A Person's Future Changes with One’s Thoughts and Actions
There was a xiucai (someone who has gained academic knowledge and passed the basic level of imperial civil service exam) named Zhang Sheng from Jingkou District, Zhenjiang City, Jiangsu Province, that came from an underprivileged family. Zhang behaved like a scoundrel and caused lots of trouble for fellow villagers, but in reality he was straightforward and generous. He often gave away whatever he could extort from the rich to help the poor. Although many impoverished villagers benefited from his actions, he himself was destitute.
One Chinese New Year's Eve, Zhang Sheng ran out of food. He thought above borrowing money from friends and family, but there wasn’t one who he was on friendly terms with, plus many of them were snobbish, sly people. He couldn’t bring himself to beg either. Therefore Zhang found a piece of old fabric in his home and took it to the pawnshop. He bargained hard and received one thousand wen (ancient Chinese monetary unit) for the fabric. He bought one bucket of rice, some food, and wax paper. He placed all the items in a basket and headed home. It was dark and snowy, and the ground was slippery. Just before he reached his house he slipped and fell. All the contents of the basket fell into the mud. Zhang Sheng quickly went home, fetched a lamp, and returned to look for the goods in the mud. To his surprise, he also found a very heavy bag. He opened the bag at home and found a few gold ingots, several dozen silver coins, a handful of foreign currency, several hundred pieces of loose change, an accounting book, and several memos. He learned that these items belonged to a silk shop. Zhang Sheng was very happy and thought about how he could live a comfortable life with what he had found. Then it occurred to him that an accounting clerk for a store might have lost it on the road. If the clerk could not come up with the money, the shop owner will want the clerk’s life. Zhang Sheng decided to leave the bag at home, took a lamp, and waited in the cold for the store clerk to return.
Not long after, Zhang Sheng saw an old man and two young men walking towards him, carrying lanterns with a silk shop's name inscribed on them. The three followed the road illuminated by the light, looking panicky. Zhang Sheng assumed they were the owners of the bag. He approached them and asked, "What are you looking for?" The old man saw Zhang Sheng and knew he was a rascal. He did not say anything and wanted to walk away. Zhang Sheng raised his voice and asked "You folks are carrying lanterns searching for something. Tell me quickly. Did you lose something?" The old man reluctantly replied, "We were collecting money owed to us earlier and passed by here. It was snowy and rainy and we were in a hurry. We realized that we had lost a bag, so we came back to look for it. Someone must have taken it since we cannot find it now." Zhang Sheng asked him about the contents of the bag. The old man told him that there were silver coins, an accounting book, and so on. Everything matched the items in the bag Zhang Sheng had picked up. Zhang Sheng said, "Why don't you come to my place? I know who found your bag." Then he took the old man to his home, showed him the bag and said, "Check the items in this bag and see if they belong to you." The old man was shocked and didn’t dare to say anything. Zhang Sheng consoled him, “You don’t need to be suspicious. If I wanted to take the contents of this bag, I wouldn’t have waited in the wind and snow to tell you this!” He passed the bag to the old man. The old man cried and replied, "I'm in charge of collecting money. Had I lost this bag, even if I sold my household and all my belongings, I would not have been able to repay it and I would have had nowhere to turn. Thank you for saving my life!" The old man kowtowed to Zhang Sheng many times and offered him half of the contents of the bag. Zhang Sheng declined his offer, but the old man insisted that he would not leave unless Zhang Sheng agreed. Zhang Sheng replied with a chuckle, "If you really insist, then why don't you lend me two pieces of silver so that I can buy a meal for New Year's Eve. I'd be very grateful!" The old man saw his sincerity and said no more. He gave Zhang Sheng two silver coins, thanked him, and left.
With the money, Zhang Sheng bought some grain and fruit and offered them to the gods. He and his wife had a New Year's Eve dinner. That night he had a dream. He dreamed that he was tied up and taken to someone that looked like a king. The king scolded him, "You have done many wicked deeds. If you do not change, you will become a hungry ghost!" Zhang Sheng kowtowed and asked for forgiveness. Someone then brought a report to the king. After reading it, the king's attitude changed and he said, "This is a very kind deed. Good enough to offset his previous misconduct. Let's restore his name in the 'registry of prosperity' and this year's passing list for the civil service examination." The king said to Zhang Sheng, "When you return home, you must correct your past misdeeds and do good without reservation. Then you'll have a bright future!" After Zhang Sheng woke up, he knew that the gods had forgiven him because he had returned the bag to the owner. He was grateful for their mercy and protection. After sunrise, he vowed to the gods that he would become morally upstanding, cease to do ill, and begin to do good in order to make up for the wrongs he had done.
Not long after, the old man visited wearing formal clothing. He said, “If it wasn’t for your kindness, my entire family’s lives would’ve ended. I told the owner about this. He will repay you for sure.” Zhang Sheng thanked him humbly. Zhang Sheng focused on performing kind deeds, yet his life became more impoverished, often going days without a warm meal.
At the beginning of autumn, all the xiucai traveled to Jinling City, the capital of Jiangsu Province, to take part in the provincial-level civil service examination. Zhang Sheng was penniless and could hardly feed himself, let alone think about taking the examination. Just then he ran into the old man who asked him, "Why don't you take the exam?" Zhang Sheng said he did not have any money for the trip. The old man replied, "You are a good person. How could you not participate in the civil service examination? Please go home and wait for me!" As soon as Zhang Sheng got home, the old man arrived with a young man. The old man said, "This is the owner of the silk shop. He was very moved by your righteous behavior and had wanted to repay you for a long time! When he heard that you did not have the money to participate in the exam, he wanted to offer you 20 gold pieces and four piculs (English word for a Chinese measurement of weight, one picul is about 133 pounds) of white rice." The old man took out 20 pieces of gold from his own bag and said, "I saved this from my salary, and I would like to give it to you as well so that you can travel to Jinling to take the exam!" Zhang Sheng tried but was unable to refuse the offer. He took the money and immediately caught a boat to Jinling, took the test, and passed it. Later, the old man and the owner offered Zhang Sheng enough funds so he could take the capital-level civil examination. Zhang Sheng also passed this exam to become a jinshi and became a government official. A poem was written about Zhang Sheng’s story.
A person's thought of compassion is most precious. Because of this charitable thought, Zhang Sheng was removed from the "hungry ghost list" and moved up to the "registry of prosperity" within a short time! Because his true intention was always to help the poor and the needy, he was not tempted to keep the bag of money and so changed his future. This story shows that a person’s fortune is not immutable, rather it is dependent on one’s choices in life.