There is a story about Yan Shu (991 – 1055 AD) in The Dream Pool Essays
. When Yan Shu was young, he was recommended to the imperial court by Zhang Zhibai, a prominent person. The emperor summoned Yan to the imperial court while the national-level imperial exam was taking place, and ordered Yan to take the exam right away. Upon seeing the topic in the exam, Yan Shu said, "Your majesty, I used this topic for a poem ten days ago. I still have the rough draft with me. I beg for a new topic." The emperor appreciated his candidness.
While Yan Shu served as a government official, the country was at peace, so all officials were allowed to indulge in entertainment. All restaurants and taverns were equipped with special areas blocked off with heavy curtains, where officials could enjoy themselves. At this period of time, Yan Shu was very poor, financially unable to go out for entertainment. Instead, he stayed home and studied with his brothers. One day when the imperial court was selecting an official for the East Palace where the crown prince resided, a rumor came out of the royal palace that the appointment of Yan Shu had been approved by the emperor, and the administrative ministers couldn’t understand why. On the following day when the ministers presented themselves in the royal court, the emperor explained, "Lately, from what I heard, all ministers have been having a lot of fun except for Yan Shu, who stays home studying with his brothers. Such a prudent, cautious person is well qualified to be the official at the East Palace."
After his official appointment, Yan Shu was granted permission to see the emperor, where he was told the reason for his appointment. With his honest and straightforward habit of talking, Yan Shu replied, "Your majesty, it isn't that I don't like entertainment; it is just that I don't have the money to pursue it." The emperor further appreciated Yan Shu, for he knew that Yan Shu would be faithful and serve with honesty. When Emperor Renzong (1010 – 1063 AD) was on the throne, Yan Shu was finally promoted to an important position.
Because of his sincerity and faithfulness, Yan Shu was promoted repeatedly to important positions during the Northern Song Dynasty and became a very wealthy man. This is a phenomenon that most people in China today would find difficult to believe.
In traditional Chinese culture, people who are faithful and sincere are noble and respected.
Confucius said, "People without sincerity and faithfulness cannot progress nor make a mark in the world."
In the book Daxue
(The Great Learning), there are phrases like: "Sincerity, righteous mind, cultivate the body, regulate the family, rule the state, and pacify the world."
In the book Zhong Yong
(The Doctrine of the Mean) there is a phrase: "A man of noble character believes sincerity is most important."
The scholar Zhuxi wrote: "Sincerity is the basis of the five moral standards as well as the foundation of all business."