October 21 marks the 691st birthday of Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of China’s Ming Dynasty.
He was born (on what corresponds to Oct. 21 on our modern calendar) in 1328, founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368, and died in 1398.
To be more specific, he was born in an Earth Dragon year on the 18th day of the 9th month of the 1st year of the Tianli 天曆 reign of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty’s Wenzong 元文宗 Emperor Tugh Temur.
The youngest son in a large family, the Ming founder grew up in northern Anhui Province. His own writings describe his parents as hard-working peasants who “endured the hardships of agriculture, working day and night, always worrying.”
His family background and unlikely rise from goat herder to Buddhist monk to Red Turban rebel is the subject of the first volume in my historical fiction series on the Ming founding. “The Lacquered Talisman” is currently in final production with the Hong Kong-based Earnshaw Books publishing house.
She was born (on what corresponds to August 9 on our modern calendar) in 1332, married in 1352, and died in 1382. To be more specific, she was born in a Water Monkey year on the 18th day of the 7th month of the 3rd year in the Zhishun 至順 reign of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty’s Wenzong 元文宗 Emperor Tugh Temur.
The historical records do not reveal her given name, but Empress Ma was known for her unbound feet and her calming influence over her husband – the founding emperor of the Ming Dynasty.
She is the subject of the next volume in my historical fiction series on the Ming founding. Volume 1, titled “The Lacquered Talisman,” launches the story of Zhu Yuanzhang, the Ming founder, and is currently in the production stages with Earnshaw Books.
The 600-year-old stone tablet inscribed with the life story of the founding Ming Dynasty emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, known as the Imperial Tomb Tablet of the Great Ming 大明皇陵之碑, or the Huangling Bei, stands over 7 meters high and is borne on the back of a stone turtle. I was able to visit the remote cemetery in northern Anhui Province where this tablet stands, but was surprised to discover that the complete text had never been translated into English. I started this blog to amend this discrepancy and launch the first full English translation of this important document. Click here to start from the beginning of the Huangling Bei 皇陵碑 text and scroll through the translation in 10-line increments. Please feel free to disagree with my word choices and interpretations! You can use the “Huangling Bei texts” tab in the “Categories” sidebar at right for commentary and other categories.
And click here for some basic background on this text.
I am working on plans to start a new translation of another text important to the Ming founding. Stay tuned! But first, I want to prepare my historical novel, based on the first section of the Huangling Bei, for publication by Earnshaw Books in 2019.
It is interesting that the only time the word 明 is used in the Imperial Tomb Tablet of the Great Ming (大明皇陵之碑) is in the introduction, when Zhu Yuanzhang writes that his essay is meant to “describe the hardships and difficulties, while clarifying the advances and good fortune 述艱難，明昌運.” He does not mention that 明, which means “bright” and “clear,” is also the Chinese character Zhu selected as the name for his dynasty, the Ming.
Nor does Zhu say that he was a Red Turban – the only hint of his allegiance to this famous rebellion is his description of his banners as red in Line 62. He clearly did not see himself – or did not wish to be remembered – as a rebel. Rather, Zhu carefully portrays his rise to power as part of the natural progression of China’s great dynastic and military tradition. Continue reading →
Line 91: 欲厚陵之微葬，卜者乃曰:不可，而地且臧。I desired a more lavish tomb for the modest graves, but the one who divined said that this could not happen, because the burial location was auspicious.
Line 92: 於是祀事之禮已定，每精潔乎蒸嘗。Therefore the sacrificial duties of performing rituals were established, and each spirit was kept pure through the seasonal offerings.
Line 93: 惟劬勞罔極之恩難報，勒石銘於皇堂。Thinking of my parents’ toil and suffering, I know I can never repay their limitless kindness, I can only carve into stone the inscription for this imperial hall. Continue reading →
Line 91: The text concludes with a discussion of the gravesite in Fengyang, Anhui Province. As explained above in the note for Line 10, Zhu’s parents were buried during a rainstorm, when his family was in desperate circumstances. Naturally, once he rose to power, Zhu wanted a fancier tomb. “厚” means “thick” or “lavish” and is the opposite of “微” which can mean “tiny” or “imperceptible,” but also has the meaning I use here of “modest” or even “hidden.” (See Kroll’s dictionary for more on these terms.) Zhu used the same verb for “divined” as in Lines 49 and 51, so perhaps he (or his designate) is once again tossing shells. In any case, the burial site was to remain undisturbed, though an elaborate complex was then built around this royal cemetery, and it can still be visited today.Continue reading →
(In this 9th installment of this blog’s Huangling Bei 皇陵碑 translation, Zhu Yuanzhang’s armies pacify China as he settled on Nanjing as his capital city. Click here to see the previous section. Also – click on any line number to see complete annotations of each section.)
Line 81: 親征荊楚，將平湖湘。I led a campaign into Jingchu and with my generals pacified the Huxiang region;
Line 82: 三苗盡服，廣海入疆。To the south the three tribes of the Miao obeyed and the coastal region became part of our territory.
Line 83: 命大將軍東平乎吳越，齊魯耀乎旌幢。I sent my leading general to pacify the regions of Wu and Yue, while the lands of Qi and Lu were decorated with my banners and streamers. Continue reading →