Stories from Ancient China: On the Way to the Imperial Examination

In ancient times, students and scholars considered attending the imperial examination held in China's capital extremely important. After persevering for 10 years in one's studies despite hardships, after passing the county and provincial civil-service examinations, one could then become qualified to attend the imperial examination in the capital. It was not only a tremendous honour, it also had to do with one's future and achieving one's aspirations.

There was a scholar named Peng Jiao in the Ming dynasty of ancient China. He was born in the third year of Zhengtong of Emperor Yingzong (1438) in Jiangxi Province. In the eighth year of Tianshun of Emperor Yingzong, on his way to the capital to attend the imperial examination, he stayed in a tavern one night. His servant saw a gold bracelet on the ground when someone emptied a washbasin of water from upstairs. He picked it up and put it in his clothes.

Having travelled their journey for another two weeks, Peng Jiao noticed that his money was about to run out making him feel extremely anxious. When his servant took out the gold bracelet and suggested trading it for money, Peng Jiao was greatly surprised. When he heard the story about how the servant came by the gold bracelet, Peng Jiao wanted to return to the tavern immediately to return it. His servant was very perplexed and said: "If we go back we will miss the imperial examination." Peng Jiao said: "This bracelet must belong to a woman. If she loses it, her parents will suspect she has given it to someone. And the intense interrogation that could follow might cost a life." They thus hurried back to the tavern. Just as he had expected, the woman who lost the gold bracelet was about to commit suicide. Just as Peng Jiao had thought, returning the bracelet did indeed save her life.

Even though they pressed forward day and night to reach the capital, Peng Jiao still missed the examination. The imperial examination was the most important thing for scholars. But Peng Jiao put aside his own future and hurried back to the tavern to save a life. It wasn't really a simple decision to make.

Good people are always rewarded with good fortune. Peng Jiao's good deed didn't turn out badly. There was a big fire in the examination hall during the examination and many people died. The imperial court decided, therefore, to have another examination in August. Not being greedy about getting money, Peng Jiao not only saved a life, but also avoided a calamity. In the August examination, he won the title conferred on the top scorer in the highest imperial examination.

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