Stories From Ancient China: The Story of Li Zonghui

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Li Zonghui was a highly talented Chinese scholar who lived in ancient China. One day, he embarked on a journey to the imperial capital with another man to take the national civil service examination. During the trip, the man revealed a secret to Li Zonghui, “I can predict the exact menu for each man for each meal, and I am never wrong.”

With the Chinese New Year looming, Li Zonghui and his friend were on their way to Hua Yin County. The governor of Hua Yin County was an old friend of Li Zonghui’s, so Li wrote to his friend in advance so as to inform him of his arrival. Li Zonghui asked his travel companion, “Every household prepares a feast to celebrate the New Year. What do you reckon we will have for dinner when we visit my old buddy the governor tomorrow?” The man replied, “My brother, you and I each will have a cauldron of wine spiced with pepper and green onions. Then we will have wonton [Chinese dumplings] with five different kinds of stuffing, but we will not get a chance to have a formal dinner with steamed rice.” Li Zonghui was skeptical of his prediction.

When they arrived in Hua Yin County, the governor sent his men to take them to an inn before meeting him at his office. When they finally met at the governor’s office, the governor said gleefully, “You must feel chilly from traveling on the road. Quickly! Send over two large cauldrons of heated wine with pepper and green onions for my friends.” Soon the servants produced the wine for them. Next a servant approached the governor and whispered something in his ear, and they heard the governor say to the servant, “I want all kinds of them cooked.” The governor then explained, “I have an eight-year-old daughter, who often asks me, ‘Why can’t I help with housekeeping?’ Yesterday I gave in and allowed her to help prepare the wonton for New Year. The servant came to tell me that she had prepared wonton with five different kinds of stuffing, and asked me which one he should cook for my guests. I have just told him to cook all of them.” Before long the servant produced two large bowls of wonton, which the two of them savored heartily.

They had no sooner finished the wonton when a messenger reported to the governor, “The Majesty’s messenger is here.” Since it was customary for the governor to go meet the royal messenger instead of letting the royal messenger come to him, the governor politely bid farewell to his guests by forming a ball with his hands [an ancient Chinese custom] and then hurried away on horseback. The two of them left the governor’s office and tried to have dinner at the inn, but the chef had already gone home for the holiday.

They checked out and left Hua Yin County. After walking for several miles, they exchanged looks and burst into laughter. It all came true: they did not have a formal dinner with steamed rice. Wasn’t it an incredible story? It appears that even our meals are predestined and arranged by heaven.

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