"The Wonderful Man"
There is a certain Prefectural city in the south of China, which has earned a reputation distinguishing it from all such towns throughout the Empire.
In outward appearance this city is very much like every other of similar size. The streets are narrow, and the houses are crowded close up to each other. Every foot of land has been utilized, and no room has been left for sanitation, or for parks and open spaces, where the people may breathe the pure air of heaven. These things are modern inventions of the West and have never yet touched the thought or the life of the East, where sullen heat, fetid atmosphere, and stifling surroundings are the natural inheritance of the men and women who throng the cities and crowd and elbow each other in the great battle of life.
There was one thing, however, for which this city was deservedly celebrated. It had a great reputation for learning, and was famous as the abode of scholars.
In the main thoroughfares, where men with a dexterity begotten of long experience just managed to evade jostling each other, the long-gowned students were conspicuous by their numbers. Their pale intellectual faces, and their gleaming black eyes burning with hidden fires, marked them out distinctly from the farmers and artisans and coolies, with their coarser, heavier features, who moved along side by side with them. And down the narrow alley-ways, where fetid smells and impure airs floated the live-long day, one's ear would catch the shrill tones of more youthful students, who in unhealthy rooms were mastering aloud the famous classics of China, in order that in time they might compete in the triennial examinations for the prizes offered by the Empire to its scholars.
The ambition for learning was in the air, and a belated wayfarer, wandering down the labyrinth of streets in the early hours of the morning, would hear the solemn stillness broken into by the voices of the students, as in their highest tones they repeated the writings of the great sages.
The town was therefore dear to the God of Literature, who has ever been ready to champion the cause of his scholars, whenever anyone has dared to lay a hand upon their privileges.
A legend in which there is widespread belief declares that on one occasion, when the scholars of five counties had assembled at a triennial examination, the Imperial Examiner, who for some reason or other had conceived a spite against the competitors from this particular city, determined that not one of them should pass.
As their essays came into his hands, he carefully laid them in a pile close beside him on the table. The God of Literature, who was sitting in his shrine at the far end of the room, became indignant at the insult that was about to be put on his favourites, and breathed some classic phrases under his breath, to the effect that he would never allow such a wrong to be perpetrated as long as he had power to prevent it.
The last paper had been examined and laid carefully on the top of the others, when, as if by a flash of lightning, the examiner was seized with a stroke of paralysis, and fell to the ground unconscious. That was the answer of the God to his evil schemes.
The greatest dismay was exhibited by the under-officials of the examination. Thousands of students were waiting outside for the list to be issued of those who had passed, but the only man who had the power to prepare this list lay helpless in the grip of paralysis. Yet something must be done, and that speedily. As they looked over the manuscripts lying on the table, a little pile was discovered, evidently placed there by the examiner for some purpose of his own.