Ch’en Hsingyuan of Fuzhou told this story.
Once there was a very unhappy group. Some of them had passed the imperial exams and become officials, but for some reason or other had been demoted. Others had never managed to pass the exams in the first place. They were all so depressed they decided to go for a little excursion to a famous temple to cheer themselves up.
When they were there, Ch’en Hsingyuan happened to go out for a breath of fresh air. He saw a farmer whipping a water buffalo, but no matter how he whipped it, it wouldn’t move. When the water buffalo saw Hsingyuan, it began to cry. Ch’en Hsingyuan realized that it was crying because it was being driven to the slaughter, and naturally no animal wants to die. Ch’en forgot his own sorrows in his sympathy for that poor water buffalo. He asked the farmer, “How much do you want for your water buffalo?”
“The price of fifteen bolts of silk.”
Hsingyuan went back inside. “We’ve got money in the kitty for our next excursion, but why don’t we put that money to a better use?”
“What have you got in mind?”
“Let’s buy a doomed water buffalo and let it live out its life in peace.”
“But we were going to use that money for a big picnic during the flower season, don’t you remember?”
“Yes, but a party lasts only a few hours and then it’s over. We could use the same money to save a life. Think about it. Which do you think is a better way to spend the money?”
His friends thought about it. Hsingyuan prodded them a bit. “Come on, cough up. Tell you what. You guys chip in for this water buffalo, and when the flowers are blooming, I’ll foot the entire bill for the picnic. How’s that sound?”
“You have my word for it.”
His friends saw that his mind was made up, so they got the money together and gave it to the farmer for his water buffalo. Then they gave the water buffalo to the temple and asked them to let it live out its natural life span there.
When the flowers started to bloom, Ch’en Hsingyuan was still just a poor student, but a promise is a promise, so he pawned his best clothes and hosted the picnic, just as he promised he would.
But he wasn’t a poor student much longer. The next year he placed very high on the imperial examinations and became an official.
Before long, he had won a very high place in the government, and enjoyed the honor, power, and fortune that go with the post. He was sure that he enjoyed such good luck because he had saved that poor water buffalo.