Annotations to Lines 31-40

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.

Line 32: Spirit 魂. The word used here, hun, refers to the soaring part of the soul, or 魂魄 hun-po. Zhu Yuanzhang accepted the common belief of his era that, upon death, the hun ascends to heaven, while the po crumbles into the earth. He actually uses both terms in this phrase, since the word for “ebbed 落魄” contains the character for the earth-bound po. (To read more on Zhu Yuanzhang’s spiritual beliefs, see “Langlois and Sun,” cited in Sources.) In this line, Zhu Yuanzhang’s hun is up in Heaven, seeking out the spirits of his deceased parents.  This makes the phrase “to no avail 無有” laden with sorrow to the point that it can almost stand on its own – in fact that is how Wang Jianying punctuates the line – though such phrasing would not fit the rhyme scheme.

Line 33: Crane 鶴The crane is typically a symbol of longevity in Chinese poetry, but here I think it carries more of a meaning of loneliness and perseverance, since it appears first as a sound and then as an image, traveling alone through the cold air, just like Zhu Yuanzhang.  Wang Jianying notes that this section of the Huangling Bei is “really full of emotion 颇具感情“ and is a big departure from Wei Su’s original text.  (See Sources for the Wang citation and Why does this text matter? for more on the contrast with Wei Su’s version.)

Line 34: Tumbleweed 蓬.  The character used here, peng, is defined in Kroll’s Classical Chinese dictionary (see Sources) as, “any of several plants that when withered disengage from their roots and are pushed along by the wind.”  The descriptive “滾滾” means “roiling” or “rolling” and also is an onomatopoeic term with its repetitive sound of gun-gun, but I used the word “churning” since the action is being performed by the heart.  This ends a two-line highly descriptive passage highlighting Zhu Yuanzhang’s inner turmoil and grief.

Line 35: Three years passed like floating clouds  一浮雲乎三載. In his “Longxing Temple Stele Text 龙兴寺碑文,” written five years after the Huangling Bei, Zhu Yuanzhang lists the places he traveled during these three wandering years as: 庐,六,光,固,汝,颍。  This route corresponds to Luzhou 州 (modern Hefei, the capital of Anhui Province), and then moves westward through Lu’an 六安 and into Henan Province, where Zhu traveled through cities known today as Huangchuan (the former 光州), Gushi 固始, and Ruzhou 汝州.  Zhu returned to his temple via Yingzhou 颍州, today’s Fuyang, in northwestern Anhui Province.  I was just over 20 years old 年方二十而強. His 20th year would correspond to late 1347, since in traditional China, a newborn is considered one year old.

Line 36: At that time, bandits arose along the Yangzi and the Huai rivers  時乃長淮盜起.  This was the start of the Red Turban uprising, which swept across China in the mid 14th century and led to the downfall of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty. Wu Han, in his biography of Zhu Yuanzhang, describes these uprisings in detail (see Sources, “Wu Han”)  Zhu Yuanzhang’s temple was located near the south bank of the Huai River at Haozhou (modern Fengyang). This river is located between the Yellow River and the Yangzi (which Zhu calls the “Chang” or Long River), and is considered the dividing line between the north and south of China’s heartland.

Line 37My thoughts turned toward my father 於是思親之心. Zhu Yuanzhang is thinking of his parents’ graves and wants to make sure they are not disturbed by the rebellion.  It took him some time to make his way back home, since the character “日” in 日遙眄 indicates that he was scanning the distant horizon “every day,” hoping finally to see Fengyang looming ahead.

Line 38: At Wuhuang Temple 於於皇.  As is explained in the annotation to Line 25, the character “於” in the temple name (as opposed to the preceding identical character which is a preposition) is pronounced in the local dialect as “wu” and means “tiger.”  Wang Jianying (see Sources, “Wang’s Annotions”) researched its location, and found traces of what he considered the temple’s well slightly to the north of today’s wall around the Imperial Tomb complex.  Local histories indicate that the temple was founded at some point during the Song Dynasty, abandoned during the Jin, reconstituted during the Yuan, and then abandoned again during the upheavals at the end of the Yuan.  Some texts refer to this temple as Huangjue (“Imperial Awakening”) Temple 皇觉寺, but this is obviously a post-Ming founding name.  Zhu had the temple rebuilt in a nearby locations and granted it the new name of Longxing (“Rising Dragon”) Temple 龙兴寺, which it has continued to use until today.

Line 39: I spent three years at the temple 住方三載.  This corresponds from late 1347 until 1350 or 51, during the Zhizheng reign period for the last emperor of the Yuan Dynasty, Toghon Temur (r. 1333-1370). 

Line 40: Ru and Ying 汝颍.  These are both locales to the west of Fengyang, which Zhu Yuanzhang traveled through during his wandering years: Ruzhou 汝州 (or possibly Runan 汝南) in modern Henan and Fuyang 阜阳 in modern Anhui.  The Red Turbans rose from this region, led by Han Shantong 韩山童 and his general, Liu Futong 刘福通. The late Ming scholar Hok-lam Chan has the best account of Han Shantong in his 2008 article (see Sources, “Symbolism and Legitimation.”)  Reached the southern gate of Fengyang 及鳳陽之南廂.  Fengyang was created after the Ming founding, and so did not have a footprint – much less any gates – at this point, so Wang Jianying considers this a reference to the present town of Dingyuan 定远, the base of the Red Turban leader Guo Zixing 郭子兴 (who Zhu Yuanzhang will soon join).

NOTE: Text highlighted in blue is quoted from the post “Lines 31-40,” which has the full Chinese text and English translation for this section of the Huangling Bei.
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