During the Northern Song Dynasty, there lived a father and two sons who were all great men of letters renowned across the country. They were all ranked among the eight greatest masters of prose writing during the Tang and Song dynasties. They were the "Three Su": Su Xun, Su Shi and Su Zhe.
Su Xun, styled Mingyun, in his teens did not like to read, because he found the flowery, vain literary style of the time repulsive. His family and relatives were worried, telling his father: "Your son is shirking his lessons; why do you not interfere?" The father only smiled in response: "You do not understand him. I am not worried."
When Su Xun was 27, his first son Su Shi was born. Su Xun suddenly realized that, though he was a father now, he had accomplished nothing. Spurred on by the fact that his brothers and cousins had all excelled in the imperial examinations, he began to compel himself to study diligently. To master the writing techniques of the ancients, he fired off hundreds of his own essays. After strenuous efforts, he became a master of prose writing in his time.
Three years after the birth of Su Shi, Su Zhe was born. Su Xun, late in his accomplishments, therefore placed all hopes of success on his sons. He gave them lessons himself, bidding them to recite and imitate works by famous writers, and revised and commented meticulously on whatever they wrote.
In 1056 Su Xun took his sons to the capital for the imperial examination. That year, Su Shi was 21, and Su Zhe, 18. The brothers effortlessly passed the examination for Juren. and the examination sponsored by the Ministry of Rituals, as well as the Palace Hall Examination, and were awarded the title of jinshi.