The town of Fengyang 凤阳, to the north of Anhui Province in the heart of China, may seem at first glance to be an ordinary, and rather unremarkable, provincial outpost. But carefully preserved in a park southwest of the town lies a key site for the Ming Dynasty, which ruled the Middle Kingdom from 1368 until 1644.
Fengyang is where the eventual dynastic founder lost most of his family to the plague demons. This founder, Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋, was a grieving and impoverished peasant youth when he buried his parents and brother and nephew on a remote hillside near the town that he later expanded, renamed, and tried (unsuccessfully) to make his dynastic capital. Though Zhu had to leave his home to survive in the aftermath of the burial, he was a filial son, and regretted not being able to tend his family graves. Soon after becoming emperor, he transformed his family’s unmarked plots into a grand imperial cemetery for the House of Zhu, flanked by imposing statues (see the photo above, which I took in 2006). He ordered that a stone tablet be placed before the graves, and carved with the words he wanted his descendants to read and ponder for generation after generation. The focus of this blog is my translation of this remarkable text.
The stele inscribed with the words of 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. (See the inset photo.) Modern preservationists have covered it in glass and housed it within a pagoda. The text contains a brief introduction followed by 96 rhymed lines. I have relied on the notes and research of the Fengyang scholar Wang Jianying 王剑英(1921-1996) for my interpretation and welcome your suggestions for corrections.
To my knowledge, no complete translation of this stele text into English has been published. I have translated the entire text and will publish excerpts on this site in 10-line installments with annotations.