Wang Cheng: From Laziness to Prosperity

Explore the extraordinary journey of Wang Cheng, who defied convention by transforming his life from poverty to prosperity through an unusual path.

Wang Cheng was a descendant of an aristocratic family in Pingyuan County in ancient times. He was naturally lazy, and as his family’s fortune declined day by day, they were left with only a few dilapidated houses. He and his wife lay on straw mats, facing complaints from his wife and struggling to make ends meet. It was the height of summer at that time, with scorching weather. Outside the village, there used to be the Zhou family garden, but now the walls had collapsed, and the houses had crumbled, leaving only a pavilion. Many people from the village had taken shelter there to escape the heat, and Wang Cheng was among them. As dawn broke, the people who had been sleeping began to leave. When the sun had risen to its peak, Wang Cheng finally got up, reluctantly thinking of returning home. Suddenly, he saw a golden hairpin in the grass. He picked it up and saw a few small characters engraved on it: “Yibin Mansion.” Wang Cheng’s grandfather had originally been the son-in-law of the Heng King, and there were many old items in the family with this kind of mark. Wang Cheng hesitated and guessed about the hairpin. At this moment, an old lady came looking for her lost hairpin. Although Wang Cheng was very poor, he had a straightforward character, and he immediately handed the hairpin to her. The old lady was very happy and praised Wang Cheng’s virtue, saying, “This hairpin may be worth a few coins, but it is a memento of my deceased husband.” Wang Cheng asked, “Who was your husband?” The old lady replied, “He was the late Yibin Wang Jianzhi.” Wang Cheng exclaimed, “He was my grandfather! How could you two have met?” The old lady also said in astonishment, “Are you Wang Jianzhi’s grandson? I am a fox spirit. A hundred years ago, I was married to your grandfather. After your grandfather passed away, I went into seclusion. I lost this hairpin while passing through here, and you happened to find it. Isn’t this a sign from heaven?” Wang Cheng had heard about his grandfather’s fox wife before, so he believed her words and invited the old lady to come to his home. The old woman followed him there.

When they arrived home, Wang Cheng called his wife out, only to see her dressed in tattered clothes and looking pale from hunger. The old lady couldn’t help but sigh and said, “Ah! The grandson of Wang Jianzhi, have you really fallen into such poverty?” She saw the dilapidated stove without a trace of smoke or fire and asked, “With the household in such a condition, how do you manage to sustain yourselves?” Wang Cheng’s wife then explained in detail the hardships they had been through, and couldn’t help but sob and cry. The old lady handed the golden hairpin to her and asked her to exchange it for some money to buy rice, saying they would meet again in three days. Wang Cheng tried to persuade her to stay, but the old lady said, “You can’t even support a wife on your own. If I stay here, just staring at the roof, what good will it do?” With that, she walked away on her own. Wang Cheng explained the old lady’s background to his wife, who was greatly frightened. Wang Cheng spoke of her kindness and righteousness and asked his wife to serve her as if she were her mother-in-law. His wife agreed. Three days later, the old lady indeed returned. She brought out some silver and asked Wang Cheng to buy a stone of millet and a stone of barley. At night, the old lady slept on a short bed with Wang Cheng’s wife. At first, Wang Cheng’s wife was a bit wary of her, but later she realized that the old lady’s intentions were sincere, and her suspicions disappeared.

The next day, the old lady said to Wang Cheng, “Grandson, you must not be lazy anymore. You should engage in some small business. Relying solely on free meals won’t lead to a sustainable life.” Wang Cheng told her that he had no capital. The old lady said, “When your grandfather was alive, I had access to gold, silver, and silk, and he never stopped me from taking as much as I wanted. Because I live a reclusive life and have no need for these things, I never took much. I saved up forty taels of silver for buying rouge and face powder, and it’s still here. It serves no purpose sitting with me for such a long time. You can take it all and buy hemp cloth. If you make it to the capital by the specified date, you’ll make a little profit.” Wang Cheng heeded her advice and bought more than fifty rolls of hemp cloth. The old lady urged him to pack his belongings and set out immediately, assuring him that he could reach the capital in six or seven days if he worked diligently. She emphasized, “You must be diligent, not lazy, and you must travel quickly. If you arrive one day late, you will regret it!” Wang Cheng respectfully agreed.

