Annotations to lines 11-20

Line 11: The path before us was fraught with suffering and worries 家道惶惶.  The Chinese text says, literally, “family path alarmed.” The double character phrase 惶惶 has the sense of “a state of anxiety” and fear, and the repetitious sound in Chinese heightens this meaning in a way that can’t be translated.

Line 12: Second brother 仲兄.  Zhu Yuanzhang was the youngest son in a family of four sons and two daughters.  Wang Jianying (see Sources, Wang’s “Annotations”) quotes other texts which describe Zhu Yuanzhang’s oldest brother as living with his parents when the plague struck; these texts list brothers 2 and 3 as having been married into other families.  According to Wu Han (see Sources, “Wu Han”), only the third brother was “married out” to a more prosperous family.  (The two sisters had also been married to families in other locations.)  Thus there is some discrepancy as to whether Second Brother was living in the Zhu household at the time of the plague deaths – perhaps he was married out, but living nearby, while Third Brother was married to a family living in a distant place – though all sources indicate that Second Brother became head of the Zhu household when First Brother died.  It was a household that contained only two of the original six siblings.  I inserted the phrase (now head of the family) to clarify the situation.

Line 13: “Eldest sister-in-law 孟嫂” refers to the wife of Zhu Yuanzhang’s eldest brother.  Her departure stresses the depleted state of the Zhu family.

Line 14 “天” here has an anthropomorphic meaning of “Heaven,” as in the Celestial Ruler, but also the natural meaning of “the sky,” which is not producing rain.

Line 15: In my village 里人.  The character usually means “inside,” but here means “neighborhood” or “native place” so in this context 里人 refers to the people in Zhu Yuanzhang’s village, who were all struggling to survive.

Line 16: “予” is a personal reference in classical Chinese.  Having just talked about the suffering within his village, Zhu Yuanzhang now turns to the impact on him.  The line literally reads: “I also what have, heart frightened as madness.” is a question word, as in “what did I have but

Line 17What would make sense 如何是常.  This could also mean “How could this be normal?”  However, in the context, I think it refers to the two brothers making plans about how to survive. 

Line 18: 云” means “to say” in classical Chinese. “度荒” means “survive through a lean year,” so the phrase “各度凶荒” literally means “each survive this fearsome lean year,” but Second Brother is referring to having a place to stay, so I have added “so that we each could find a place.”  There is not enough grain in the Zhu household to support two people, so Second Brother will leave, in hopes that his younger brother can survive on what is left at home, and that he can find some other place where there is food.  Such a bitter scene.

Line 19: 傷” here means “lament, grieve for.” It is used here as a parallel word for “哭,” or “weep,” which also has the meaning of “lament.”

Line 20: “腸” means “intestines” but also has the meaning of one’s inner feelings, here further emphasized by adding the word “heart.”  “腸斷” translates as “innards split open,” but that sounds too strange in English, so I have gone instead with the sense of being “heartbroken,” which is the figurative meaning.  In this phrase, the pain of the two brothers down on the suffering earth is contrasted with the bright sun up in pure Heaven.

NOTE: Text highlighted in blue is quoted from the post “Lines 11-20,” which has the full Chinese text and English translation for this section of the Huangling Bei.

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