in Concours for the grandes écoles. The new elites are not necessary the best French talents, but are the privilegés of the Concours system who are now made leaders of the country.

Note: Similar education & social problem in Japan, the new Japanese ‘mandarins’ produced by the competitive University Entrance Exams (Todai 东大) are responsible for the Japanese post-Bubble depression for 3 decades till now.

These ‘Mandarins’ (官僚) of the past and modern days (Chinese, French, Korean “Yangban 양반 両班 “, Japanese) are made of the same ‘mould’ who think likewise in problem solving, protect their priviledged social class for themselves and their children, form a ‘club mafia’ to recruit and promote within their alumni, all at the expense of meritocracy and well-being of the corporations or government agencies. The victim organisation would not take long to rot at the roots, it is a matter of time to collapse by a sudden storm overnight — as seen by the demise of the Chinese Qing dynasty, the Korean Joseon dynasty (朝鲜李氏王朝), and the malaise of present French and Japanese economies.