Wang Cheng carried his goods and set off on the road. On the way, he encountered heavy rain, and his clothes and shoes were soaked through. He had never experienced the hardships of wind, frost, rain, and snow in his life and felt exhausted and unbearable. Therefore, he decided to take a break at an inn. Unexpectedly, the heavy rain poured down all night, and the rainwater under the eaves flowed like ropes. After a sleepless night, the road became even muddier. Wang Cheng saw pedestrians passing by on the muddy road, with mud covering their shins, and he felt very distressed. By noon, the ground had just started to dry up a bit, but dark clouds covered the sky, and it started pouring rain again. He ended up staying in the inn for two days before he could resume his journey. As he neared the capital, Wang Cheng heard that the price of hemp cloth in the capital was expensive and continuously rising, which made him secretly happy. Upon arriving in the capital, he unpacked his belongings and checked into an inn. However, the innkeeper deeply regretted that he had arrived late. Before Wang Cheng’s arrival, the road to the south had just been opened, and there was very little hemp cloth transported to the capital. But the Beile Mansion urgently needed to purchase it, so the price of hemp cloth had skyrocketed, about three times the usual price. The day before Wang Cheng’s arrival, the Beile Mansion had just bought enough, leaving those who arrived later very disappointed. After the innkeeper explained this to Wang Cheng, he felt quite unhappy. Another day passed, and more hemp cloth arrived in the capital, causing the price to drop significantly. Wang Cheng refused to sell because there was no profit. He hesitated for more than ten days, realizing that he had already spent a lot on food and accommodation, which made him feel even more depressed. At this point, the innkeeper advised him to sell the hemp cloth at a low price and consider other options. Wang Cheng followed his advice and incurred a loss of over ten taels of silver. The next morning, when he was preparing to return, he opened his bag and realized that all his silver had been lost. He panicked and told the innkeeper, who had no solution. Some suggested reporting to the authorities and demanding compensation from the innkeeper. Wang Cheng sighed and said, “This is because of my bad luck. It’s not the innkeeper’s fault.” Upon hearing this, the innkeeper, appreciating Wang Cheng’s kindness, gave him five taels of silver and comforted him to go back. Wang Cheng was ashamed to face his grandmother and wandered aimlessly, torn between advancing and retreating.

At that moment, he noticed a street-side quail-fighting event where people were betting thousands of cash coins. Buying a quail often cost more than a hundred coins each. Suddenly, an idea crossed his mind. He counted the money in his bag and realized it was just enough to buy quails for resale. He went back to discuss this plan with the innkeeper, who strongly encouraged him to give it a try and even offered him free room and board. Wang Cheng was delighted and set off. He bought a full load of quails and returned to the capital. The innkeeper was also pleased and wished him a quick sale. However, in the middle of the night, heavy rain started pouring down, continuing until dawn. After daybreak, the streets were flooded, and the rain showed no sign of stopping. Wang Cheng had no choice but to stay at the inn, waiting for the weather to clear up. But the rain persisted for several days without a break. He went to check the cages, and the quails had started to die. He was terrified and didn’t know what to do. Another day passed, and even more quails died, leaving only a few alive, which he put together in one cage. The next day, there was only one quail left alive in the cage. Wang Cheng then told the innkeeper about the situation, and tears streamed down his face uncontrollably. The innkeeper sighed deeply for his string of misfortunes. With all his money gone and no way to return home, Wang Cheng felt so distressed that he contemplated suicide. The innkeeper continued to console him and suggested they take a closer look at the surviving quail, which seemed to be an exceptional breed. He speculated that the other quails may have been killed in fights with it. Since Wang Cheng had nothing else to do, the innkeeper advised him to train the quail. If it turned out to be a valuable breed, he could make a living by using it for gambling. Wang Cheng followed the innkeeper’s advice and trained the quail. Once it was trained, the innkeeper told Wang Cheng to take the quail to the streets for gambling. The quail was robust, and it won several fights in a row. The innkeeper was delighted and gave Wang Cheng the winnings. He suggested Wang Cheng challenge the young men who specialized in quail-fighting. The results were three victories in three matches. In this way, over half a year, Wang Cheng managed to save up twenty taels of silver. He felt a sense of relief and regarded the quail as his lifeline.

Initially, the Grand Prince had a passion for quail fighting, and every Lantern Festival, he would bring quails raised by the common people to his palace to have them battle against the ones he raised. The innkeeper said to Wang Cheng, “Now, if you want to make a fortune, it’s within reach. However, I don’t know what fate has in store for you.” He then explained the quail-fighting events at the Grand Prince’s palace and took Wang Cheng with him to attend. The innkeeper also advised, “If you lose, consider it bad luck and accept it. But if by any chance your quail wins, the Grand Prince will surely want to buy it. Don’t agree immediately. If he insists on buying, just watch my reaction and wait for my signal before agreeing.” Wang Cheng replied, “Okay.”

