An Inspiring Story From Feng Menglong’s ‘Think Tank’

Ancient Chinese village.

The ancients possessed great wisdom. (Image: via Public Domain)

Feng Menglong (A.D. 1574–1646) was a Chinese historian, novelist, and poet of the late Ming Dynasty. He was born in Changzhou County, now part of Suzhou, in Jiangsu Province.

Feng’s literary output consisted of the compilation of histories and local gazettes, the retelling of folktales and stories from antiquity in the form of short stories and plays, and the authorship of vernacular Chinese novels.

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Feng wrote four notebooks, namely Think Tank, Talking About, History of Love, and Laughing Mansion, which are collectively called Feng Menglong’s Four Different Books in later generations.

Compiled by Feng Menglong and issued under the general editorship of Li Ke, Think Tank (4 Books) is a collection of wisdom stories from the pre-Qin period to the Ming Dynasty. This book consists of 10 books in 28 volumes.

Compiled by Feng Menglong and issued under the general editorship of Li Ke, 'Think Tank' (4 Books) is a collection of wisdom stories from the pre-Qin period to the Ming Dynasty.
Compiled by Feng Menglong and issued under the general editorship of Li Ke, ‘Think Tank’ (4 Books) is a collection of wisdom stories from the pre-Qin period to the Ming Dynasty. (Image: via Amazon)

A story from Feng Menglong’s ‘Think Tank’

Lord Menchang Jun was the Chancellor of Qi and Wei during the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C). He asked his followers: “Who is good at accounting and can go to my territory of Xue to collect debts for me?” 

Feng Nuan volunteered his services and said: “I can.” After preparing and packing up the carriages, he set out with the contracts. Feng said goodbye to Menchang Jun and asked: “After completing the debt collections, what do you want me to buy for you?”   

Menchang Jun replied: “If you can see what my house is lacking, you can buy it.” Upon arriving at Xue, Feng called all the debtors to check their contracts and told the debtors that Menchang Jun would cancel their debts.

So in front of them, Feng burned all their agreements. The people responded joyously with “Hurray!” After that, Feng wasted no time and directly returned to the state of Qi by carriage.   

Menchang Jun was surprised by Feng’s work efficiency. After dressing up, he went to greet Feng.   

Menchang Jun asked: “Have you finished your debt collection?”   

Feng answered: “Yes.”   

Menchang Jun asked: “What did you buy for me?”   

Feng said: “You told me to purchase what your house lacked. I think that you already have so many treasures, horses, dogs, various animals, and beautiful ladies. What’s short in your house is only benevolence and righteousness! So I bought precious benevolence and righteousness for you!”   

Ancient Chinese drawing of Lord Menchang Jun.
Lord Menchang Jun was the Chancellor of Qi and Wei during the Warring States Period (475-221 B.C.). (Image: via Public Domain)

Menchang Jun said: “How can benevolence and righteousness be purchased?”   

Feng said: “Currently, you only have such a small feudatory in Xue, but you don’t love the civilians over there. What’s worse is that you intended to make money from them by lending them money with interest. So I lied: I told them you had ordered me to exempt their debts and burn up their bonds. All the villagers cheered! It is the benevolence and righteousness I bought for you.”   

Menchang Jun was not happy, saying: “Stop it. Leave me alone.”   

A year later, the Emperor of Qi, who didn’t trust Menchang Jun anymore, ordered him back to his place. Mengchang Jun lost his position and all his power and started to head toward Xue.

Even though he was still more than 100 kilometers away from arriving at Xue, the villagers, old and young, rushed to welcome him along the roadsides.

He was overwhelmingly moved and told Feng: “Finally, today, I see the benevolence and righteousness you bought for me!”

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