An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History, Literature and Art

tiejing 貼經, moyi 墨義, and kouyi 口義, classicist examination

Feb 15, 2021 © Ulrich Theobald

Tiejing 貼經 "Classics in a stripe", also called tiewen 帖文 "stripe text", shitie 試帖 "testing by a stripe" or diantie 填帖 "complement stripes", was one of the many modes of examination used in imperial China to select the most promising candidates for state offices (keju kaoshi 科舉考試). It was used for the classicist examination (mingjing ke 明經科) in particular. The tiejing method was created during the Tang period 唐 (618-907) and remained in use until the mid-Northern Song period 北宋 (960-1126). For this type of examination, the examiners (kaoguan 考官) chose one page from among the books of the canon of the Confucian Classics and covered all of the text but one column. The single columns of the text was ripped off the paper and again, three to five characters were covered. In this form, the "stripe from the Classics" (jingtie 經貼) was presented to the examinee, who had to tell or write down what words were missing. Examinees were in this way tested their knowledge of the Classics texts. Having successfully filled in the missing words of several quotations, they had passed.

Because the tiejing test was relatively easy in the beginning, examining officials tried from 763 on to trick the examinees by selecting very rare of difficult phrases or short phrases logically not connected to the surrounding text (guzhang jueju 孤章絕句) or asked for the date of a certain event. One method to therefore learn by heart the complete texts of the Classics was that candidates used to sing or chant the texts of difficult paragraphs to remember them (tiegua 帖括).

The tiejing method was abolished during the Xining reign-period 熙寧 (1068-1077).

A far less challenging type of examination was the answering of questions on the Classics in written (moyi 墨義) or oral form (kouyi 口義). In order to answer such questions, examinees had to read carefully the texts of the Classics as well as that of commentaries on them. The history book Jiutangshu 舊唐書 says that the examination consisted of ten questions, five of which had to be answered correctly by experts in Five of the Classics (wujing 五經), while mingjing candidates had to answer six questions correctly, in order to obtain the jinshi degree 進士. Yet the Xu zizhi tongjian 續資治通鍳 speaks of twenty questions, at least after the abolishment of the tiejing examination. Huang Zongxi 黄宗羲 (1610-1695), an early Qing-period 清 (1644-1911) expert, explains (Mingyi daifang lu 明夷待訪錄, ch. Qushi 取士) that the examination required ten questions for each of the canonic texts five of which were to be answered by quoting the respective shu 疏 commentary in full, and five by quoting the zhu 註 sub-commentaries in full.

The question-and-answer examination was likewise abolished in the Northern Song period.

Wang Kun 王琨 (1996). "Tiejing 貼經", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Shengqing 傅慶升, ed. Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 934.
Wang Kun 王琨 (1996). ”Moyi 墨義", in Feng Kezheng 馮克正, Fu Shengqing 傅慶升, ed. Zhuzi baijia da cidian 諸子百家大辭典 (Shenyang: Liaoning renmin chubanshe), 934.
Zhongguo xusheng jiaoyu guanli da cidian bianweihui 中國學生教育管理大辭典編委會, ed. (1991). Zhongguo xuesheng jiaoyu guanli da cidian 中國學生教育管理大辭典 (Beijing: Beijing Shifan Xueyuan chubanshe), 229.