The Eight-legged Essay

There is a new post I have made at the China History forum, on the obscure topic of the old Eight-legged Essay of the Chinese imperial examination system. Having started on the path of CHF imperial exams (more on which I will discuss in other posts), the topic of the eight-legged essay (ELE) cropped up from somewhere in the back of my mind. This one will probably never rate as a HOT topic in CHF forums, mostly I’d guess because the ELE is now universally disesteemed as pedantry useless as preparation for an official in the real world. Still, as an artifact of imperial China that occupied the intellectual effort of numberless mandarins, I have wondered about the structure and content, and the “eight” legs.

Combining material in English from Wikipedia, and in Chinese from the online encyclopedia Baidu, the article examines the structure and content of this form of essay. The result of these annotated exhibits gives a satisfactory introduction to the eight-legged essay (there is enough English in the article to to be adequate for English-language readers), perhaps suggesting how the thought of the exam candidates was “boxed” in by this ironclad approach. Poetry has structure and rules, too, but at least there are many forms of poetry to offer some variety. This kind of essay will probably not turn up in Yang Shen, however it is another aspect of the character of the mandarins in the story.

The article is The Eight-legged Essay, at the China History Forum.

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