Why does this text matter? (Part 1 – The Grieving Son)

 

Huanglilng Statue
Stone guardian at Imperial Tomb Tablet site.

It’s an old text that is virtually unknown in English. So why bother reading the Imperial Tomb Tablet of the Great Ming?

My answer is that it’s a rare insight into the anguished heart of a remarkable man, the only peasant who founded a dynasty in imperial China.

And I think anyone who has a family should take a look at these words, because this is a speech by a son standing with his back to his parents’ graves and his face toward posterity, trying to express how his life has given meaning to his surname.  What would you say if faced with such a task? Continue reading

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Ain’t no punctuation, baby!

Or, as this phrase would have been chiseled into an actual stone stele in 1300s China: aintnopunctuationbaby
For English speakers new to classical Chinese, it is most disconcerting to realize that the original texts contained no punctuation. How is that possible?! How did readers in the Ming Dynasty know when to pause, when to stop thoughts completely, when to ask questions??? Continue reading

Lines 21 – 30

(In this 3rd section of the Huangling Bei 皇陵碑, Zhu Yuanzhang and his only surviving sibling must decide how to survive the drought and plague deaths.  Click here to see the previous section.  Also – click on any line number to see complete annotations of each section.)

Line 21: 兄弟異路,哀動遙蒼.  Elder and younger, we took separate paths, with even distant Heaven moved by our sorrow.

Line 22: 汪氏老母,為我籌量  Old Mother Wang helped me prepare a temple offering,

Line 23: 遣子相送,備醴馨香.  She sent her son to accompany me, laden with sweet wine and incense. Continue reading

Annotations to Lines 21-30

Line 21: With even distant Heaven moved by our sorrow 哀動遙蒼.  The verb “to move ” here indicates a moving of the sentiments.  遙蒼 is literally the distant green, but the  here is “蒼天,” which means not just a blue-green sky, but “Heaven” in an anthropomorphic sense.  This phrase contrasts with Line 20, which featured a merciless sun glittering over the earth, thus in this line further emphasizing the piteousness of the two brothers. Continue reading