Zuo Zongtang was a prominent official in the late Qing dynasty. Due to his outstanding abilities, as well as his achievements in the recovery of Xinjiang, the Westernization Movement, and other areas, he was highly valued by the Qing government. At that time, there was a saying that reflected Zuo Zongtang's high status in the Qing government: "China cannot be without Hunan for a single day, and Hunan cannot be without Zuo Zongtang for a single day." Empress Dowager Cixi also valued Zuo Zongtang.
With his outstanding achievements and the favor of the court, combined with the naturally stubborn personality of the people of Hunan, Zuo Zongtang was quite self-confident and rarely put anyone in his eyes. However, it was this self-confident Zuo Zongtang who twice bowed his head in front of a beggar.
The first time was when Zuo Zongtang was heading to Xinjiang. At that time, Zuo Zongtang was determined to recover Xinjiang, so he carried a coffin as a symbol of his determination. Just as he was leaving the city, however, Zuo Zongtang unexpectedly stopped. He saw a beggar playing a game of chess. Zuo Zongtang was very good at chess and rarely encountered an opponent. The reason he stopped was that the beggar had a sign that said "The Number One Game in the World." Zuo Zongtang went to the beggar and quickly solved the puzzle. He took down the sign that said "The Number One Game in the World" and left with his troops.
After several years of war, Zuo Zongtang finally recovered Xinjiang and returned in triumph. However, shortly after Zuo Zongtang returned to the capital, he unexpectedly met the beggar with "The Number One Game in the World" sign again. Zuo Zongtang was very angry and went up to tear down the sign, but the beggar looked up and said, "Sir, why don't we play another game? Let me lose with grace." Zuo Zongtang, who had become interested, started playing chess with the beggar again. However, to Zuo Zongtang's surprise, he lost quickly this time. Zuo Zongtang was not satisfied and continued to play the beggar for another three games, but he was defeated each time. Zuo Zongtang realized that his chess skills were far inferior to the beggar's, but he was puzzled as to why he had won the beggar's game before leaving for Xinjiang.
The beggar smiled and said, "When General Zuo left for war, he had a heavy responsibility on his shoulders. I was afraid of dampening your spirits, and I also hinted that the chessboard is like a battlefield, with many changes and dangers. Only with confidence can you turn the tide of the battle and turn defeat into victory. Today, General Zuo has returned victorious, but I am afraid that you will become arrogant and complacent, which is not good for the country and the people. Therefore, I couldn't let you win this time." After hearing this, Zuo Zongtang was very ashamed and immediately bowed and thanked the old man. He exclaimed, "The teacher not only has superb chess skills, but also deeply understands the way of dealing with people. He can be my teacher for life!"
More than ten years later, Zuo Zongtang was wandering around again and met the same beggar. By that time, Zuo Zongtang was already a well-known statesman, and people often referred to him and Zeng Guofan together as "Zeng-Left." However, Zuo Zongtang did not think highly of Zeng Guofan, despite the fact that Zeng had helped him many times.
After chatting with the beggar for a while, Zuo Zongtang asked, "Do you know who 'Zeng-Left' is?" The beggar replied, "That is the respectful title given to Mr. Zeng and Mr. Zuo by the people of the world!" Zuo Zongtang then asked, "Why do people say Zeng-Left instead of Left-Zeng?" The beggar thought for a moment and said, "That's because Mr. Zeng sees Mr. Left, but Mr. Left does not see Mr. Zeng!"
After hearing the beggar's words, Zuo Zongtang was ashamed once again. He realized that his arrogance was known to everyone, but he still acted like a frog in a well. After that, Zuo Zongtang changed his arrogant ways and humbly learned from others. The beggar was also invited to Zuo Zongtang's residence as an adviser, reminding him not to be arrogant and complacent.