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What is the difference between 秀才, 进士, 举人, and 甲第? They all seem to refer to students who did particularly well under the ancient Chinese imperial examination system. What's the precise difference? Which ones are still used today?

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(Posting the question in Chinese is an experiment to attract Chinese visitors who'd prefer to read and respond to questions in their native language. We'll see how it goes.) – Jon Mar 27 '12 at 0:46
Errr, you want Chinese answer, or English answer? – coolcfan Mar 27 '12 at 1:43
@coolcfan either way. The convention on other language SEs is to answer in the language of the original question. I'd say the assumption should be that questions asked in both languages can be answered in either. – Jon Mar 27 '12 at 2:43
Very nice! +1 from me. :) I edited the formatting to make it clearer we have 2 question bodies and not one. @coolcfan You can reply in either, like Jon said, or choose the best solution and reply in both languages! :) – Alenanno Mar 27 '12 at 8:34

It's just like you attend the exam held in small village, then you passed it and became one of the top students. We call you 秀才 at that time.

After that, you are going to atten the exam held in a province scale, if you passed it also, then you became 举人.

Only those 举人 can attend the national exam, you passed it so you became 贡士.

Only then, you can attend the exam held by the emperor and if you succeed, you became 进士. And the top one is called 状元, the second one is called 榜眼, and the thrid one is called 探花.

甲第 means the [top successful candidate in an examination].

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I would suggest you read this article on wikipedia: Imperial examination(科举制度) I bet you will see the word 状元 more often nowadays, It always used to refer to the rank #1 person on any competitive activities.

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Do you want to know the original meaning or the current meaning. Anyway these pages on Baidu explain the main differences (both historical and currently):

Apparently my reputation is to low to post more than 2 links, but if you replace the numbers in the link above with 168295796 and 175693117 you will find more information.

EDIT: In the meantime my reputation has increased a little bit, so here are the links:

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秀才 is still used in my home town. When people think a young man or kid is smart, they use this word to praise him, but usually used for male, not for female.

状元 is used more often nowadays, especially for a young man who get a pretty good score during the college entrance examination. This word is usually for male too, but you still can used for female, that is because it happened in ancient china, some female get this position by some reason. and there are some opera for this deeds.

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What are the female corresponding expressions? – Alenanno Mar 29 '12 at 10:31
Female is forbidden to be educated in ancient china, and a female try to get a 状元 can lead to a death punishment. I know it is unfair, that is just happened in old times. So there is no corresponding expression for them, if people talk a female 状元, they just says 女状元, add a 'female' character before it. – chenyi1976 Mar 29 '12 at 22:40

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