Evaluation (kaoji 考績, also kaocha 考察, kaohe 考核, kaoke 考課, jiaokao 校考, zhengji 政績, jidian 計典) was a mode of controlling success and failure in public offices throughout the imperial period. It was the base for promotion in position (sheng 升, tisheng 提升) or rank (jinji 晉級), relocation (qian 遷, shengqian 升遷), demotion (jiang 降, jiangzhi 降職), or dismissal (ge 革, gezhi 革職).
The term kaoji first appears in the chapter Yaodian 舜典 of the Confucian Classic Shangshu 尚書 "Book of Documents", where it is said that "every three years there was an examination of merits, and after three examinations the undeserving were degraded, and the deserving advanced, and the duties of all the departments were fully discharged" (san zai kaoji, san kao chuzhi youming, shu ji xian xi 三載考績，三考黜陟幽明，庶績咸熙, transl. Legge). The expressions "examine merits and degrade the undeserving" (kaoji chuzhi 考績黜陟) or "examine merits and advance the deserving" (kaoji youming 考績幽明) virtually became proverbs. In the imagination of an ideal past, Later Han-period 後漢 (25-220 CE) writers believed that "in ancient times, the regional rulers (zhuhou 諸侯) reigned with righteousness (yi 義), regarded their people as their own children, and the state as their own family, and therefore appointed worthies (xianzhe 賢者) as regional governors (mu 牧)." (Hanji 漢紀, 28, Aidi ji 哀帝紀 1) The regional rulers themselves did therefore not personally take over local government over the people, but left it to administrators, whose competence and trustworthiness was to be checked regularly. The existence of annual evaluations during the Warring States period is mentioned in the book Xunzi 荀子 (ch. Wang-ba 王霸).
The Former Han-period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) scholar Dong Zhongshu 董仲舒 (179-104 BCE), who wrote the book Chunqiu fanlu 春秋繁露, compiled a chapter on the investigation of achievement and reputation (21 Kao gongming 考功名). He explains the term kaoji as a test (kao 考) of what [merits] office holders had "accumulated" (ji 積, homophone to 績 "achievements"). In some instances, the results were somehow quantified to allow for the compilation of graded lists reflecting who was best in his office and who had performed less well. The word kaoji was therefore later also used in the state examinations. The use of office evaluation was a regular process during the Later Han period, as can be seen in Wang Fu's 王符 (83-170 CE) book Qianfulun 潛夫論, in which a whole chapter is dedicated to the issue (7 Kaoji 考績). Wang suggested evaluating of each state official in three-year intervals.
The evaluation of local officials was carried out during the so-called "grand settlements" (daji 大計), "outer revisions" (waicha 外察) or "outer settlements" (waiji 外計). The ritual Classic Zhouli 周禮 explains that every three years, the performance of all minor officials (qunli 群吏) was checked, and they were punished and rewarded accordingly. There might also have been "lesser settlements" (xiaoji 小計) in certain intervals.
The evaluation system of the Ming 明 (1368-1644) and Qing 清 (1644-1911) dynasties required that local officials of lower levels were checked by their respective superiors every three years (in years with the cyclical signs chen 辰, xu 戍, chou 丑, and wei 未), with district magistrates (zhixian 縣), 2nd-class prefects (zhizhou 州), 1st-class prefects (zhifu 府), circuit intendants (daoyuan 道), provincial surveillance commissioners (anchashi 按察使) and administration commissioners (buzhengshi 布政使) being examined by the provincial governors (xunfu 巡撫) and governors-general (zongdu 總督), who in turn submitted their findings to the Ministry of Personnel (libu 吏部) for counter-check (fuhe 復核). The procedure in the capital was carried out by the Ministry in cooperation with the Department for Personnel (like 吏科) of the Censorate (duchayuan 都察院) and the metropolitan intendant (Jingji dao 京畿道). Provincial surveillance and administration commissioners were directly counter-evaluated by the emperor.
Those having performed well were promoted in rank (jia yi ji 加一級) and found entrance into a list of appointees to be promoted in office (hou sheng 候升 "waiting for promotion"). The best in the list of good performers were called "outstanding" (zhuoyi 卓異). They were included in special registers and were presented with a garment during a personal audience (yinjian 引見) with the emperor. In case there was no vacancy, the holders of certain posts were granted one or several years of continued payment (yuefeng 閱俸).
