Meaning "presented" or "advanced," the jinshi was the degree awarded to scholars who had successfully completed the imperial civil service examination. As early as the Song Dynasty (9601279), the examination consisted of three parts: a local, prefectural examination; a provincial examination; and a metropolitan examination that culminated in an examination proctored by the emperor himself. Phenomenally competitive, the examination earned a reputation for producing China's most distinguished statesmen during and after the Song period. As a unifying force, the examination impressed upon its scholar-officials a common intellectual tradition and code of ethics.
Source: Conrad Schirokauer. A Brief History of Chinese and Japanese Civilizations. 2nd ed. Fort Worth, TX: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1989.