The Wise Use of Writing Skills Saves People's Lives
Wang Zhongcheng was a native of Yangzhou in the Qing Dynasty (1644 – 1912 AD). His father died when he was a child, and his family was poor. Wang took on writing litigation papers in order to support his mother and himself. At age 20, he was ranked highly in the county examination that was the first step to becoming an imperial scholar.But he then failed the examination held in the fall several times.
On New Year's Eve, he had a dream in which two men in black called him into a magnificent, official hall. In the center of the hall, a king sat in a chair and two officials dressed in red stood by his sides, holding a long paper with many names on it. The king was writing his decisions on the list with a brush pen. After he was done writing, one of the red-robed officials called Wang by name to enter.
Wang entered the hall and knelt on the floor. He noticed that the king had a grave facial expression. The king threw a book at him and told him to read it. Wang saw his name in the book and, following his name, it said that Wang was supposed to have passed one level of the imperial examination, then gain entry into the Hanlin Academy (an imperial institute for top scholars), and eventually become a governor. But because he wrote fraudulent litigations on behalf of other people against his own conscience, all of his future achievements had been erased.
After he finished reading his verdict, the king banged on his long table and asked, "Have you read it clearly?" Wang kowtowed repeatedly, asking for forgiveness. The king said, "Considering that you serve your mother with much filial piety, if you correct your behavior immediately, I will return your fame and fortune to you. If you continue doing bad deeds, I will take away your life!" The king then told the two people in black to show Wang Zhongcheng to the door.
One of the men said to Wang, "The king's verdict is about next year's examination in the fall. If you correct your mistakes and focus on doing good deeds, you will pass the exam with high grades. Do not forget the king's earnest advice." He then gave Wang a push, and Wang suddenly woke up.
Everything in the dream was so vivid that he could not forget it. He thought, "I am a poor man with little resources to help others. If I give up my practice of writing litigations, what else can I do to correct my sins?" After a sleepless night, he suddenly enlightened, "Fraudulent writing can kill, but can’t writing for justice save lives? If I apply my knowledge in the opposite way, then the divine beings will take care of me."
From that day on, whenever he saw a client with a case, he would try to resolve the conflict out of court. For those without a good reason, he would offer his opinion and ask them to withdraw their case. For those with good reason but were unable to state their arguments strongly, he would skillfully write good arguments on their behalf and help them to receive justice.
After nearly one year of putting forth this kind of effort, Wang placed first in the highest level of county examination in the following fall. The result earned him a monthly government stipend. This greatly encouraged him and he worked even harder for others.
A young widow who lived in Mr. Wang's neighborhood was pregnant with her late husband's child. Her husband had left a decent amount of wealth upon death.
Relatives of her late husband's family wrongfully accused her, saying that her pregnancy was the result of an extramarital affair and they did not want the family lineage to be spoiled. The relatives wanted the court to send her back to her parents' home and refused to give her any of her husband's property. The widow’s family was weak and afraid of getting involved, so they would not argue on her behalf. In these shameful circumstances, the woman found no one sympathetic. She cried day and night and vowed to commit suicide.
A neighbor told Wang about the woman's plight. After a thorough investigation, Wang was convinced that the woman was a loyal wife. He visited her parents and helped them to write an appeal. He then encouraged the woman's mother to go to court. The woman's brothers were very reluctant to do this, but Wang encouraged them to do the right thing for the sake of morality and justice. Finally, they were all moved by Wang's pure heart and they gathered enough strength to deliver the appeal to the judge.
Wang Zhongcheng then called for a meeting, inviting his classmates and other influential elders in town. He told them that the county magistrate would openly read the Emperor’s statement on the first day of the month at Wenmiao Temple, and he suggested the group should bring the woman's case to the county magistrate’s attention at that time. One man said that this case had nothing to do with him and he was unwilling to handle it. Mr. Wang said: "This case involves protecting a women's reputation and a child's interests. It deals with principles of virtue and justice. Everyone who reads a book and understands the principles should take this as his own business. We are not taking the case forward because of self-interest. This is not defiance of the authorities. If the magistrate blames us, I will take full responsibility." Everyone was touched by his righteousness and agreed to support him.
When the county magistrate arrived at Wenmiao Temple, the group turned in their letter and asked him to review it. The magistrate was a good official with a clear mind. After he read it, he said: "This is a matter of people's honor and dignity. I invite everyone here to carefully investigate the facts. If her husband's family intentionally framed her, then we must punish them according to the law. But I suggest that your investigation must be based on facts, so that you do not bring more trouble to yourselves." Mr. Wang stood up and explained his investigation. He presented the case with clear logic and facts. The magistrate was impressed by his presentation and praised him.
Several days later, the court had a hearing on the case. Under intense questioning, the husband's family members were speechless and finally admitted that they had falsely framed the woman. The case was closed and the woman's reputation was restored. The woman asked her parents to offer 100 gold coins to Mr. Wang, but he refused to take the money. When the family insisted, Mr. Wang became angry and said, "Do you think I did this for money?" He was very adamant about not accepting the money. Finally the woman's family packed up the money and left.
On the next New Year's Eve, Mr. Wang saw the same two men in black again in his dream. They took him to the same place as the year before. The king said to him in a pleasant voice, "I compliment your quick action correcting your sins. I have returned your scholarly achievements to you already. Originally, you were supposed to score very high in the next imperial examination. But your efforts to save the woman and child moved the gods in heaven, so you will pass the examination a year ahead of time. You should continue doing good deeds and not slack off. You will have a very bright future." Wang kowtowed again to thank the king.
After Wang woke up from the dream, he told his mother and wife all about it. From then on, he did his utmost to perform kind deeds. The next year, he scored first place in the provincial examination and entered the Hanlin Academy. Later, Wang became a governor, exactly as stated in his dream.