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.

Line 22: Old Mother Wang 汪氏老母 was a widowed neighbor of the Zhu family when they lived in a village near Haozhou. 籌量 means “plan out the measure” which here could indicate making general plans to enter the local Buddhist temple, or perhaps measuring out the ritual grain offering that Zhu Yuanzhang would need to present to the abbot.  According to the original epitaph by Wei Su (see the annotations to the introduction), Zhu Yuanzhang’s parents had promised him to the Buddhist fold in return for prayers restoring him to good health when he was young and frail. Now Zhu is going to act on that promise.  Xia Yurun (Xia, page 94) writes that “under the guidance of Old Mother Wang, Zhu Yuanzhang made the correct choice at a key crossroads in his life – he entered the temple and became a monk.  This not only kept him alive during a time of plague and famine, the monastic lifestyle also served the key purpose of expanding his learning and enriching his life experience…”  Zhu Yuanzhang entered the temple in the ninth month of 1344.

Line 23: She sent her son 遣子.  Gravestones and epitaphs in Fengyang list Old Mother Wang’s husband as Cao Jun 曹均,who died long before the Zhus moved to the area.  Old Mother Wang had three sons, and it was the second son who was closest in age to Zhu Yuanzhang and escorted him to the temple.  Zhu stayed in contact with this family friend, and after becoming emperor, gave him the title “Lord of Pine Mountain 松山汪公” and asked him to change his surname to “Wang” to honor Old Mother Wang.  The other two brothers kept the Cao surname.  In Fengyang today, Xia (page 130) says there is still a traditional feeling that Wangs and Caos should not intermarry because they might be relatives.

Line 24: I underwent the Buddhist rites 空門禮佛.  “空門,” or “the empty gate,” refers to Buddhism, and is a nice reference because Zhu Yuanzhang is literally entering the gate to his new home.  “” in this case means “paid homage to” the Buddha.  The more direct translation is thus “With Buddhist ritual homage.” 

Line 25: The abbot had to close the empty granary 寺主封倉.  As Zhu Yuanzhang will make clear in Line 38, this was happening in Wuhuang Temple 於皇寺, which was located on the outskirts of his village.  Xia explains (page 95) that the name comes from an old Chu Kingdom era word for “tiger 於菟” with the “於” pronounced not in the modern pinyin of “yu” but rather as “wu 乌.”  And yes, tigers, were once plentiful there! The “huang 皇” refers to an empress “皇后” who, according to local legends, was raised by tigers in that area.  So the temple name can be translated as something like “Tiger Empress Temple.”  This temple was destroyed by Red Turban rebels, but restored by imperial decree after Zhu Yuanzhang became emperor.  The new complex was moved to a more auspicious location and named Longxing Si 龙兴寺, or Temple of the Dragon’s Rising, a name that it continues to have today.  In any case, the temple monks were reeling from the same drought as the villagers.  The phrase 封倉 could mean that the abbot “seized his food,” but from the context seems more likely to mean the abbot had to “close the granary” because there wasn’t enough food to go around.  This interpretation is supported by the original epitaph, which  says that after two months, “before I had time to learn the scriptures, the temple suffered from the local crop failure.  I fretted and pondered that I had no home to return to, and not enough knowledge to leave the temple, but in the end I resolved to seek food in the four directions.”

Line 26: 雲水 or “clouds and water” is the name for the wandering monks who roamed the countryside and could stay temporarily at any Buddhist temple.  Zhu Yuanzhang is now being forced to become a Clouds and Water monk.

Line 27: I had no skills 百無所長.  This is a play on the saying, “百無所成,”or “accomplish nothing,” which Zhu modifies to fit the rhyme scheme and the situation. 

Line 28: Turning to my relatives would have been shameful 依親自辱, to say nothing of difficult, since most of his known relatives had just perished. Zhu is likely referring to his father’s ancestral home in Jurong 句容, Jiangsu Province (near the present day city of Nanjing).  His father had left this town long before Zhu was born and lost contact with this branch of the family, so Zhu is indicating that to go seek their support at this point would have been improper.  He may also have been referring to his father’s elder brother’s family in Xuyi 旴眙, Jiangsu Province (along Lake Hongze), though it is unlikely that Zhu had ever been to that district, and he may have heard that almost everyone in this wing of the family had died in the plague.

Line 29: My shadow became my companion 侶影相將.  This is a poetic reference, calling to mind such famous lines as Li Bai (Tang Dynasty) raising his wine cup to invite the moon to join him and his shadow for a drink, or Su Shi (Song Dynasty) dancing with his shadow while wishing he could be with his brother.

Line 30: In the mornings I would make my way through the mist, while in the evenings I would seek an old temple for lodging 突朝煙而急進,幕投古寺以趨蹌.  This line continues the poetic imagery.  It is possible that the first phrase is referring not to the morning mist, but rather to the chimney smoke of cooking fires, and thus that Zhu was making his way toward them to seek a meal.  I have gone with the misty interpretation because it seems more parallel to the rest of the sentence.

NOTE: Text highlighted in blue is quoted from the post “Lines 21-30,” which has the full Chinese text and English translation for this section of the Huangling Bei.

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