China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Given the importance of selecting talented individuals for official positions throughout Chinese history, it seems unusual that the process for recruitment during the early medieval period is not better understood. The evidence for the recruitment process is preserved in anecdotes in official histories, a handful of texts written during the period, and a small number of manuscripts recovered from tombs. Thus, as Al Dien (2001) has remarked, any material that helps clarify this process is useful in furthering our understanding of this topic. This paper attempts to build on the work of Dien, Dennis Grafflin, and others by examining an exchange between Lu Ji (261-303) and Ji Zhan (253-324) on the occasion of Lu Ji’s nomination of Zhan as xiucai (flourishing talent). Ji Zhan was an important southern official at the beginning of the 4th century. Although Zhan is often overlooked by modern scholarship, he played an instrumental role in establishing the Eastern Jin state and served its first two emperors. Lu Ji’s six questions and Ji Zhan’s answers may demonstrate the range of historical and literary knowledge expected by the recommender, and the kinds of answers provided by a successful candidate. In the context of the downfall of the Western Jin and the establishment of a new dynasty in Yangzhou, the exchange sheds light on the way in which literature, culture, and history were deployed to assess the suitability of elite candidates for office during this turbulent period.