Stories from History: Bi Yuan's Compassion Brought Him First Place in the Imperial Examination

PureInsight | June 3, 2007

[] Before Bi
Yuan became a high-ranking official of the Qing Dynasty, he used to be
a low-grade clerk with the Imperial General Command Centre.  His
job was proof reading and filing the reports that were presented by all
levels of states as memoranda to the throne.

During the 25th year of the Emperor Qian Long period, Bi
Yuan and his colleagues, Zhu Chong Guang and Tong Feng, attended a
general examination for the selection of imperial officials.  The
three of them successfully passed the exam and were selected to
participate in the highest level imperial examination that would be
presided over by the Emperor.  All of them devoted themselves to
preparing for the exam which would be held in a few days.  

On the night before the exam, the three of them were on duty at the
office.  Zhu Chong Guang and Tong Feng wanted to go home early to
prepare for the next day's exam.  They said to Bi Yuan, "Our
calligraphy is excellent.  We have a good chance to win the
championship.  But you are not good at calligraphy.  You do
not have any hope at all of succeeding in the exam.  We suggest it
would be better if you did us a favor.  You stay in the office
tonight and work hard on the workload that is for all three of us."

Bi Yuan thought what they had said was right and agreed to stay in the
office alone.  Not long after they left, a report about opening up
the wasteland to grow food grain in Xing Jiang territory, which was
presented by the governor-general of Shan Gan, was delivered to the
office.  Bi Yuan had to meticulously proof check the report by
himself.  He was too busy to do the review for the exam.  

The next day, on 26 April of that year, the final imperial examination
was held at the Imperial Hall of Supreme Harmony.  After the exam
paper was distributed to all participants, Bi Yuan opened the paper and
found that the topic was nothing else than to describe a strategic view
towards opening up the wasteland to grow food grain in Xing Jiang
territory.  Bi Yuan applied the knowledge and experience that he
had gained from the previous night's work to demonstrate a profound
grasp of the topic on the exam paper.  The exam was over. 
The imperial exam assessor appreciated Bi Yuan's profound view very
much, despite the fact that his calligraphy was not very good, and
considerately ranked him the fourth on the list.  

After listening to the assessor's presentation of all the exam papers,
Emperor Qian Long was very impressed by Bi Yuan's profound
understanding and ordered that he be ranked the champion.   

Afterwards, Zhu Chong Guang and Tong Feng sighed without ceasing when
they heard about what had happened in the office on the night before
the exam.   

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