This is the last (of three) papers of the final Triennial Examinations held in September 1902 before the examination system, which had existed for over one thousand years, was abolished in 1904.
The paper (with the two others making the complete set) was acquired from the Provincial Examination Hall at Nanjing (the largest in China, with 20,644 cells) by the Reverend Mr. Arnold Foster (1846-1919), a graduate of St. John's College and President of the Cambridge Union (1870), and presented by him to Cambridge University Library in 1910.
The dimensions of the original are 123 x 56 cm. The papers were printed locally under conditions of strict security, and seals of authentication (on the right-hand side) were applied by the examiners at different stages in the distribution process.
The title of the examination "Exposition of the Four Books and Five Classics" is given in large characters in columns 1-4. Then follow in smaller characters (columns 5-11) the three extracts which the candidates are to use as the theme of their essays. The paper ends with the rubric in still smaller characters (columns 12-17), comprising instructions on how the candidates are to copy their answers into the examination booklets with which they have been issued; use of the stereotyped "eight-legged essay" format in their answers is forbidden; the number of characters added to or deleted from the fair copy of their answers must be indicated; answers must be punctuated; and answers less than 300 characters in length will be rejected.
The three extracts are given below in the standard English translation by James Legge.
[The Duke Ting asked whether there was a single sentence which could make a country prosperous. Confucius replied, "Such an effect cannot be expected from one sentence.] There is a saying, however, which people have -'To be a prince is difficult; to be a minister is not easy.' If a ruler knows this, - the difficulty of being a prince, - may there not be expected from this one sentence the prosperity of his country?"
When all those about you say, - "This is a man of talents and worth," you may not therefore believe it. When your great officers all say, - "This is a man of talents and virtue," neither may you for that believe it. When all the people say, - "This is a man of talents and virtue," then examine into the case, and when you find that the man is such, employ him. When all those about you say, - "This man won't do," don't listen to them. When all your great officers say, - "This man won't do," don't listen to them. When the people all say, - "This man won't do," then examine into the case, and when you find that the man won't do, send him away.
Hence that which is antecedent to the material form exists, we say, as an ideal method, and that which is subsequent to the material form exists, we say, as a definite thing.
(Yi king Appendix 3 1:12:78)