Episode 52: Morphy’s Law

Click here to listen

Do you have the occasions that when you are really afraid to see somebody or don’t want to see somebody, they just show up in front of you even it doesn’t happen like every day. Maybe it can be supported by Morphy’s law. Today I am going to talk about s a story like this between two men.

This interesting and dramatic story is from the book SanYanErPai三言二拍, a collection of stories from Ming Dynasty 明朝. It says during the time of ZhengTong 正统, which is between the year 1436 ~ 1449, there was a man called XianYutong 鲜于同, who was a Xiucai 秀才 in the province Guangxi 广西. Xiucai is the lowest level in the scholar officials. We talked about the Chinese Imperial Examination before, a system to select candidates for the bureaucracy. XianYutong was extremely knowledgeable but had bad luck. He was already around 50 years old but was still not an important official in the town. He attended the exam every year and failed every year.


When he was 57 years old, Mr. Xian went to attend XiangShi 乡试, the exam in the province held every three years. We mentioned before that there are several levels of the examination. Mr. Xian had to pass another exam before attending this one.The scholar official named KuaiYushi 蒯遇时 who was in charge of the exam picked the article he thought was the best written. And Mr. Xian finally was lucky this time. He got the first place.

You know what will happen from other stories I talked about the exam before. The scholar Mr. Kuai found out Mr. Xian was an old short man with patched clothes and was so disappointed. Mr. Kuai was talented himself and got really high position at a young age and he was more related to young smart men. Another reason is that people with an old age wouldn’t have many years in the position before they retired so as the person who picked them would rather have a younger man.

Anyways, Mr. Xian got the certificate for the exam in the province. The exam that time was about the book LiJi 礼记, a Confucianism classic. He ran into Mr. Kuai , the same official in charge this time again. Mr. Kuai was thinking, “Hmm Mr. Xian is an old man and he has a relatively mature way of writing. This time in order not to choose him, I would try to pick the article looking like written from a younger person. Maybe the young person does’t have a mature mind, however, has time to learn more.” But who knows? Mr. Xian had diarrhea on the day of the exam and quickly finished the article without thinking too much. So you know what happened. Mr. Kuai picked Mr. Xian’s article again. After Mr. Kuai found out it was this old man he picked again, he was so regret and out of justice, he gave the fifth place to Mr. Xian.


Now Mr.Xian got the permission for the next round the exam called HuiShi 会试, the exam with people selected by the whole country held every three years. He was so confident this time after passing two rounds in a row. He was on the way to the exam held in the capital city and had a dream of the exam where he was writing about another classic book ShiJing 诗经 not the book LiJi 礼记he was thinking. So he changed his subject he applied earlier.

Mr. Kuai, the official in charge of the exam tried to avoid grading Mr. Xian’s articles this time. He knew Mr. Xian applied the subject LiJi so he chose to grade the subject ShiJing, the subject Mr.Xian changed to. Mr. Kuai thought two steps forward this time, he was thinking “even if Mr. Xian changed to this subject, I would still choose the articles that looking like written by a young man” Smart as your guys who are listening, you probably already guessed the ending. Mr. Xian’s article was chosen again. Since he read LiJi most of the time and didn’t know much about ShiJing. His understanding of the book was like a young man.

The last round of exam is called DianShi 殿试 held in the palace and the articles are picked by the emperor himself. In the end, Mr. Xian got the second place in the whole country.

Mr. Kuai was too shocked about the result and found out the whole thing by asking Mr. Xian. And he accepted the reality and said, “this is the top scholar official chosen by destiny. ”

There are some stories about how after Mr. Xian became a scholar official at a high position he was grateful for Mr. Kuai and Mr. Kuai changed his mind toward Mr. Xian. They became great friends after all. This part is never as interesting as the part how they met and knew each other.

What can I say? There are too many surprises in life.


三言二拍 SanYanErPai

礼记 LiJi

诗经 ShiJing

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s