Tuesday, July 28, 2015


A civil official from the Ming Dynasty 
In Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate, one of the features of historical China we incorporate into the game is the Civil Service and the Imperial Exams. I think this is one of the most fascinating aspects of Chinese history, but also one of the more difficult ones to research and understand. History books dealing with any of the major periods will cover it in some detail and that may be enough information for a campaign where the exams play a background role. But where can you turn if one of your player characters actually takes the exams or become scholar-officials? Here are three excellent books I found helpful while I was working on the Ogre Gate rulebook. Do keep in mind my focus was the Song Dynasty, so I am not including works like Government Organization of the Ming Dynasty by Charles O. Hucker because that was outside the period I was using as my model. 

Written in 1953, this is a very useful resource on the imperial exams during the Song Dynasty. It describes government structure, how the exams work, what the exams meant, promotions within the civil service, alternatives to taking the exams, and the incredibly complex issue of titular offices versus one's effective role within the state. I highly recommend this for anyone seeking a better understanding of the imperial exam system and of government structure during the Song Dynasty. 

This book was a surprise. Something about the title negatively affected my expectations but once I started reading I was hooked. It does a good job explaining how the exams were conducted. Most other sources I went to glossed over that a bit. Miyazaki goes into incredible detail covering everything, not just describing the process but making you feel it. There are also some surprising pieces of information here on myths and superstitions. If you want to know what the exams looked like from the the ground level, then read this book. 

This is a gold mine of information. It is a reference book, so you don't have to read it cover to cover. Mostly it is an enormous list of imperial titles. However it opens with an overview of government structure during every historical period. This is quite invaluable because that kind of material can be hard to track down once you get specific. For example, it is easy to find overviews of the civil service in a general sense but harder to find it specifically for a particular dynasty. This covers them all. These early sections are not too long either, but they also are not brief. They are the perfect length for the needs of a Gamemaster. Where the book truly shines though is its vast list of imperial titles. The one downside is because this was written some time ago, the titles are all in Pinyin, so if you are using Pinyin to romanize the words (as I was) it will be something of a challenge to convert them (converting from Wade Giles to Pinyin without making mistakes is not easy). This is also not a perfect book. It is highly regarded and a valid source but it was so ambitious and such a big project, one can understand that it may have some oversights. I'm no historian of China, I don't know what the errors were, but I found mention of them from other historians so just pointing that out in case you want to use this. 

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