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Best Wishes to Mr. Li and Mr. An

Zeng, Gong (1019-1083 CE)

   My friend Dong-po Su wrote a recommendation letter from Sichuan Province on behalf of Mr. Li and Mr. An. Later Mr. Li and Mr. An came from Sichuan to Beijing to see me. Mr. Li brought me hundreds of his essays and Mr. An showed me scores of his papers as well. They humbly requested my opinion. After reading their essays, I found their work was truly great. They discussed topics back and forth until their theses were absolutely clear. The potential of their talents is unlimited. Indeed, Mr. Li and Mr. An are distinguished scholars, and Mr. Su is an expert in recognizing talented people.

   Before long Mr. Li received a job offer from Jiang-ling City. He planned to go home to celebrate the offer. Before leaving for home, he asked me to write some encouraging words for him. I said, "I recognize your talents in my heart. Why do you need the recognition expressed in fancy words?" Mr. Li explained, "Mr. An and I have devoted ourselves to prose writing. We believe that an essay should have a thesis which benefits society. However, our neighbors thought that we aimed too high and that it was impractical to realize our dreams. They all laughed at us. Therefore, we need you to write something to solve our neighbors' confusion." After listening to what he had said, I thought it was funny. In this world, who is more impractical than I? I advocate that an essay must have a thesis beneficial to society. By following my belief, sometimes I have a hard time in dealing with worldly affairs. I cannot show people any short-term benefit because I aim at my long-term goal. This is the reason why I am not rich or popular today and I do not even think that I want to be that way. Who can be more impractical than I? Your neighbors considered you impractical because your writing style is different from theirs. On the scale of impracticality, yours is only a small one. However, you are already afraid that your neighbors will laugh at you. The scale of my impracticality is so large that if you show your neighbors my words, they will not only ridicule you more, but also get seriously offended. Then what advice should I give you? If you consider my impracticality good, then, as you know, the journey to my goal is difficult. If you consider my practicality bad, then you should follow others, which is against our principle. If you want to pursue the short-term profit, you have to give up your long-term goal. I suggest that you not hurry to solve your neighbors' confusion. Then you may make a wise choice in determining which way to go. Consequently, I will write down my opinion and give it to you as my gift. Please show it to Mr. Su as well! I would like to hear his comments.