The implementation of a regularly scheduled civil service examination every three years was a common feature of the civil service examination systems in Chosŏn Korea, Ming and Qing China, and Lê and Nguyễn Vietnam. In Chosŏn, however, the custom of implementing the civil service examination as an element of the rites marking the observance of “joyous occasions” (kyŏngsa 慶事) emerged in the fifteenth century. This particular type of examination was known as the “state celebration examination” (kyŏngkwa 慶科). As justifications for its implementation proliferated in the late Chosŏn period, the state celebration became the linchpin of the civil service examination system. While there emerged in China and Vietnam in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the “grace examination” (Ch. enke 恩科), a conceivable counterpart to the Korean state celebration examination, the justifications for and frequency of this examination were comparatively restricted. The centrality of the state celebration examination could thus be described as an important and unique characteristic of the civil service examination system in Korea. This article investigates the question of why state celebration examinations were held in Chosŏn. It focuses on the process by which the state celebration examination became so frequent in the late Chosŏn period in terms of the increasingly diverse justifications for its implementation.


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pp. 53-86
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