Confucianism is a central component of Chinese and has always played a crucial role in the development of the nation. One area where Confucianism has undoubtedly been pivotal is education. Confucius was a wise scholar and, in order for any individual to fully understand his philosophies, they had to be taught.
The Eight Legged Essay was one educational tactic that developed out of Confucianism. This was a rigorous written form used to test candidates for the civil service, mostly during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. The Eight Legged Essay was so named because it is comprised of eight parts, each of which must be carefully composed according to a strict technique.
The essay consists of an opening and amplification, which put forth the topic and clarify the theme to begin. The writer must then compose a series of numbered arguments in a specific order, each of which is composed in a parallel sentence structure, employing different words with the same meaning. After the final argument, a conclusion is drawn in a prosaic form where the writer has more freedom of expression and creativity. The writer must hold to a strict word count and particular words are to be either avoided or employed, each of which can affect the writer’s overall score on the essay.
Though the Eight Legged Essay made up the entirety of civil service examinations in China for hundreds of years, it had its adversaries and eventually became obsolete. Many argued that the essay’s static format left no room for understanding the individuals being tested and claimed that it was simply a stock form where clichés could be entered at specific places. Nonetheless, the essay’s popularity as a testing format remained popular, and most Qing and Ming government officials had been required to write it.
Though the Eight Legged Essay is no longer used in China, remnants of its influence are still present. The structures of redundancy and parallelism that existed in them are still a feature of modern expository writing in China. The Eight Legged Essay also cultivated a rhetorical style and the heavy use of idioms, both of which strongly survive in Chinese writing today.