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School daze in Qing Dynasty Kunming

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Editor's note: GoKunming is publishing photos from the collection of Auguste François (1857-1935), who served as French consul in south China between 1896 and 1904, during which he spent several years in Kunming. The photos have been provided by Kunming resident and private collector Yin Xiaojun (殷晓俊). GoKunming thanks Yin Xiaojun for providing us a glimpse of Yunnan at the beginning of the 20th Century.

Year: 1903
Subject: Gongyuan

Location: Present-day Yunnan University


Kunming's roots as an educational hub for Yunnan trace back to the Qing Dynasty, well before the Yundas, Shidas and Jingmao Daxues of today started cranking out graduates.

As Yunnan's administrative center, Kunming was where young men from around the province came to take China's notoriously difficult and stressful civil service examinations. Those who succeeded had the chance to go on to the national exams in Beijing, those who failed generally turned to drink or did the dignified thing and drowned themselves.

In Kunming, the provincial-level exams were administered at the current location of Yunnan University, at an educational institution known as Gongyuan (贡院).

Every three years 1,500 hopeful scholars who had passed their county/prefecture exams to become xiucai (秀才) would come to Gongyuan to take the provincial exam. The few candidates who passed the exam in Gongyuan would be designated as juren (举人) and would be allowed to proceed to the national exams. Those who passed the national level exams were designated jinshi (进士), after which they were eligible for high-level official positions.

The above photo by Auguste François - taken 19 years before the founding of Yunnan University - is of Gongyuan's front gate, which is strikingly bare compared to the lush front gate of Yunnan University today, pictured below.

Related article: Auguste François, Yin Xiaojun and Kunming at the end of the Qing Dynasty

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