The method of evaluation depended on the range of duties and the importance of the office. In the local government, the balance of the granaries and treasuries was important, the tax yields and the amount of cleared land, the situation of the household registers, and general peace and order. For this purpose, the Qing dynasty established a classification for the difficulty of governing districts, namely "very challenging/important" (zuiyao 最要), "challenging/important" (yao 要), "of moderate difficulty" (zhong 中), and "easy" (jian 簡). The four criteria for the classification of districts were the situation of traffic (chong 衝), the complexity of administration (fan 繁), the number of bandits in relation to constabulary forces (pi 疲), and the general "difficulty" of the local population and the environment (nan 難).
The four criteria (sige 四格) of the evaluation were competence (cai 才, subdivided into excellent and average, chang 長 / ping 平), integrity (shou 守, subdivided into pure, diligent, and average qing 清 / qin 勤 / ping 平), achievement in the administration (zheng 政, subdivided into diligent, and average, qin 勤 / ping 平), and age (nian 年, subdivided into "greenhorn", experienced, and senior, qing 青 / zhuang 壯 / jian 健). The Ming dynasty had used three classes (sandeng 三等) instead of criteria, namely competence (chenzhi 稱職, a special reading!), diligence (qinzhi 勤職), and commitment (gongzhi 供職). The four criteria and sub-criteria were used to bring achievements into an order, yet with the age of the examinee as a less important factor. Only persons with pure integrity, outstanding competence, and diligent administration were ranked as of class one (lie yi deng 列一等), i.e. "competent performance" - all others were either just "diligent" (lie er deng 列二等) or showed some "commitment" (lie san deng 列三等).
Failure was punished with impeachment (he 劾) and was asserted by eight (bafa 八法), later six variables (liufa 六法), which usually resulted in demotion in rank (jiangji 降級), or in office (jiangzhi 降職) or in dismissal. Disciplinary punishment (chufen 處分) pertained to local officials as well as for those serving in the central government (jingguan 京官), for instance, by not considering them for promotion (bu ru ju 不入舉) or transferring them to a post "equal" (pingdeng 平等) to (and not higher than) the former one.
The eight variables attesting failure were embezzlement (tan 貪), "cruelty" (ku 酷), inattentiveness (bu jin 不謹), impetuousness (fuzao 浮躁), passivity or laziness (piruan wuwei 罷軟無為), lacking talent (caili bu ji 才力不及), but also factors making further employment impossible, like old age (nian lao 年老) or illness (you ji 有疾). Inattentive or lazy persons were dismissed, impetuous ones demoted by three ranks, but still employed on a lower post (jiang san ji diaoyong 降三級調用), untalented persons were demoted by two ranks, and the old and ailing were sent into retirement (xiuzhi 休致). In 1759, the criteria of embezzlement and cruelty were abolished as criteria for the evaluation and became standard specifications for legal charges applicable at any time. Persons charged with embezzlement or cruelty were dismissed from any list of candidates for vacant offices (yong bu xuyong 永不敘用).
The term bafa 八法 is used in the Classic Zhouli, yet with a different meaning. In that book it denotes methods of the Grand Steward (dazai 大宰, i.e. the Counsellor-in-chief) to check the officialdom. The last of the "eight regulations" in the Zhouli is "control of the officials" (guanji 官計) with an analysis of the state administration (bi bang zhi 弊邦治).
The combination of these methods of evaluation was known as the "four criteria and six variables" (sige liufa 四格六法).
The evaluation of metropolitan officials was called "inner settlement" (neiji 內計) or "metropolitan revision" (jingcha 京察 – not to be confounded with the metropolitan examination, huishi 會試). It was usually likewise performed every three years, yet then and when, the intervals were extended to six or even ten years.
During the Ming period, overseers of granaries, barns, workshops, factories, mines, arsenals, and storehouses (cang-chang-ku guan 倉場庫官) were evaluated each year, police officers (xunjian 巡檢) every three years, and educational officials (jiaoguan 教官) every nine years only. Officials serving in princely establishments (wangguan 王官), the Directorate of Astronomy (qintianjian 欽天監) or in the Imperial household (yuyong jianguan 御用監官) were not evaluated during the Ming period.