Li Linfu was a prime minister during the Tang Dynasty. As a child, he lived in the eastern capital of Louyang and loved to play all day long. Because he was always occupied with playing, he didn’t learn how to read until he was 20 years old.
Linfu’s hobbies included hunting, playing polo, and raising eagles and dogs. His favorite sport was playing polo on a donkey. When he became tired, he would dismount the donkey and lie on the ground to rest. One day, an ugly Taoist sitting nearby said to Li Linfu, “How is playing polo on a donkey fun? Is it a worthwhile interest?”
Linfu glared at the Taoist and retorted, “Mind your own business!” The Taoist then left.
The next day, the Taoist came again and repeated the same words. Linfu, being a bright young man, realized the Taoist was not an ordinary person. He quickly stood up and bowed to the Taoist.
“Although you are good at polo, sooner or later you will fall off the donkey. It will be too late for regret when you are hurt!” warned the Taoist.
Linfu promised that he would be careful in the future and no longer play polo on a donkey. The Taoist smiled and told him, “I will wait for you here in three days at 3 a.m.”
Linfu agreed to the appointment.
By the time Linfu got there on the agreed date, the Taoist was already waiting. The Taoist asked, “Why are you late?” Linfu quickly apologized, and then the Taoist asked to meet again in another three days at 3 a.m. For the second appointment, Linfu got there by midnight and waited a long time for the Taoist to arrive.
The Taoist was happy to talk to Linfu. “I’ve been in the human world for 500 years already. You are the only one the heavenly fairies have on a name list, so someday you can fly to Heaven and become an immortal. But if you don’t want to become an immortal, you can serve as a prime minister of the Tang Dynasty for 20 years. Think about it. I am going back today. I will meet you here again at 3 a.m. in three days.”
Back home, Linfu thought, “I was born into a royal family. I have been bold and chivalrous since my youth. It would be wonderful to serve as prime minister for 20 years.” When Li Linfu met the Taoist again, he confessed that he wanted to be a prime minister, not an immortal.
The Taoist pitied him and scolded, “I really did not think you were so vulgar! I have visited 500 talented people, and you are the only one with the ability to become immortal. You’ve really disappointed me. I pity you.”
Linfu felt immense regret upon hearing this. He wanted to change his mind, but the Taoist told him that it was too late. The Gods in Heaven already knew his first choice.
Before leaving, the Taoist warned him, “You can be prime minister for 20 years, during which you will have total power over other people’s lives. You cannot harm people through conspiracies. Try to save more people and kill as few as possible in order to accumulate virtue for your next life. By doing so, you will be able to fly to Heaven and become an immortal in another 300 years. Now, your good fortune is imminent. You may go to the capital and take an official post.” A tearful Li Linfu said goodbye as the Taoist left.