The hall of preserving harmony was used differently in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Before the grand ceremony were held in Ming Dynasty, the emperor used to change his clothes here and when the emperor and the crown prince were registered,They were congratulated in this hall.
Every year on the New Year’s Eve and the fifteen day of the first month, the emperor gave a banquet to the priests, the princes and the ministers of the first and second grades. The scene was spectacular.The banquet to host the Emperor’s father in law, High ranking official’s relatives, and the examination of each subject were held in the Hall of preserving harmony. At the end of each year, the officials administration ministry fill in the roster of high ranking officials from the Manchurian, Mongolian and the Han army.
From 1646 to 1656, Emperor Shunzhi lived in this hall, and it was called the “Bai Yu Palace”at that time. The emperor’s grand wedding ceremony was also held here.
When emperor Kangxi took the throne for eight years (1669) , He was also lived in this Hall,and change it’s name to “Qingning Palace.”
In the fifty-fourth year of emperor Qianlong’s reign (1789), the venue of the palace exam was moved from hall of supreme harmony to hall of preserving harmony.
The palace exam is the highest level examination of the feudal imperial examination system. The emperor personally professed the title and appointed the minister for supervision. The emperor also personally read the top ten papers. The No. 1 pick was named Zhuangyuan, the second was name Bangyan, while the third one was named Tanhua, and the title of Jinshi were given to all the students who passed the exams and they were also entitled with official ranks. Palace exam was held every three years. Participants are generally required to pass the exam at county level, provincial level before they were qualified for the palace exam.
The ceremony of the palace exam is spectacular,exam date were changed a few time in history. In the early Qing Dynasty, it was stipulated in early April and later in early May. In the tenth year of Emperor Qianlong (1745), it was changed to April 26th. In the twenty-sixth year of Qianlong (1761), it was changed again to April 21st and never changed since then.
On that day, the officer who carried exam paper and the cabinet official were transferred from the cabinet to the Hall of preserving harmony via the Zhongzuo gate, and the emperor’s paper was placed on the long, narrow, yellow color table. The participants were led by the officials to two sides of red stairway. According to the rankings in the former exams, the single number ranking standing in the east while the double ones standing in the west. Then the emperor came, the music whips, the participants and the ministers of the princes all went to the emperor for Three Kowtow and nine bows ritual . After the ceremony, the emperor returned to the palace, the officials of the Ministry of Rites distribute the exam paper to participants while the participants has to receive it when kneeling down, then they were led by officials to the palace and sitting down on both side of the palace to answer the questions on the paper. On the test day, two meals were served, breakfast are four steaming bread and a bowl of soup per person while lunch are four cakes, two pears, and a cup of tea per person.
The white paper were used in the exam, the participants are required to fill in the first page with their name, age, birthplace and resume of three generations. After the examination, the paper was folded into a cylinder by the sealer official.The chapter of the Ministry of Rites were stamped on the rest of the roll, the back of the roll and the place where the seam is worn. The examination papers were reviewed by eight marker appointed by the emperor. The marker minister draw a circle if he think the answer is good, and they gave best exam paper eight circles. The papers were ranked in the number of circles, and then the top ten were presented to the emperor, the emperor made the final decision on their ranks.
The selection of candidate ranks was not all based on real talent. Sometimes it is with the emperor’s mood.
For example, in the 27th year of Jiajing (1548), Wu Qingzhong won the champion. Because “Wuqing” and “ruthless” were in the same pronounciation, Jiajing Emperor said how come “ruthless” rank the first. On the night of the same day, Jiajing heard thunder roaring, and without any doubt. He decided to give the champion to a candidate named “Qin Minglei” and merely because his name means thunder. This seems to be very ridiculous, to have a good name is even important than to write an good article. Another example is the palace exam in the Guangxu emperors twenty-nine-year reign. One of the top ten candidates is called “Wang Shoupeng”. The reading officer praised his name very much as Shou Peng means longivety in Chinese. and in Chinese legend, a person with similar name lived for seven or eight hundred years, so the examiner made an exception to promote Wang Shoupeng as the champion.
The results of the examination will be announced on May 25. The winners entered the Hall of Supreme Harmony from the meridian Gate to salute the emperor, and then walk out of the palace. At this time, an official has prepared the umbrella cover for the champion. He put a red belt and a red flower on the champion,and toasted a cup of wine to the champion, the second winner, and the third winner separately, helped the champion onto horse back and escort him to his own palace. On the next day, the Ministry of Rites hosted a banquet for the new scholars for celebration.
The last palace exam in China was in the 30th year of Guangxu (1904), and 150 people were admitted to Jinshi level. Since then, the feudal imperial examination system, which was implemented in China for more than a thousand years, was finally abolished.