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A Letter to Privy Council President Qi Han

Su, Che 1 (1039-1112 CE)

Dear President Han,

   I, Che Su, love to write essays by thinking deeply. In my opinion, an essay is formed by one's literary spirit. One cannot learn to be a great writer because it requires talent. However, for spirit, one may cultivate and develop it. Mencius said, "I am good at brewing my great spirit." After reading his essays, I discovered that his spirit filled all over the universe, compatible with his great heart. The Father Of Chinese History traveled all over China to see the Four Seas, great mountains and big rivers. He also visited distinguished scholars in schools. Therefore, his essays had a broad vision and were full of ideas and energy. Had these two scholars ever tried to learn to write great essays? The spirit filled up their minds, overflowed their faces, drove out their words, and appeared in their essays. The writing process had been completed naturally without their self-consciousness.

   I am nineteen years old. The people that I befriend are the neighbors in my village. All I can see is bound within several hundred miles around my home. There are no mountains or plateaus for me to climb and look over so that I can broaden my mind. Although I read many books, they are the relics of the ancient past. They cannot stimulate or cultivate my spirit. I am afraid that my spirit will soon die out. Therefore, I am determined to leave my home town and search for strange phenomena and magnificent scenes. Hopefully, I can better understand how great the world is.

   After passing by the old capitals of the Qin and Han dynasties, and looking up the towering Zhong-nan-shan Mountain, Song-shan Mountain and Hua-shan Mountain, I went north to see the Yellow River flowing eastward. These scenes reminded me of the ancient heroes and scholars who used to live in these areas. After watching the magnificence of the palace, the richness of libraries and rice warehouses, as well as the beauty of ranches and parks, I was amazed at the greatness of the world. After visiting the literary giant, Mr. Xiu Ou-yang, listening to his great lectures, looking at his learned face, and socializing with his friends and students, I knew that the best literary essay writers of China were accumulated here.

   Your talent and strategy is the best in the nation. Our country relies on it without worry. While you sit in the emperor’s court, the whole nation is at peace. When you go out to China's borders, the neighboring countries like to make friends with you. It would be a great honor to me if I could have the chance to see you. If one fails to aim high at his study goal, even a great deal of study is useless. On my way to the capital, for mountains, I saw how high Zhong-nan-shan Mountain, Song-shan Mountain and Hua-shan Mountain were; for rivers, I saw how great and deep the Yellow River was. For scholars, I met the literary giant, Mr. Xiu Ou-yang. However, I still felt that I missed something important because I failed to visit a great man like you. I wish I could strengthen my spirit by watching your learned face and by listening to your conversation just once. Then I would not feel sorry for myself because I would have seen all the greatness in China.

   I am still green and do not have any experience in politics. My interest in coming here is not to get a job, but rather to strengthen my spirit. Since I passed the Advanced Exam, the government has not yet offered me a job, but put me in the waiting list for future consideration. Therefore, I will go home, practice more writing, and study some politics. I will be greatly honored if you consider me talented enough to be worthy of your teaching.


1 Che Su is the son of Xun Su (1009-1066) and the younger brother of Dong-po Su. Che Su passed the Advanced Exam at the age of nineteen. Because the Advanced Exam was only held annually, the two Su brothers passed it at the same time.