Huan Gong, King of the State of Qi and the first overlord in the Spring and Autumn Period, in order to show his sincerity to enlist able and virtuous men and scholars from various places, had a bright torch lit in front of his palace day and night. But the torch had been burning for one whole year, and yet nobody came.
One day, a villager from the eastern suburb of the capital wished to have an audience with Huan Gong, claiming that he had the ability to recite the multiplication table.
When Huan Gong heard of this, he thought it was very funny and sent an officer to tell the villager:
"How could you hope to see the King just because you can recite the multiplication table?"
The villager replied:
"I hear that the torch before the palace has been burning for one year, yet nobody came. This is because His Majesty is a king of great talent and bold vision. All the talented men near and far couldn't be certain that His Majesty would have a high opinion of them, so they dared not come to see you. My knowledge of the multiplication table is truly trivial, but if His Majesty could receive me with courtesy, then His Majesty need not worry that those with real ability and learning would not come."
He then continued:
"Mount Tai is huge because it never expels any single small stone; the sea is deep because it gathers together every small stream. The Book of Songs says: `The wise kings of ancient times often went to peasants who cut firewood and grass to ask for their advice. Only this way can you pool the wisdom of the masses."'
Hearing this, Huan Gong of Qi repeatedly nodded assent, and accorded this villager a grand reception. As expected, within one month, many able and virtuous men from all places came one after another to see Huan Gong.