Letter to Chairman Chang As the Advanced Exam 1 Approaches

Chu, Ch'ing Yu (He passed the advanced exam in 826 A.D.)

Red candles have burned all night in the nuptial chamber.
I am nervous as I wait to meet my husband's parents at dawn 2.
After applying make-up, I ask my husband 3 quietly
Whether my eyebrow drawing is in fashion 4.

    After receiving Chu's poem, Chang also wrote Chu a poem as his reply:

Reply to Chu 5

Chang, Chieh (766 A.D.?-830 A.D.?)

You can compare to a freshly made up girl of Country Yueh walking away from her mirror 6.
She is strikingly beautiful and often whispers to herself 7.
Her song about plucking water chestnuts is worth a fortune
And makes the other girls in fancy silk pale in comparison.

1 In ancient China, if a scholar desired to acquire a good-paying government position, he had to pass the advanced exam held annually in China's capital. The system used for the exam did not conceal an examinee's identity. The examiner could see the signature of the author when he graded the exam. The decision of whether a person could pass the exam largely depended on the recommendations of social elites and the literary work that the examinees handed in before the exam. The work handed in before the exam was called a working book. If one sent in his work many times, the work was called a review book.
    Chang was a famous writer at that time. Consequently, Chu presented some of his work to Chang. Since Chu was not sure whether the examiner would like his writing style, he wrote this poem to ask for Chang's opinion about his work. Chu compared his nervousness about the exam to that of a bride who is waiting to meet her husband's parents.

2 During the wedding ceremony, the brideís face was covered by a piece of red cloth. Consequently, she could not see her husbandís parents until the next morning.

3 The word "husband" refers to Chang.

4 "Whether my eyebrow drawing is in fashion" is being compared to "whether the examiner will like Chu's writings".

5 Chang's poem says that all other examinees are not as talented as Chu. Chang's reply dispelled Chu's worry. Due to Chang's recommendation, Chu earned a high score and passed the exam. The above two poems and the friendship between Chang and Chu became a much-told story in the history of Chinese literature.

6 Chu's hometown was near Lake Mirror.

7 The whispering symbolizes that she is prudent and thinks carefully.