Stories from Ancient China: A Man Takes the Time to Rescue a Damsel in Distress on His Way and Places First on the Imperial Examination

In May of the tenth year of the Qianlong Period under Emperor Gaozong’s reign, two men from Wujin County named Qian Weicheng and Li Jianzhong rode their horses to the capital city to attend the imperial examination, an ancient Chinese system for recruiting government officials. After they entered Shandong Province, it rained heavily all of sudden. By the time they checked into a tavern in the town, they were both soaking wet.

Feeling exhausted, they both hit the sack as soon as they finished dinner. Shortly after Qian Weicheng fell asleep on the bed, he entered a trance and saw himself walking in the capital city. He wandered into the Ministry of Examination and saw many examinees gathering in front of a wall where the result of the imperial examination was posted. “Who is going to win first place this year? Will I pass the imperial examination?” he wondered. Qian began to read the result. He immediately saw that Li Jianzhong won first place. After a while, he finally found his name in the 30th place. He exclaimed in ecstasy, “I passed the imperial exam!”

Li Jianzhong had not fallen asleep yet. He heard Qian Weicheng’s exclamation and asked him, “What did you say? What did you pass?” Qian rubbed his eyes and replied, “I just had a dream about you winning first place and me winning 30th place in the imperial examination.” After hearing about Qian’s dream, Li Jianzhong was so excited that he couldn’t sleep. He stayed up all night anticipating the sunrise so that he could leave for the capital city.

However, it continued to pour the next day. Li Jianzhong anxiously paced back and forth in the room. Out of kindness, Qian advised him, “My brother, be patient. The rain is merely trying to keep us longer here as guests in this town. We may as well take the opportunity to study more before the exam.” Nevertheless, Li Jinzhong was still anxious to leave for the capital city. Qian Weicheng, on the other hand, took out the books from the truck and began to enjoy studying alone.

The rain lasted three days. When it finally stopped, Li Jianzhong hurried Qian Weicheng to get going as soon as they had breakfast. Because it was already very close to the day of the imperial examination, they increased the pace of the horses. They crossed a dark pine forest, passed by Sandao Bay and came to a riverbank. As they were about to cross the bridge, they suddenly heard a little girl crying for help from the forest on the other side of the river. Qian Weicheng halted his horse right away and said to Li Jianzhong, “Brother, we must hurry to her rescue!” Then he whipped the horse and crossed the bridge to rescue the little girl. But Li Jianzhong said coldly, “You may stay if you want to rescue the child. I must hurry to the capital city for the exam.” Then he rode off towards the capital city.

After Qian Weicheng entered the forest, he dismounted his horse and walked towards the direction where he thought he heard the cry for help. Soon he discovered a woman and a little girl holding each other who were both in tears. On a tree next to them, there was a noose on a tree branch. Qian Weicheng immediately knew that the woman was trying to hang herself. He approached them and asked anxiously, “Madam, why do you want to do something so foolish?” The woman looked at him absent-mindedly for a moment. Then she shook her head and tears flooded down her face.

The little girl saw that her mother wouldn’t say anything, so she made a reply on behalf of her mother. She said, “The thugs gave my father no choice to kill himself, so my mother wanted to kill herself too…” Before she could finish, they threw themselves into each other’s arms again and began to wail again. Qian Wecheng felt very sad. Tears welled up in his eyes. He tried to hold back his tears and said, “Madam, please don’t cry. I have some money.” He took out 10 taels of silver and put them into the woman’s hands. Qian Weicheng was not from a rich family. It took him a lot of time and effort to come up with about 20 taels of silver for the trip. Actually, 20 taels of silver was barely enough for the round trip. Hence, he had been very frugal during the trip. By giving away the silver, he wouldn’t have the money to return to his home if he failed to pass the test. But he didn’t think of that because all he could think about was to save these two people.

The woman looked at the money in her hands in shock. It took her a while to remember to thank her rescuer, but Qian Weicheng had already left the forest and was on his way to the capital city.

Ten days later, Li Jianzhong and Qian Weicheng met during the examination. They didn’t say anything to each other. Fifteen days later, the result of the examination was published. Qian Weicheng got first place on the examination, but Li Jianzhong came 30th. It was exactly opposite to the result that Qian Weicheng had seen in his dream. When Li Jianzhong met Qian Weicheng again, he said fiercely, “You have robbed me of my first place!” Qian Weicheng replied peacefully, “You have to ask yourself for the reason.”

The imperial examination was a way to recruit government officials. If a man turns a blind eye to the misery of the people, what will be the use of hiring such a man as a government official? Thus Heaven withdrew the honour of the first place and gave it to the man who was truly concerned for the people.

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