Sima Guang

The state has been selecting people by means of testing poems, rhapsodies, essays and policy treatises and has not inquired into a person’s ethical conduct. Consequently those literati who seek to serve in government are working hard morning to night, but are solely concerned with practicing poems, rhapsodies, essays, policy treatises; they are only worried they will not surpass others.

WA

In the present system for selecting officials, those who memorize assiduously, recite extensively, and have some knowledge of literary composition are called “splendid talents of extraordinary accomplishment” or “men of virtue, wise, square, and upright.” These are the categories from which the ministers of state are chosen. Those whose memories are not so strongly developed and [who] cannot recite so extensively, yet have some knowledge of literary composition and have also studied poetry in the shi and fu forms, are called “advanced scholars” (jinshi). The highest of these are also selected as ministers of state. It can be seen without any question that the skills and knowledge acquired by men in these two categories do not fit them to serve as ministers. …

Wang Anshi

In the present system for selecting officials, those who memorize assiduously, recite extensively, and have some knowledge of literary composition are called “splendid talents of extraordinary accomplishment” or “men of virtue, wise, square, and upright.” These are the categories from which the ministers of state are chosen. Those whose memories are not so strongly developed and [who] cannot recite so extensively, yet have some knowledge of literary composition and have also studied poetry in the shi and fu forms, are called “advanced scholars” (jinshi). The highest of these are also selected as ministers of state. It can be seen without any question that the skills and knowledge acquired by men in these two categories do not fit them to serve as ministers. …

Wang Anshi

What is taught to the students consists merely of textual exegesis [of the classics]. That, however, was not the way men were taught in ancient times. In recent years, teaching has been based on the essays required for the civil service examinations, but this kind of essay cannot be learned without resorting to extensive memorization and strenuous study, upon which students must spend their efforts the whole day long. Such proficiency as they attain is at best of no use in the government of the empire, and at most the empire can make no use of them.