Research Projects

Power for a Price: Office Purchase and Meritocracy in Late Imperial China

(Funded under Hang Seng Bank Golden Jubilee Education Fund for Research, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities & Social Sciences)

Principal Investigator

Lawrence Zhang, Postdoctoral Fellow, Hong Kong Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences
(Remarks: Dr. Lawrence Zhang left the University’s service from July 1, 2016.)

Total Fund Awarded

HKD 8,000

Project Duration

May 2014 – April 2015

Project Description

The book project focuses on the roles of each of the participants in the institution of office purchase and, by examining each actor through a chapter, tells the history of the use of office purchase by both the government, which was selling the offices, and the public, which was buying them. The book utilizes a wide array of official and private sources, using large scale data analysis mixed with small scale studies of particular locales and families in order to better understand their motivation for participating in the system. In doing so, it argues that the current paradigm of state-elite relations in late imperial China, which privileges the civil service examination system, needs to be revised to account for the widespread use of purchase as an alternative form of entry into government service. This opens new research questions regarding the role of wealth in determining social status, the existence of a group of hereditary political elites who perpetuated their status through access to family fortunes, and the meaning of “merit” in a system where money could literally buy power.