When they arrived at the Grand Prince’s palace, they saw a crowd of people already gathered under the steps, eager to participate in the quail-fighting event. After a while, the Grand Prince appeared and took his seat in the hall. The officials announced, “Anyone willing to participate, step forward.” Immediately, a person with a quail in hand rushed up. The Grand Prince ordered the release of his palace quail, and the challenger also released his quail. As soon as the two quails leaped into combat, the challenger’s quail was defeated. The Grand Prince couldn’t help but burst into laughter. In this way, several challengers were quickly defeated on the stage. The innkeeper said, “It’s your turn now.” So, the two of them climbed onto the stage. The Grand Prince examined Wang Cheng’s quail and said, “There’s a fierceness in its eyes; this is a quail that’s brave and good at fighting. It should not be underestimated.” He then ordered the release of a quail called “Iron Beak” for the match. After several rounds of fierce combat, the palace quail was defeated. The Grand Prince selected better quails for the next rounds, but both were defeated. In a hurry, the Grand Prince ordered the release of his rare, well-cared-for quail, known as the “Jade Quail.” After a while, someone brought it out. This Jade Quail had pure white feathers all over its body, resembling a heron, truly an extraordinary and exceptional bird. Wang Cheng felt apprehensive and knelt on the ground, pleading not to fight, saying, “Your Highness, this Jade Quail is a divine creature from heaven. I’m afraid my quail will get hurt, and it will jeopardize my livelihood.” The Grand Prince chuckled and said, “Release it. If your quail loses, I will compensate you generously.” So, Wang Cheng released his quail. As soon as the Jade Quail saw its opponent, it lunged forward. When the Jade Quail was about to strike, Wang Cheng’s quail suddenly jumped up, attacking from above like a soaring crane. The two quails advanced and retreated, up and down, in a fierce battle for about an hour. Gradually, the Jade Quail weakened, and its strength waned, while Wang Cheng’s quail became even angrier and launched more aggressive attacks. In no time, the once-snow-white feathers of the Jade Quail fell to the ground, and it flew away with drooping wings in defeat. The onlookers, numbering in the thousands, couldn’t help but praise and envy Wang Cheng’s quail.

The Grand Prince then took Wang Cheng’s quail and held it in his hand, personally examining it closely from beak to claw. After a thorough inspection, he asked Wang Cheng, “Can I buy your quail?” Wang Cheng replied, “I have no fixed property, and I rely on it for my livelihood. I’m not willing to sell it.” The Grand Prince then said, “I’ll give you a good price, enough to secure a middle-class fortune instantly. Would you agree?” Wang Cheng contemplated for a long time, then said, “I initially didn’t want to sell, but considering how much you like it, and if you can truly help me secure a life without worries, what else do I have to ask for?” The Grand Prince inquired about the selling price, and Wang Cheng responded with one thousand taels of silver. The Grand Prince chuckled and said, “Foolish man! What kind of treasure is this that it’s worth one thousand taels of silver?” Wang Cheng replied, “While you may not see it as a treasure, I consider it more valuable than priceless jade. I can take it to the market for quail fights, and every day, I can earn several taels of silver, which I can exchange for one and a half sheng of grain. With that, my family of more than ten people no longer has to worry about hunger or cold. What treasure can compare to that?” The Grand Prince then said, “I won’t treat you unfairly. I’ll offer you two hundred taels of silver.” Wang Cheng shook his head. The Grand Prince added one hundred more taels. Wang Cheng glanced at the innkeeper, who remained impassive, and said, “As per your command, I’m willing to reduce the price by one hundred taels.” The Grand Prince said, “Alright, who would be willing to exchange nine hundred taels of silver for a quail?” Wang Cheng started packing up the quail to leave. The Grand Prince called out, “Wait! The quail raiser, come back! I’ll give you six hundred taels, if you agree to sell; otherwise, forget it.” Wang Cheng looked at the innkeeper again, but the innkeeper showed no reaction. Content and not wanting to lose this opportunity, Wang Cheng said, “I’m not completely satisfied with this price, but if haggling goes on for too long and the deal doesn’t happen, I’ll surely offend you, Your Highness. I have no other choice but to accept as you suggested.” The Grand Prince was very pleased and immediately ordered the silver to be counted and handed over to him. Wang Cheng took the silver, expressed his gratitude, and left. The innkeeper scolded him, saying, “What did I tell you? You rushed to make the decision to sell. If you had held out a little longer, you would have had eight hundred taels of silver.” Wang Cheng returned to the inn and placed the silver on the table, inviting the innkeeper to take it, but the innkeeper refused. Wang Cheng insisted, and the innkeeper finally calculated the amount, accepting it as payment for Wang Cheng’s food expenses over the past few months.

