The Scribe

In Hongcun, a small village near the Yellow Mountains, there was a scribed named Yingpei. After a lifetime of training and practice, Yingpei had become a master of writing. His work was renowned and highly sought after. So much so, that he was able to make a comfortable living for his family writing scrolls for the local magisterial court and for noblemen needing to contract business. His writing skill and knowledge of legal language gave great honor to him and his family. He had proudly taught his skill with pen and stroke to his eldest son, Ru. And Ru’s skills were now rivaling that of his father’s in technique and artistry, but the knowledge of language used in the courts was something that would take more learning and practice. As much as Yingpei wanted to be the one to teach the additional lessons Ru would need to follow in his footsteps, the daily demands for his work and expertise kept him far to busy to devote the time needed. So, Yingpei sent Ru to the person who had taught him.

Ru was excited to be travelling to the nearby village of Xidi, where the revered teacher of his father, Bingwen, lived. Bingwen was a master of the art, and unlike his father, was well-versed in all styles of writing. His calligraphy adorned everything from poetry, to prose, to philosophy and more. He even had the knowledge of legal language Yingpei had sent Ru there for. But that was not what Ru was interested in. He was tired of the boring and technical documents he had watched his father labor over and was immediately intrigued by the beauty and song that is verse and lyric. The pictures painted in words of eloquent prose. The broad and provoking thoughts of philosophical conjecture. The singular art brushed into striking calligraphy. He did not want to dishonor his father, the family legacy, or even other’s expectations for him, but the allure was undeniable.

Upon arriving at Master Bingwen’s home in Xidi, Ru greeted the Master. After sharing some tea and settling in, Bingwen wasted no time in starting Ru’s training. They sat across from each other, with pen and parchment spread between them. Before Bingwen could even lay out the examples of court decrees and documents they would use for the lesson, Ru asked his teacher about all his other writings. He still struggled with honoring his father by making a comfortable living, daily placing words on paper that are meaningful, but not beautiful. Or writing the moving words that rarely provide a stable income or the fame one dreams of. Even in retirement, Bingwen lived a modest life on a stipend from the magisterial court, to whom he had provided the same legal services Ru was sent to learn, rather than any income from the other writing he had done. But Ru wanted his words to do something. Ru expressed his quandary.

“Master Bingwen, I want my words to ‘create’ something. What style of writing is best to pursue?” Ru asked. Bingwen felt a duty of honor to push young Ru in the direction that his father had requested of him. And he knew that pursuit would lead to a stable life and honor for Ru and his family. But he also knew that a curiosity left unexamined, like an itch left unscratched, can become a persistent torment. As with any reply of weight, he gave this inquiry a long modicum of consideration before speaking. He leaned heavily on his Taoist beliefs, which have served him well for just as long as the skills of pen and brush have and gave the only answer he thought he could.

“Ru, you want your words to ‘create’ something and I want the same for you. And they will, I promise you”, encouraged Bingwen. “If you write poetry, you will create beauty. If you write prose, you will create scope. If you write philosophy, you will create thought. If you write decrees, you will create laws. If you write contracts, you will create a bond to be honored. If you write wills of estate, you will create wealth. If you write condolences, you will create emotions. If you wish your words to ‘create’, then all paths lead to the same place, success.”

It was Ru’s turn to ponder for a moment. As he did, Bingwen proceeded to get out the court documents and decrees for Ru’s lesson that day. He would honor Yingpei’s request in what was to be taught to his beloved son. But he knew, with or without his father’s blessing, Ru would find his own path eventually and define his own success.

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