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UN Economic and Social Council. Committee of Experts on Public Administration.

Antiquity to the 19th century
Dating back to Antiquity, Pharaohs, kings and emperors have required pages, treasurers, and tax collectors to administer the practical business of government. Prior to the 19th century, staffing of most public administrations was rife with nepotism, favouritism, and political patronage, which was often referred to as a “spoils system”. Public administrators have long been the “eyes and ears” of rulers. In medieval times, the abilities to read and write, add and subtract were as dominated by the educated elite as public employment. Consequently, the need for expert civil servants whose ability to read and write formed the basis for developing expertise in such necessary activities as legal record-keeping, paying and feeding armies and levying taxes. As the European Imperialist age progressed and the militarily powers extended their hold over other continents and people, the need for a sophisticated public administration grew.

The field of management may well be said to have originated in ancient China,[22] including possibly the first highly centralized bureaucratic state, and the earliest (by the second century BC) example of an administration based on merit through testing.[23] Far in advance of the rest of the world until almost the end of the 18th century, Sinologist Herrlee G. Creel and other scholars find the influence of Chinese administration in Europe by the 12th century, for example, in Fredrick II’s promulgations, characterized as the “birth certificate of modern bureaucracy”.[24][25][26][27]

Though Chinese administration cannot be traced to any one individual, emphasizing a merit system figures of the Fa-Jia like 4th century BC reformer Shen Buhai (400–337 BC) may have had more influence than any other, and might be considered its founder, if not valuable as a rare pre-modern example of abstract theory of administration. Creel writes that, in Shen Buhai, there are the “seeds of the civil service examination”, and that, if one wishes to exaggerate, it would “no doubt be possible to translate Shen Buhai’s term Shu, or technique, as ‘science'”, and argue that he was the first political scientist, though Creel does “not care to go this far”.[28]