Wang Cheng returned home after preparing his belongings and enthusiastically recounted his experiences, taking out the silver for everyone to celebrate with. The elderly lady advised him to purchase three hundred acres of good land, build houses, and acquire equipment, thus restoring the family’s former prosperity. Every day, the elderly lady would rise early, instructing Wang Cheng to supervise the hired laborers in farming and his wife to oversee the household’s cloth production. If they showed any signs of laziness, the elderly lady would reprimand them. Wang Cheng and his wife were obedient and did not dare to complain. This way, three years passed, and their household became even more prosperous. However, the elderly lady bid farewell and expressed her intention to leave. Wang Cheng and his wife were determined to keep her and pleaded with her tearfully, which led the elderly lady to stay. But the next morning, when the couple went to greet her, she had disappeared without a trace.

The chronicler of strange tales said: Wealth usually comes from diligence, but Wang Cheng’s wealth was an exception, as it came from laziness. This is indeed an unheard-of occurrence. However, what people don’t know is that Wang Cheng, despite his extreme poverty, maintained his unwavering sincerity and integrity. Therefore, even though Heaven initially abandoned him, it ultimately took pity on him. Can one truly achieve wealth and prosperity through laziness?

《王成》

王成,平原故家子。性最懒,生涯日落,惟剩破屋数间,与妻卧牛衣中,交谪不堪。时盛夏燠热,村外故有周氏园,墙宇尽倾,唯存一亭,村人多寄宿其中,王亦在焉。既晓,睡者尽去。红日三竿,王始起,逡巡欲归。见草际金钗一股,拾视之,镌有细字云:“仪宾府造。”王祖为衡府仪宾,家中故物,多此款式,因把钗踌躇。欻一妪来寻钗。王虽故贫,然性介,遽出授之。妪喜,极赞盛德,曰:“钗直几何,先夫之遗泽也。”问:“夫君伊谁?”答云:“故仪宾王柬之也。”王惊曰:“吾祖也。何以相遇?”妪亦惊曰:“汝即王柬之之孙耶?我乃狐仙。百年前,与君祖缱绻。君祖殁,老身遂隐。过此遗钗,适入子手,非天数耶!”王亦曾闻祖有狐妻,信其言,便邀临顾。妪从之。

王呼妻出见,负败絮,菜色黯焉。妪叹曰:“嘻!王柬之孙子,乃一贫至此哉!”又顾败灶无烟。曰:“家计若此,何以聊生?”妻因细述贫状,呜咽饮泣。妪以钗授妇,使姑质钱市米,三日外请复相见。王挽留之。妪曰:“汝一妻不能自存活,我在,仰屋而居,复何裨益?”遂径去。王为妻言其故,妻大怖。王诵其义,使姑事之,妻诺。逾三日,果至。出数金,籴粟麦各石。夜与妇共短榻。妇初惧之,然察其意殊拳拳,遂不之疑。

翌日,谓王曰:“孙勿惰,宜操小生业。坐食乌可长也?”王告以无赀。曰:“汝祖在时,金帛凭所取。我以世外人,无需是物,故未尝多取。积花粉之金四十两,至今犹存。久贮亦无所用,可将去悉以市葛,刻日赴都,可得微息。”王从之,购五十馀端以归。妪命趣装,计六七日可达燕都。嘱曰:“宜勤勿懒,宜急勿缓。迟之一日,悔之已晚!”王敬诺。

囊货就路,中途遇雨,衣履浸濡。王生平未历风霜,委顿不堪,因暂休旅舍。不意淙淙彻暮,檐雨如绳。过宿,泞益甚。见往来行人践淖没胫,心畏苦之。待至亭午,始渐燥,而阴云复合,雨又大作。信宿乃行。将近京,传闻葛价翔贵,心窃喜。入都,解装客店,主人深惜其晚。先是,南道初通,葛至绝少,贝勒府购致甚急,价顿昂,较常可三倍。前一日方购足,后来者并皆失望。主人以故告王,王郁郁不得志。越日,葛至愈多,价益下。王以无利不肯售。迟十馀日,计食耗烦多,倍益忧闷。主人劝令贱鬻,改而他图,从之。亏赀十馀两,悉脱去。早起,将作归计,启视囊中,则金亡矣。惊告主人,主人无所为计。或劝鸣官,责主人偿。王叹曰:“此我数也,于主人何尤?”主人闻而德之,赠金五两,慰之使归。自念无以见祖母,蹀踱内外,进退维谷。

