Stories from Ancient China: Honest Yan Shu

Yan Shu lived in the Song Dynasty of ancient China and was known to be kind and honest from the time he was very young. He was also bright and eager to learn. When he was only seven years old, he was able to write excellent articles. By 15 years old, he was honoured as a genius and recommended to the Emperor by the county governor due to his extreme intelligence.

Yan Shu could have been interviewed or examined by the Emperor directly, but he insisted on attending the formal imperial examination for provincial governor's selection. He considered that the result obtained from the imperial examination would actually reflect his true knowledge and talents. The main examiner approved his request and let him participate in the exam.

The exam began. When Yan Shu received the exam paper, he found that the question was the one he had just practised. He picked up his writing brush and thought for a while. He then raised his hand and said to the main examiner: "Sir, I have practised this question at home already. If I do it again, isn't that cheating? Would you please prepare another question for me?"

The examiner heard his words and agreed to give him a different question.

When Yan Shu received his new question, he read it several times and thought for a moment. Then he picked up his brush and wrote the essay without stopping. The examiner was shocked. He thought that this student was so quick and brilliant and that he was nothing short of a genius.

Yan Shu's requests to participate in the formal exam and receive a new test question gained people's respect because he was so honest. The news spread among the students who attended the exam and even to the Emperor's ears. The Emperor, Song Zhengzong, immediately asked to see Yan Shu. He praised him: "You have solid knowledge and intelligence. But more importantly, you are an honest person and don't cheat. This high moral standard is more precious."

In ancient China, the number one criterion for assigning a person to a position was to gauge that person's moral quality. It did not matter if it was to the court, as a provincial governor, to a county office or for a store or business, if a person had great capability and intelligence but poor moral standards, no one wanted to offer that person a position. Yan Shu was honoured with a high level official position in the court because of his honesty.

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