BEIJING, June 30 (Xinhuanet) -- There is an old Chinese expression that says, "he who excels in study can follow an official career."
Many historical Chinese people took this road by sitting for keju, otherwise known as the ancient imperial examination.
Just like people nowadays, those who consider the college entrance exam, or gaokao, as a way to change their destiny, ancient people considered kejuin the same way.
Keju started during the Sui Dynasty (AD 581-618) and lasted for 1,300 years before it was abolished during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).
The keju examinations were mainly based on classical literature and philosophy.
Like all exams, failing keju did not mean one wasn't excellent.
There have been many brilliant stars throughout Chinese history who failed the test.
However, the frustration did not defeat them, but rather helped them grow.
Let's take a look at a few examples.
Li Shizhen(1518-1593), Traditional Chinese Medicine expert from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
After failing the keju three times, 23-year-old Li decided to give up on becoming an official and to devote his life to medicine.
He walked around the country studying various kinds of herbs.
After 29 years of devotion, he completed the "Compendium of Materia Medica," or "Bencao Gangmu," which is regarded as the most complete and comprehensive medical book ever written in the history of TCM.
The book lists all the plants, animals, minerals, and other items that were believed to have medicinal properties.
Wu Jingzi(1701-1754), a Chinese writer from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Wu was born into an affluent family and his father was a Qing official.
He sat for the imperial examination but did not do well.
Afterwards, he doubted the reasonableness of the keju system and opposed it.
He disliked the trend of chasing fame and fortune through keju as the scholars of his day liked to do.
In his book "The Scholars" which took him nearly 20 years to write, he satirized and mocked the scholars of his day.
The book was considered a classic and prime work of satirical novels in Chinese literature.
Wu Cheng'en, Chinese novelist and poet of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
Wu and one of his peers went to Nanjing in Jiangsu province to take the keju test in 1531.
Wu was already well-known in his hometown for being talented.
Unexpectedly, the peer who was not that talented as him but wound up passing the test as Wu failed.
In the next three years, he made great efforts in writing essays in preparation to take the test again, but failed again.
After several attempts, he didn't pass even at the age of 40. While poverty-stricken and depressed he wrote the novel "Journey to the West," one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature.
Zuo Zongtang(1812-1885), a Chinese statesman and military leader in the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Zuo Zongtang was born into a poor family in Hunan province.
His career started inauspiciously when as a young man he failed the official court exams several times.
He decided to abandon his plans to become an official and returned to his home to farm, read and drink tea.
It was during this period that he became devoted to the study of Western sciences and political economics. His talent became widely known by local officials.
In 1852, two years after the Taiping Rebellion started, Zuo, then 40 years old, was hired as an advisor to the governor of Hunan.
He served with distinction during the war against the rebellion. Later he served in China's northwestern regions, quelling other unrests.
Pu Songling(1640-1715), a Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) writer
Pu was born into a poor landowner family.
He sat for the kejutests four times and failed.
It was not until he was 71 that he was awarded a degree for his achievement in literature rather than for passing the Imperial examinations.
Working as a tutor, he spent most of his spare time collecting the stories that were later published in Liaozhai Zhiyi (Strange Tales from Make-Do Studio), which is considered a Chinese literature classic.
Zhang Juzheng(1525-1582), a reformer and senior statesman during the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
At a young age, Zhang was renowned as a prodigy.
He passed the preliminary county level keju test at the age of 12 and enrolled for the provincial examinations the following year.
But the chief examiner failed him in order to prevent him from becoming complacent.
Finally, he passed the Imperial Examinations at 22.
Knowing his first failure was planned by the chief examiner, he did not dislike him but was thankful to him for causing such frustration.
During his prime he served as as Prime Minister and initiated a series of reforms.