Time flies as quickly as a galloping horse. A man of virtue knows to treasure time for the precious gold that it is. The historian named Liu Shu (1032 – 1078 AD) in the Northern Song Dynasty (960 – 1127 AD) was known for his lofty character and noble aspirations. He was diligent in learning throughout his life. He was also a man of great self-discipline. He made a reasonable plan for each day in his life and never wasted time.
Liu studied the Confucian classics when he was young and tried every day to commit some part of them to memory. In fact, he was so interested in memorizing the classics of Confucius that he often forgot to eat or go to bed. When Liu Shu was eight, a guest in his home said Confucius didn't have any brothers. Liu Shu immediately quoted a relevant passage to prove that Confucius did have a brother. His response amazed everyone present. Liu Shu was always able to answer questions raised by his young friends. He told them that the answers could be found in the books and that they ought to read more to find the answers.
At the age of 18, Liu Shu had one of the highest marks at the imperial civil service examination. Yan Shu (991 – 1055 AD), the prime minister at the time, was impressed by Liu Shu's excellent answers on the classics, so he invited him to give lectures at the royal college. Yan Shu even took a group of government officials with him to attend Liu Shu's lectures. Liu Shu's profound knowledge and understandings of the classics, as well as his excellent character, were so mesmerizing that he inspired a trend to study the classics.
Once, Liu Shu heard that Song Cidao (1019 – 1079 AD), a scholar and government official in Bozhou, had a large collection of books, he traveled several hundred miles just to borrow books. Song Cidao invited Liu Shu to stay at his home and welcomed him with a feast. But Liu Shu said, "You, of all people, must know that I didn't come here for food or drink. Could I please ask you to remove all the dishes? I have come to seek knowledge in your excellent collection of books."
After Song Cidao took Liu Shu to his private library, Liu began to read and transcribe books day and night for over two weeks, until he had studied and transcribed all the books he was interested in. Song Cidao sighed, "It's admirable that you were able to endure such hardship." Liu Shu smiled, "What hardship? The more I read, the more clear-headed I become. It is an infinite joy to read!"
At the time, history books were not part of the curriculum for the civil service examination therefore many scholars ignored them. Only Liu Shu read a wide variety of books to gain a deep understanding of history that allowed him to perform clear commentary. He was familiar with the details of thousands of years of history like the back of his hand. When Sima Guang (1019 – 1086 AD) was compiling Zi Zhi Tong Jian
, his first choice for editor was Liu Shu. Once, Sima Guang, Liu Shu and others went sightseeing at Mount Wanan. They found an ancient stone monument beside the mountain trail with the names of generals during the Five Dynasties (907 – 960 AD). Nobody knew who they were, but Liu Shu was able to chronicle each of their deeds from start to end. When people returned home, they examined the history records and found that Liu Shu had described each one exactly.
Liu Shu was a very forgiving and honest government official. He spoke the truth at all times. He advocated following the way of the two sage kings, Yao and Shun, and governed his people with kindness. Because he addressed the needs of his people and listened to their voices, they admired and loved him. He held himself to a very strict standard. Except for a small amount of time for sleep, Liu Shu spent all his available time studying and doing meaningful things. Regardless of what was going on around him, Liu Shu made sure that he studied every day. He once wrote a book in which he listed 20 mistakes he made and 18 things that he could have done better. He readily looked within himself in time to mend his mistakes. The honesty and courage Liu Shu manifested were truly commendable.
Since ancient times, all those who have harbored noble ambitions have treasured time. There was an ancient saying, "A sage will not value a foot-long piece of jade, but will an inch of time." Tao Yuanming (369 – 427 AD), a famous poet in the Jin Dynasty (266 – 420 AD), once said, "The prime of one's life does not come again as sure as the morning of a day will not reappear that day. I advise you to treasure time, for time will not wait for you." Their excellent cultivation of moral values and lofty character have given us a great lesson to learn.