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Betting on the Civil Service Examinations

Betting on the Civil Service Examinations

The Lottery in Late Qing China

En Li

ISBN 9780674293779

Publication date: 06/20/2023

Weixing, or “surname guessing,” was a highly organized lottery practice in China wherein money was bet on the surnames of which candidates would pass the civil and military examinations. For centuries, up until 1905, the examination system was the primary means by which the Chinese state selected new officials from all over the empire and a way for commoners to climb the social ladder.

How was betting on the examinations possible and why did it matter? Opening with a weixing-related examination scandal in 1885, En Li reconstructs the inner mechanisms of weixing and other lottery games in the southern province of Guangdong. By placing the history of the lottery in a larger context, the author traces a series of institutional revenue innovations surrounding lottery regulation from the 1850s to the early 1900s, and depicts an expansive community created by the lottery with cultural and informational channels stretching among Guangdong, Southeast Asia, and North America. This book sheds light on a new reality that emerged during the final decades of China’s last imperial dynasty, with a nuanced understanding of competitions, strategic thinking by lottery players and public officials seeking to maximize revenues, and a global network of players.


  • En Li is Assistant Professor of Modern East Asian History at the University of Texas at Dallas.

Book Details

  • 374 pages
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Asia Center