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.
(In this 4th section of the Huangling Bei 皇陵碑, Zhu Yuanzhang, having lost his family to the plague and been turned out from his Buddhist temple, has become a wandering monk. Click here to see the previous section. Also – click on any line number to see complete annotations of each section.)
Line 31: 仰穹崖崔嵬而倚碧，聽猿啼夜月而淒涼。 Facing a lofty precipice, I would rest on the green moss; listening to the night calls of the monkeys, I felt cold and desolate.
Line 31:Lofty precipice 穹崖崔嵬. This phrase in Chinese is a string of images: “穹” means “vault” or “dome,” and often refers to the vault of Heaven. “The domed cliffs towering and lofty,” is closer to the text but seemed too flowery to me in English so I simplified it to “lofty precipice.” “Rest on the green moss 倚碧” is hard to translate because the color word, “碧” can mean either blue or green, and the color needs a noun to work in English, so it could mean “by the blue waters” as easily as “on the green moss.” “Calls of the monkeys 猿啼” indicates that Zhu Yuanzhang was traveling through the mountain forests – the rhesus monkey can still be found in southern Anhui Province. Continue reading →