Stone stele records of imperial examinations of the Lê and Mạc dynasties
Vietnam, like China, was a country in which Confucianism was the state philosophy. The Vietnamese Emperors, following the Chinese model, attempted to appoint only men of virtue, learning and deep Confucian scholarship as officials of the state. Suitable candidates were identified by a series of public examinations open to all men. In 1434 Emperor Li Thai Tong reformed the Vietnamese examination system, putting it onto a triennial basis, and centring it on the Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam (the Imperial College in the Temple of Confucius) in Hanoi, which he reconstructed for the purpose. As well as the shrine to Confucius, the temple had teaching rooms where top-ranking scholars would lecture students on the Confucian classics, and an Examination Court, where the topmost level of the Examinations were held. The first Royal Examination to select "Tien si" (Doctoral laureates) was held in 1442. The successful candidates were greatly honoured, being presented to the Emperor and escorted back to their homes with great ceremony. As an additional honour, a stone stele was erected in the Van Mieu-Quoc Tu Giam for each Royal Examination giving the names of the Tien si with an introduction in praise of virtue and ethical conduct. These steles are different in size, style and decorative pattern which bear the imprints of a historical epoch spanning over 300 years. The biggest stele is 2.07 metres in height and 1.3 metres in width, while the smallest is 1.1 metres in height and 0.7 metre in width. Most of them are 0.25 metre thick. The first stele was erected in 1484 recording the Royal Examination in 1442 and the last stele was made in 1780 recording the Examination held in 1779. There were all together 85 such steles erected and 82 of them still survive.
The erection of such steles aimed not only to honour talents but also to encourage citizens and government officials to improve themselves morally and intellectually according to Confucius teaching on virtues, proper behaviour, justice and devotion. These 82 stone steles were inscribed on the Asia-Pacific Memory of the World Register in 2010 and the International Memory of the World Register in 2011. They still today, as in the past, make a powerful statement as to the importance of scholarship, ethics and the need to appoint men of virtue and a sense of duty to public office.
International Register & MOWCAP Regional Register