Copyright © 1997 by Michael O’Brien
Any Kralori citizen – men, women, even the meanest peasant – can conceivably attempt to become a Mandarin, from which all government officials, bureaucrats and functionaries are derived. Candidates must pass a complex examination, which judges their fitness to attain this rank. While the examination does test a variety of vocationally-relevant topics such as law and precident, accountancy, engineering and astrology etc., great weighting is placed on the candidate’s mastery of the civilised arts – classical poetry, calligraphy, oratory, court language, carousing, composition, meditation and so on.
Most candidates are prepared from an early age; few attempt the tests before their 21st birthday, and many still wait until they are nearly 30 before trying 1. Such an investment of time excludes all but the brightest of the poor, who might hope to get noticed by their local mandarin and receive one of the rare and treasured Bursaries. At the close of court days hopeful peasants bring their sons before the Magistrate just before he rises, having spent their precious savings on cramming coaches (many of whom were failed candidates themselves long ago and often pass themselves off as ‘mandarins’). These hacks and charlatans usually get their charges to learn some well-worn snatch of classical poetry by rote, which invariably fails to impress the real Mandarin.
It is extraordinarily expensive to sit for the Mandarin examinations, though almost all the fee is refunded if the candidate passes. It is not uncommon for unsuccessful candidates to go mad or even commit suicide, especially if they have failed multiple times (there is no limit to the number of times a person can try, except what they can afford2. The cult of Immanent Mastery attracts a sizeable portion of failures, with its own related yet less mentally-gruelling brand of esoteric wisdom.
A Mandarin is a senior civil servant of the state emperor-worship cult. Once qualified, he might choose to specialise in one or two areas of interest, depending on the assignment he receives. Unpromising or badly connected candidates are given the worst tasks (the inspectorate of sanitation and effluence, the ministry of agrarian harmony, command rank in the armies and navies, foreign embassies, etc.). Those who score a bare pass are often sent off to Bliss in Ignorance or even face unemployment (one solution is to enter the eunuch service, and hope to rise from there3.
Mandarins have the right to wear a special high hat, with variations depending on rank. The lowest wear a small piece of coral or green jade as insignia. The highest, the Exarchs, receive a brooch made of dragonbone and adamantite from Godunya himself.
Mandarins are respected and revered by the populace. They even receive a portion of the people’s worship of Emperor and State. As such, they must keep themselves in a style befitting their exalted position, and can be stripped of their rank if they fall into penury, bankruptcy or engage in paid manual labor. The typical Mandarin – say a rural magistrate – has a following of servants, retainers and secretaries attending to his needs and wishes, a concubine or three (plus an official wife or two in their home city), and a raft of petitioners, pensioners and claimants following in the wake of his sedan.
From the Notes From Nochet files
[XXIX.424.547/ni/ma/de] From ‘Laws of Other Lands’, by Peregrinatius: The rank of ‘magistrate’ is a powerful but often unpopular one in the Kralori Empire. You see, magistrates who wrongly punish a citizen suffer the punishment they themselves imposed.
Naturally, the Court of Appeal on the other hand, is considered a plumb appointment!
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