Zeng Guofan did not have a remarkable aptitude for study, but he tried very hard. One night, he was trying to memorize an article by reciting it repeatedly. A thief came to his house and hid outside. The thief waited there, as he planned to rob the house once the young man inside stopped studying and fell asleep.
A thief waits and grows impatient
The thief waited for a long time. The light stayed on and the sound of reading did not stop. Zeng kept repeating the same article over and over, but was not able to memorize it. A whole hour went by. The thief waited and waited. His feet grew tired and he became dizzy. After such a long wait, he finally became furious and jumped into the house. He cursed the young man:
“Is that the best you can do? You are not very smart at all! I could have memorized that article by the third time you repeated it. How could it take more than an hour for you to memorize it?”
Then the thief recited the article smoothly in front of the young man and left.
The effect the thief had on the young man
Zeng was shocked and ashamed. He was surprised by the thief’s good memory. This made him feel worse about his ability to study, but the thief’s behavior served to galvanize him. He concentrated all his energies on his studies.
A few years later, Zeng passed the second-degree examination under Manchu rule and was made a local official. Soon after, a thief was caught. While hearing the case, Zeng Guofan thought this thief seemed familiar. Suddenly, he remembered that this thief was the same one who humiliated him many years ago. Zeng smiled and joked:
“I was so jealous of your cleverness at that time, but here you are still just a thief.”
Zeng Guofan went on to become a famous statesman, military strategist, philosopher, and litterateur in Chinese modern history. He was also one of the highest ranking officials in the late Qing Dynasty, yet that unknown thief was just a thief.