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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A Chinese mandarin

A mandarin was a bureaucrat in imperial China, and also in the monarchist days of Vietnam where the system of Imperial examinations and scholar-bureaucrats was adopted under Chinese influence.

The English term comes from the Portuguese mandarim, borrowed from Malay məntəri, and ultimately coming from Sanskrit mantrin (Devanagari: मंत्री) (meaning councilor or minister).[1][2] The term is also used to refer to the northern spoken variety of Chinese because it was the language used among officials during the Ming and Qing dynasties. According to Malaysian Royal Professor Ungku Abdul Aziz, the term had its origin when the Portuguese living in Malacca during the Malacca Sultanate wanted to meet with the higher officials in China, and used the term "menteri", but with an added "n" due to their poor grasp of the language, to refer to higher officials.[3]

In the West, the term mandarin is associated with the concept of the scholar-official, who immersed himself in poetry, literature, and Confucian learning in addition to performing civil service duties.

For around 1300 years, from 605 to 1905, mandarins were selected by merit through the extremely rigorous imperial examination.

China has had civil servants since at least the Zhou Dynasty. However most high ranking positions were filled by relatives of the sovereign and the nobility. It was not until the Tang Dynasty when the final form of the mandarin was completed with the replacement of the nine-rank system. The mandarins were the founders and core of the Chinese gentry. The mandarins were replaced with a modern civil service after the fall of the Qing Dynasty.

In modern English, mandarin is also used to refer to any (though usually a senior) civil servant, often in a satirical context, and particularly in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth countries.


  1. ^ Mandarin, Online Etymology Dictionary
  2. ^ Mandarin Merriam-Webster
  3. ^ Ku Seman Ku Hussain; Hafizahril Abdul Hamid (19 July 2009). "PPSMI satu kesilapan [PPSMI a mistake]" (in Malay). Mingguan Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur: Utusan Melayu (M) Berhad): p. 7. "Jadi perkataan menteri itu disebut kepada "menterin" dan apabila mereka pergi ke negeri China untuk berjumpa dengan pegawai tinggi akhirnya perkataan "menterin" tadi bertukar kepada "Mandarin"."  


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