Assessment of One’s Overall Qualities
This term refers to a comprehensive assessment of a scholar’s abilities and literary talent. It was first put forward by Liu Xie (465?-520) of the Southern Dynasties in his literary critique The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons. Here cheng (程) means to assess; qi (器) refers to a person’s moral conduct, ability to govern and literary talent. In Liu’s view, some scholars since the Han and Wei dynasties had been scorned for their poor moral conduct or their inability to handle political or military affairs. This also harmed their literary reputation. Thus, he advised scholar-officials to not only possess writing skills but also excel morally and perform meritorious deeds for their country. He believed that a virtuous person would embrace noble ideals, be knowledgeable and insightful, be versatile, and fulfill worthy goals. He stressed the need to judge a scholar-official by his statements and moral character and his performance of meritorious service.
After recruiting talented men, Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty immediately tested their abilities; he was so eager that he could not wait to assign them to important posts. (The History of the Han Dynasty)
The act of writing should be performed as if it was a matter of handling major military or state affairs. Those bearing heavy responsibilities should act as pillars of society. When unappreciated, they should preserve their moral integrity and achieve enduring fame through their writings. When serving as officials, they should seize the chance to accomplish great goals. Such scholars fit the description of “outstanding talent” discussed in The Book of History. (Liu Xie: The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons)