As a professor, the Imperial College was fascinating for me. I had not realised before how democratic it was as a system in terms of making sure bureaucratic posts were based on merit not just heredity. This was part of Confucius's philosophy.
It widely influenced education throughout East Asia and Europe. It was the only Chinese college to allow foreigners to enrol and had places reserved for ethnic minorities. What was really cool was the Emperor's lecture hall in the centre shaped like a bi (circular disk of jade with a square within representing heaven and earth). Ah, to give lectures in a room like that!
The exhibition that explains its history was very thorough with scene recreations of the working and living traditions. The only question it did not answer was at what age would the students enter the academy?
They ended the Imperial exam system in the early 1900's. The exhibition displayed two critiques of the system. First, the system caged top scholars in the nation limiting their thoughts and thus potential contributions to knowledge. Second, the system stifled innovation as the education system was geared toward learning for the exam, but not surpassing the knowledge in it.
We should think about the second more as we rush to teach to the test.