Traditional Chinese Culture: Being Humble Is the Best Way to Conduct Yourself

PureInsight | September 12, 2005

[] Zhang Weiyan (張畏岩) was a man from Jiangyin region in the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644 A.D.) He was a very learned man and was very talented in writing poetry and prose. In fact, he had a very good reputation among the literary men and scholars of his time. However, he did not pass the provincial civil service examination when he took it for the first time in Nanjing. When he failed to find his name on the pass list, he threw a tantrum and angrily shouted that the examiner must have been blind. A Taoist stood nearby with a smile watching Zhang Weiyan making a scene. Zheng then transferred his anger to the Taoist. The Taoist told him, "The article you wrote on the exam must be terrible." Zhang became even angrier. He shouted at the Taoist, "You haven't even read my article. How could you possibly know it was bad?" The Taoist replied, "I heard that one must have a peaceful mind to write a truly great article. Now that I see you cursing the examiner and making a lot of complaints, it is obvious that you are filled with rage and grievances. How could you possibly have written a great article?"

Zhang Weiyan found the Taoist's words to be very true, so he humbly asked for his advice on how to pass the exam. The Taoist said, "Whether you will pass the exam or not is determined by your destiny. If you are not destined to pass the exam, it is useless even if you are capable of writing excellent articles. You have to change yourself." Zhang asked, "Since it is determined by my destiny, how can I possibly alter my destiny?" The Taoist replied, "Heaven creates your life, but you create your destiny with your deeds. As long as you do your very best in doing good deeds and accumulate virtue, what good fortune can you not have?"

Zhang Weiyan asked, "I am but a destitute scholar. I have no financial power to do any charity work." The Taoist said, "Doing good deeds and accumulating virtue both come from your heart. As long as you constantly harbor the wish in your heart to do good deeds and accumulate virtue, you are accumulating enormous virtue. Take humbleness as an example. It won't cost you anything to be humble. Why didn't you examine yourself to see whether you had studied enough? Why didn't you take the lesson and eat your humble pie? Why did you accuse the examiner of being unjust instead?

After the conversation with the Taoist, Zhang Weiyan began to suppress his arrogance. He was vigilant at all times not to go astray again. He tried hard to cultivate his kindness and do good deeds every day.

Three years later, he had a dream where he went to a house situated in a high place. He saw a book that records the names of people who have passed the civil service examination. But there were many blank lines without any name. He didn't understand why these lines were blank, so he asked a man next to him, "What is this?" The man replied, "This is the pass list for this year's civil service examination." Zhang asked, "Why are there so many blank lines then?" The man replied, "All the examinees are evaluated every three years. Only those examinees who have accumulated a lot of virtue and did not make mistakes in terms of morality will be added to this book. All the blank lines belonged to people who were supposed to pass this year's civil service examination. However, they have recently committed sins. Consequently, their names were removed from this book." Next the man pointed at a blank line, "For the past three years, you have been very careful not to commit any sin. Perhaps it is time to fill the blank line with your name. I hope that you will treasure what you have earned and won't make any mistakes again!"

Indeed Zhang Weiyan passed that year's provincial civil examination in 105th place.

Note: The provincial civil service examination was held every three years in China.

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