College students nowadays have to take a series of exams to finally get a certificate, which we commonly call "diploma." Have you ever seen an ancient Chinese "college diploma?" The Imperial College of China is an educational institution, equivalent to universities today, which started in the Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD). According to the Qing Dynasty education system, the students of the Imperial College were called "Imperial Students," and once they "graduated," the royal court would grant them different official status based on their academic achievement. They not only enjoyed a monthly pay and rations, but also preferential treatment in tax exemption. During late Qing Dynasty due to the collapse of the discipline and evaluation system, it became quite common for people to buy their way to become an "Imperial Student," which intensified in the last few years of the Qing. This situation let the Imperial College make fast money by selling “diplomas” for a handy price. Considering the average revenue of China at that time, it is estimated that more than 80,000 people bought their "Imperial College Diploma" annually.
The photo above shows a "diploma" of this kind issued during the Guangxu Administration of the Qing Dynasty, one of the more than 4,000 local official documents collected by the Tsinghua University Library Archives, reflecting a true account of the Qing Dynasty Imperial Examination System. This copy is block printed on a single white tissue paper, 60cm long by 45cm wide. It is bilaterally emblazoned with a trapezoidal top and square bottom, decorated with twine patterns within the margins, and covered by a huge square official seal with a "Certificate" character on it. The blanks in the main text is clearly written in with the recipient's birthplace, age, and physical characteristics with a brush pen, issued on October 5 of the 3rd year of Guangxu Era (1877 AD) to Liang Shentang of Wenshui County, Shanxi Province. In order to prevent counterfeiting, the certificate used extra measures by listing the names of the recipient’s great-grandfather, grandfather, and father as well as a half-printed numbers and half-sealed verification seal near the top and right edge of it for later verification. There are two big red Chinese characters "xing" and "shi" near the bottom, which stand for "approved" and "paid" respectively. This "diploma" is largely intact and clearly filled, providing a good reference for studying the history of official post purchases and document format of the Qing Dynasty.
In fact, the library began a large-scale collection of local literature since 2007, including local office documents and historical chronicles donated from 27 local governments of provincial administrative regions, totaling more than 4,000 volumes, plus another 1,000 local literatures from private organizations and enthusiastic collectors. The library also purchased several high valued documentations, making Tsinghua become an important institution in preserving and collecting local historical chronicles and old literatures.