“Chinese state is strong because it reigns without a society”

The author is Hasheng Huang of MIT and the subtitle is Examination, Autocracy, Stability, and Technology in Chinese History and Today. Forthcoming from Yale University Press in 2023. Excerpt:

For many years, I struggled to come up with a coherent explanation for the power, the reach, and the policy discretion of the Chinese state.  There is coercion, ideological indoctrination, and probably a fair amount of societal consent as well.

Keju [the civil service exam system] had a deep penetration both cross-sectionally in society and across time in history. It was all encompassing, laying claims to time, efforts and cognitive investments of a significant swath of Chinese population. It was incubatory of values, norms, and cognitions, therefore impacting ideology and epistemology of Chinese minds. It was a state institution designed to augment the power and the capabilities of the state. Directly, the state monopolized the very best human capital; indirectly, the state deprived society access to talent and preempted organized religion, commerce, and intelligentsia. The Chinese state in history and today is an imprinted version of this Keju system.