During the Qianlong period, an older man named Chen from Sichuan Wan County (now Wanzhou, Chongqing) opened the Jiangwan Tea Shop in Shanghai. To hire someone to help him, he posted a recruitment notice on the tea shop door. A few days later, Zhan Gu, a young man, 20 years old, came to apply.
Zhan, who was from Huizhou, set out to make a living. With an honest and witty look, Chen liked Zhan very much. When asking him some professional questions about the tea industry, Zhan answered the questions well. Chen liked him even more and decided to take him on for a trial period.
Zhan was very diligent and competent. Due to the manner of receiving customers sincerely and heartily, the customers were full of praise for Zhan. The business of the tea shop prospered day by day. Each transaction handled by Zhan was transparent.
After six months, the Jiangwan Tea Shop made huge profits. Chen was happy and glad to find a good helper. From then on Chen entrusted most of the tea shop business to Zhan.
Later, boss Chen received a letter from his hometown saying that his wife was seriously ill and asked him to return his hometown to visit immediately. After hearing the news, boss Chen entrusted the tea shop to Zhan.
Zhan made a promise: “Thank you for your trust in me. I will do my best to maintain the business of the tea shop. Don’t worry, you can go home. I hope you come back as soon as possible.”
With these few words from Zhan, boss Chen was relieved to go home. Being old and weak, boss Chen could not endure the hardships of the journey. When returning home, he was sick and died soon.
As Shanghai and Sichuan are thousands of miles away and with multiple mountains in between, making communication difficult, Zhan did not get any information from Chen. After Chen left, the entire burden of running the tea shop fell on his shoulders. During that time, Zhan managed the shop painstakingly, so its business boomed. Zhan sometimes wanted to go home to visit his parents, wife, and children, but Chen did not return, so he was unable to go back home.
A decade passed when a young man, who looked like Chen, appeared in the shop door. It turned out that the young man was Chen’s son.
The man said: “After my father, the elder Chan, returned home, he was seriously ill and died soon afterward. Then, I was too young to come to take over the shop. I appreciate your efforts for all these years.”
On hearing that the older Chen had passed away, Zhan felt terribly sad. After calming down, Zhan took out the 10-year account book from the wooden cabinet and asked Chen’s son to check the transactions. After checking it all, Chen found that each transaction was painstakingly listed in detail. Zhan next asked Chen to count the stock items in inventory before turning over the management of the business to him.
For 10 years, Zhan had run the shop as his own and put in so much effort that it moved Chen deeply. In addition to his salary, Chen offered Zhan a thousand ounces of silver as a token of his gratitude.
Zhan received the 10 years’ salary, but he declined to accept the gift of silver. He said: “As I received your father’s kindness, I should return it. I just did my best with what your father entrusted me with. I did what I should do, and you don’t have to thank me anymore. I have been away for ten years, and now you are here, so please allow me to return to my hometown to be reunited with my family.”
Before leaving, Zhan repeatedly reminded Chen of the importance of the proper operation of the tea shop, and then took his belongings to leave. Looking at Zhan’s departing figure, Chen said to himself: “What a person of noble character!”
Translated by Joseph Wu and edited by Helen