Line 51: Escaping or guarding, both were inauspicious 卜逃卜守則不吉. Zhu Yuanzhang is throwing divination shells – like the modern set in the photo advertisement at right – to get an answer from the Qielan Buddha as to whether he should escape the chaos around him, or stay and guard his looted temple. The shells are landing interior side down for Zhu, an inauspicious yin/yin reply.
Zhu’s “Story of a Dream,” has a more extended version of this fateful divination prayer. As Romeyn Taylor explains in his analysis of this essay, the divine answer could come in one of three ways: “A throw of yin/yin is unfavorable; yang/yang ‘indifferently good’; and yin/yang absolutely favorable.”
“Story of a Dream” goes on to explain that Zhu then asked if he should try something new, and the spirit answered that he should. Zhu interpreted this to mean he should join the Red Turban rebellion. I am indebted to Prof. Taylor’s English translation, and will add one more quote here, because it is so moving: “I then spoke plainly to the spirit saying, ‘If I really do start something, will I be successful in the end? Let the spirit not deceive me in this. Kindly cause the shells to ‘yin’ again.’ I tossed the shells on the ground and, in fact, they ‘yinned.’ Accordingly, I made up my mind to enter Hao city.”
(NOTE – Click on the text line number to return to the text.)
Line 52: Some of the gate guards did not know who I was and harmed me.幾被無知而創。 Zhu entered Hao in April 1352, a time of considerable factional distrust among the different Red Turban rebel groups trying to hold the city. The phrase in Line 52 does not explicitly say “gate guards,” but I have assumed that “some” at the time of his entry into the walled city has this meaning, especially because Zhu elaborates on who harmed him in “Story of a Dream” (Taylor translation): “The guards seized me and intended to kill me without giving me a chance to explain (why I had come).”
Line 53: I was released (from capture) 獲釋. In his memorial text for Guo Zixing (known as the “祭滁阳王文” or “Memorial for the Prince of Chuyang”）, written after the dynastic founding, Zhu Yuanzhang poignantly noted that: “When I went to join the army, there were some who harmed me. Only (Guo Zixing) saved me. Now that we have established peace throughout the realm, I cannot forget this kindness.” Thus it is likely that Zhu was thrown into a prison cell by the gate guards, and not released until Commander Guo Zixing intervened. (The memorial text is quoted in Wang’s Annotations.)
Line 54: I had to deal with fools day and night 從愚朝暮. Wang’s Annotations cites the Sun Deya group as the fools alluded to here. (See the comments to Line 45 for more on Sun.) When two higher ranking officers, Zhao Junyong 赵军用 and Peng Da 蓬大, arrived in Haozhou, Sun allied himself with Zhao, and Commander Guo Zixing with Peng. Matters soon deteriorated, as has been noted by Wu Han: “The two sides were soon in an open, and yet also behind-the-scenes, struggle for power and neither side would concede anything. Sun Deya worked to provoke Zhao Junyong, saying the Guo Zixing was shortsighted and could only recognize General Peng, and furthermore that Guo was fawning on Peng and blindly serving him only while rolling his eyes contemptuously at General Zhao. This made Zhao furious. He led his personal guard straight into the heat of the fight, seizing Guo Zixing without warning and locking him up in an empty room in the Sun compound.” It was left to Zhu Yuanzhang to extract his commander from this predicament.
Line 55: The Yuan sent a force to punish us 元兵討罪. The Yuan Dynasty court sent Chancellor Toghto down from Beijing to suppress the Red Turban rebellion. According to Wu Han, Toghto led 100,000 Chinese troops and successfully attacked the strategic city of Xuzhou (徐州, in today’s Jiangsu Province). The Red Turban generals Zhao and Peng, mentioned in the note above, fled this attack by escaping south to the walled city of Haozhou. Toghto dispatched his General Jia Lu 贾鲁 to chase after them, and this is the army that Zhu Yuanzhang now faced. According to Taylor’s “Story of Dream” (Note 30), Jia Lu pursued the Red Turbans “with eight guards (about 80,000 men) of Han troops, probably militiamen and new recruits for the most part.”
Line 56: But what they seized they could not hold, and the more they tried the more we galloped out of reach 一攫不得，再攫再驤. The seige of Haozhou lasted several months, from late 1352 until spring of 1353.
Line 57: When they moved their camp, we changed our rampart, our flags and banners continuing to face off 移營易壘，旌旗相望. The appearance of Yuan soldiers unified the squabbling Red Turbans in Haozhou. As Wu Han explains, “With the enemy before them, the Red Turban leadership became alarmed and everyone reconciled, joining together to hold the city. Yuanzhang strengthened the morale of the soldiers by spending day and night on the walls directing the defense of Haozhou.”
Line 58: Eventually the Yuan raised the siege and left 已而解去. The text literally states “then released and left” but the official Veritable Records of Ming Taizu has the same phrase in an expanded version 元兵解围去， or “the Yuan soldiers raised the siege and left.” The reason for this sudden departure, is that General Jia Lu died unexpectedly from an illness. Xia has the best account of this, which translates into English as: “On the 16th day of the fifth month, Jia Lu ordered, ‘We must take the city this morning, and then we can eat.’ After rallying his troops, Jia Lu himself jumped on his horse to lead the attack. But just as he reached the Hao walls, he suddenly became dizzy and tumbled from his mount. Jia Lu died at camp not long after. With their leader dead, the Yuan troops lost their will to fight, and could only abandon the field and depart.” (Page 114)
Line 59: I was able to get away from my unit, taking up reins and heading off on my horse 予脫旅隊，馭馬控韁. With the crisis averted, Zhu Yuanzhang was once again faced with the incompetence of the Hao garrison leadership, who now focused on awarding themselves new titles. Zhu wrote in Story of a Dream (as translated by Taylor), “Even though I was just a soldier, I had the opportunity to observe the conduct of my commanding officers. When I had evaluated them over a long period of time, (I concluded that) they were very poor at making plans…Peng and Zhao bestowed on themselves the title (of prince) and most of their followers were abusive and insulting towards the others. I understood that they were not following the Way.” Zhu Yuanzhang realized that the time had come for him to establish his own army. His first step was to leave Haozhou, under the pretext of finding more provisions for the Haozhou rebels. According to Wu Han, “Yuanzhang came up with a plan to take some salt to Huaiyuan and exchange it for several bags of grain, which he presented to Guo Zixing. Privately, Yuanzhang considered that two princes and a variety of commanders meant too much ambition and too little insight He feared that he would never advance unless he formed his own band – he needed to be able to rely on a unit of his own as a personal powerbase. With this idea in mind, Yuanzhang asked for leave and returned to Zhongli, where he set up a recruitment banner.” (Zhongli 钟离 was the name of Zhu Yuanzhang’s home village.)
Line 60: I ventured southward, where I felt more at ease and could seek glory 出游南土，氣舒而光. The second half of this phrase can be literally translated as: “mood relaxed, then glory.” I have translated 光 to mean “seeking glory,” in the sense that Zhu Yuanzhang’s mood improved as soon as he escaped Hao. He finally felt free to follow the command of the divination shells: start a successful movement that would bring about righteous change. By venturing “southward,” Zhu meant that he was heading from Haozhou to the next town, Dingyuan 定远 and beyond.
NOTE: Text highlighted in blue is quoted from the post “Lines 51-60,” which has the full Chinese text and English translation for this section of the Huangling Bei.