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 . 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 afford ). 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 there ).
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.
 The oldest-ever successful candidate was the 119 year-old peasant, Heng Seng Lop-K. A dawn-to-dusk existence in the paddy fields left him little time to study for his lifelong dream. Passing his exam in 1598 ST, he was made ambassador to the Holy Country and left his native province of Boshan for the first time.
The youngest-ever successful candidate was the 3 year-old prodigy Wee-Wee-Noor in 1614. Two years later she was made a circuit magistrate in Shiyang province, where she is said to pronounce judgements of childlike transperancy but wisdom far beyond her years.
 The record number of unsuccessful attempts is 20, by Jangbo Ha, the youngest child and only son of a merchant family from from Kaisen province who were virtually beggared before he was arrested as part of the so-called Hideous Candidate Substitution Scandal (1607). Sentenced to 2401 epicycles in the Han Siao Instant Torture Camp, ironically Ha passed on his 21st try while in prison and received his promotion at last.
Many aspiring students sip at the mental stimulant Xcori before their exminations. Although it is not expressly forbidden, the examining exarchs often penalize those they suspect of trying to pass with its aid.
 For example, Why Too-K, the great great grandson of Heng Seng Lop-K, also barely passed his exams (despite all the extensive coaching lavished on him Heng Seng was never able to afford himself). Why Too-K volunteered to be castrated and entered the eunuch service, where he is currently engaged in a pet project of the Emperor's. Godunya senses something is about to go wrong with the Civil Service's ability to calculate and forecast, and has charged Why Too-K with the responsibility of checking and adjusting every single abacus in the Empire. He must complete this seemingly impossible task by the end of the year or face the Emperor's Displeasure.
[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
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