(Clearwisdom.net) Zhang Tingyu was an imperial scholar and the secretary of defense under Emperor Yongzheng (1722 – 1735 A.D.), who ruled during China's Qing Dynasty. Despite his high level position in the royal court, Zhang Tingyu was modest and would give career opportunities to the most qualified people regardless of their background. He also expected his children to be frugal, be content with what they had and value virtue.

Zhang Ruoai was his oldest son. After passing the township and provincial civil service examinations, Zhang Ruoai advanced to the final examination, which was to be held at the royal court. The emperor judged the outcome of the final examination. After the royal court officials who served as judges read the final candidates' essays, they affixed seals over the candidates' names before submitting the essays to Emperor Yongzheng. He held final responsibility for selection of the winners of the civil service examination.

When Emperor Yongzheng read the fifth essay, he was deeply impressed by several sentences. “When witnessing others' kind deeds, government officials should encourage each other to set similar examples. When witnessing others' faults, government officials should try to discipline each other so one would not to repeat these faults. If we do not cheat, we don't need to guard against others. If we are sincere, we will be trusted. If we can achieve these things, all government officials at the central and local governments will work as one body.” Emperor Yongzheng felt very encouraged by this essay, for he thought it was full of sincerity and honesty. He commented that this candidate was as virtuous as government officials in ancient times. He decided to award third place at the A level to this candidate. When Emperor Yongzheng opened the seals, he discovered that it was written by the oldest son of Zhang Tingyu, the imperial scholar. He immediately sent a message of the good news and expected Zhang Tingyu to be overcome with joy and pride.

Emperor Yongzheng did not expect that Zhang Tingyu would immediately request a meeting. Zhang Tingyu said to the emperor, “I have a high office in the royal court, so it would be inappropriate to award my son, who is still very young, third place in the imperial civil service examination.” Yongzheng Emperor explained, “I was fair in my judgment. I did not give him third place because he is your son.” But Zhang Tingyu repeatedly asked the emperor to reconsider. He said, “There are so many talented youngsters in China. The civil service examination runs every three years and everyone wishes to pass the examination. I already occupy a position in the royal court. If my son should be awarded the third place at the A level, he would practically steal a spot from other candidates from common families and I would feel guilty. If Your Majesty would kindly lower him to the B level, it would be more than enough honor for him.”

In the civil service examination system of that time, nine winners were selected from the final examination. This took place in the royal court, with the emperor as final judge. There were three levels of winners. Each level had three winners, but the level achieved would make a world of difference in the winners' career. A level candidates immediately began their careers in the royal court. Generally, they became editors at the imperial university, an important stepping stone to more prominent positions in the government. B and C level candidates were not allowed to work in the royal court until a few years later and they would usually start as officials at the county government.

Zhang Tingyu knew perfectly well what it meant for his son's career to be lowered to the B level, but he decided that it would not be beneficial for his son to reach success too early in his career. He believed that he ought to work twice as hard, learn to accept humility and be humble in order to accumulate his virtue. He decided that such an experience would temper his character and make him more reliable.

At first, Emperor Yongzheng thought Zhang Tingyu was merely trying to be modest, so he said to Zhang, “You have been most loyal and have accumulated a lot of virtue. No one will be jealous because your son achieved third place at the A level. He has earned it.” Zhang Tingyu was sitting on a chair while speaking to the emperor. When he realized that Emperor Yongzheng did not want to change his decision, he knelt before the emperor and begged again. “Your Majesty, my family has received a lot of honor. I beg Your Majesty to take pity on my sincerity to give the honor in the A level to another candidate. If Your Majesty wishes to look after my family, I beg you to save some good fortune for my son's career in the later time. It would benefit him greatly.”

When Emperor Yongzheng realized that Zhang Tingyu's meant exactly what he was saying, he decided to award Zhang Ruoai first place in the B level. When Emperor Yongzheng announced the examination results, he made the story known to the public and proclaimed Zhang Tingyu's modesty.

Zhang Ruoai was fully aware of his father's expectations and he did not let him down. He continued to study diligently and made great progress. Later when he advanced to the royal court and worked in the defense department, he always fulfilled his responsibilities. Like his father, he was very modest.

There are several Chinese proverbs, including “A man must not use all of his power; a man must not deplete all of his good fortune,” and “Loyalty and kindness will sustain a family; modesty and prudence will extend one's life.” These proverbs are precious advice and will help fashion a person's conduct and the values they will pass on to the next generation. Zhang Tingyu and his son took these values to heart and followed them at all times. They were truly wise people.