适见斗鹑者,一赌辄数千,每市一鹑,恒百钱不止。意忽动,计囊中赀,仅足贩鹑,以商主人。主人亟怂恿之,且约假寓饮食,不取其直。王喜,遂行。购鹑盈儋,复入都。主人喜,贺其速售。至夜,大雨彻曙。天明,衢水如河,淋零犹未休也。居以待晴。连绵数日,更无休止。起视笼中,鹑渐死。王大惧,不知计之所出。越日,死愈多,仅馀数头,并一笼饲之。经宿往窥,则一鹑仅存。因告主人,不觉涕堕。主人亦为扼腕。王自度金尽罔归,但欲觅死。主人劝慰之,共往视鹑,审谛之,曰:“此似英物。诸鹑之死,未必非此之斗杀之也。君暇亦无所事,请把之,如其良也,赌亦可以谋生。”王如其教。既驯,主人令持向街头,赌酒食。鹑健甚,辄赢。主人喜,以金授王,使复与子弟决赌,三战三胜。半年许,积二十金。心益慰,视鹑如命。

先是,大亲王好鹑,每值上元,辄放民间把鹑者入邸相角。主人谓王曰:“今大富宜可立致。所不可知者,在子之命矣。”因告以故,导与俱往。嘱曰:“脱败,则丧气出耳。倘有万分一,鹑斗胜,王必欲市之,君勿应。如固强之,惟予首是瞻,待首肯而后应之。”王曰:“诺。”

至邸,则鹑人肩摩于墀下。顷之,王出御殿,左右宣言:“有愿斗者上。”即有一人把鹑,趋而进。王命放鹑,客亦放,略一腾踔,客鹑已败。王大笑。俄顷,登而败者数人。主人曰:“可矣。”相将俱登。王相之,曰:“睛有怒脉,此健羽也,不可轻敌。”命取铁喙者当之。一再腾跃,而王鹑铩羽。更选其良,再易再败。王急命取宫中玉鹑。片时把出,素羽如鹭,神骏不凡。王成意馁,跪而求罢,曰:“大王之鹑,神物也,恐伤吾禽,丧吾业矣。”王笑曰:“纵之。脱斗而死,当厚尔偿。”成乃纵之。玉鹑直奔之。而玉鹑方来,则伏如怒鸡以待之;玉鹑健啄,则起如翔鹤以击之。进退颉颃,相持约一伏时,玉鹑渐懈,而其怒益烈,其斗益急。未几,雪毛摧落,垂翅而逃。观者千人,罔不叹羡。

王乃索取而亲把之,自喙至爪,审周一过。问成曰:“鹑可货否?”答云:“小人无恒产,与相依为命,不愿售也。”王曰:“赐而重直,中人之产可致。颇愿之乎?”成俯思良久,曰:“本不乐置,顾大王既爱好之,苟使小人得衣食业,又何求?”王请直,答以千金。王笑曰:“痴男子!此何珍宝而千金直也?”成曰:“大王不以为宝,臣以为连城之璧不过也。”王曰:“如何?”曰:“小人把向市廛,日得数金,易升斗粟,一家十馀食指,无冻馁忧,是何宝如之?”王言:“予不相亏,便与二百金。”成摇首。又增百数。成目视主人,主人色不动。乃曰:“承大王命,请减百价。”王曰:“休矣!谁肯以九百易一鹑者!”成囊鹑欲行。王呼曰:“鹑人来,鹑人来!实给六百,肯则售,否则已耳。”成又目主人,主人仍自若。成心愿盈溢,惟恐失时,曰:“以此数售,心实怏怏。但交而不成,则获戾滋大。无已,即如王命。”王喜,即秤付之。成囊金,拜赐而出。主人怼曰:“我言如何,子乃急自鬻也?再少靳之,八百金在掌中矣。”成归,掷金案上,请主人自取之,主人不受。又固让之,乃盘计饭直而受之。

王治装归,至家,历述所为,出金相庆。妪命治良田三百亩,起屋作器,居然世家。妪早起,使成督耕,妇督织,稍惰,辄诃之。夫妇相安,不敢有怨词。过三年,家益富,妪辞欲去。夫妻共挽之,至泣下,妪亦遂止。旭旦候之,已杳矣。

异史氏曰:富皆得于勤,此独得于惰,亦创闻也。不知一贫彻骨,而至性不移,此天所以始弃之而终怜之也。懒中岂果有富贵乎哉!

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