THE body of men who filled the country’s civil service posts, from the Councils and central ministries down to the hsien magistracies, formed a distinct and influential group in Chinese society. Mayers speaks of them as ‘the most active and important element in the national life of China’. 1 As entry into the civil service was theoretically open to all, 2 its members cannot be regarded as constituting a closed caste. The community of scholar-officials at any given period formed, nevertheless, a body apart, formally distinguished from ‘the people’, strongly conscious of its own separate character, and imbued with a marked esprit de corps. The system of public examinations, which was the chief agency employed in the selection of officials, set its stamp on those who passed through it; and this, together with shared interests, functions and privileges, gave the bureaucracy a considerable measure of homogeneity and a formidable solidarity. In this chapter I shall be mainly concerned with the strictly official functions of the bureaucracy, leaving for later consideration their role in wider social activities.