Annotations to Lines 81-90

Line 81 and 82: These two lines can be taken together as a statement of how Zhu pacified the south of China.  Wang Jianying (see Sources) points out that the sequence is a bit off and overlaps with the next few lines, but basically this refer to the battles, and ultimate victories over Chen Youliang to the west, over Fang Guozhen along the coast to the east, and against various other warlords to the south and west. “Jingchu,” is another name for the Three Kingdoms era State of Chu, which dominated southern China in ancient times. This region includes Lake Poyang 鄱陽湖 in Jiangxi, where Zhu defeated Chen (who was killed by an arrow) in a major naval battle in 1363.  “Huxiang” refers to the Xiang River 湘江 in Hunan Province.  According to Wang, the “three Miao” reference is not about specific ethnic tribes but rather a statement that Zhu’s armies had taken control of the Southwest.  It may also refer to the three Miao generals who served under Zhu’s theater commander, Hu Dahai.  These three generals (Jiang Ying, Liu Zhen, and Li Fu) rebelled in 1362 in Zhejiang Province, cutting off Commander Hu’s head and also killing Hu’s son before running off to join Zhu’s rival, Zhang Shicheng.  Ming scholar Edward Dreyer (see Sources) said the aftermath of this rebellion marked a low point for Zhu Yuanzhang, though “he did not lose his nerve even in this crisis.”  In fact, he regrouped and, as Zhu states in Line 81, he led his armies toward Nanchang for an all-out war with Chen Youliang, which Zhu won.  Dreyer explains the significance of this key moment: “The generals could no longer defy his orders openly, and his power to distribute captured troops among his commanders and to assign commands in the newly conquered territories gave him the means to assert collective discipine for the first time.  The military victory in the P’oyang campaign is thus the critical event that made the founding of the Ming empire possible.” (Dreyer, page 52)

Line 83: The “leading general” was Xu Da, and this contrasts to the start of Line 81, in which Zhu personally led his troops.  As Wang Jianying notes, after the Poyang campaign victory, Zhu no longer needed to lead military expeditions, but instead could delegate this to his top generals. Wu, Yue, Qi and Lu are all the names of ancient kingdoms along the east coast of China.

Line 84: This line continues the description of the conquered territories, looking west from Zhu’s capital city of Nanjing.  Yi and Luo are river names, tributaries of the Yellow River and connected to each other.  This is also a reference to the Kaifeng開封 region, the former capital of the Song Dynasty.  Further to the west, Mount Xiao marks the historical border between Henan and Shanxi provinces.  Han refers to the strategic Hangu Pass 函谷關, and so this region is also known as Xiaohan.

Line 85:  Zhu uses a derogatory term here for the Mongols.  “胡” indicates barbarians from the north, and has the meaning of “uncouth.”  The capital referred to is Dadu, known today as Beijing (which Kublai Khan had proclaimed as his capital seat shortly after establishing the Yuan Dynasty in 1271).  After defeating Chen Youliang at Lake Poyang in 1363, and capturing Zhang Shicheng in Suzhou in the fall of 1367, Zhu sent General Xu Da north to end the Yuan regime.  Meanwhile, Zhu founded his new Ming Dynasty in the winter of 1368. The last Yuan emperor, Toghon Temür, fled Beijing in autumn of that year.  The phrase 市不易肆, quotes the official Ming biography of Xu Da and literally reads “markets/not/change to/havoc.”  After the Ming forces secured the city, a group of former Yuan officials presented themselves to General Xu, and offered their services to the Ming.  The general sent these officials south to Nanjing, where Zhu warmly received them.  Among this group was Wei Su, the retired court historian who wrote the original (and rejected) version of this text.  (See the annotations for the fourth line of the introduction above.) 

Lines 86-87: These lines both refer to mountain passes that were famed throughout Chinese history for their military significance.  The Hangu Pass (reference above in the notes to Line 84) on the Yellow River was the defensive shield needed to protect the ancient capital city of Luoyang from invasions by Central Asians.  The Jingxing Pass is located in Hebei Province along the Taihang Mountains, and guarded a key commercial road for transporting coal and other products.  According to Wang Jianying, “within and beyond the rivers and mountains” refers to the area inside the Yellow River and beyond the Taihang Mountains, which is the modern province of Shanxi.   

Line 88: The text now turns from China’s internal struggles to external recognition of the new dynasty.  Xuantu and Lelang were two of the “Four Commandaries,” or Chinese colonies located in what is now the region of North Korea and the Liaodong Peninsula.  The Ming histories list Champa, Annam (both now part of Vietnam), Java and other Indonesian Islands, Cambodia, and other kingdoms in Southeast Asia sending tribute missions soon after the Ming founding.

Line 89: As Edward Farmer (see Sources) has described in his important book on the topic, Zhu struggled to decide on a dynastic capital.  “The matter of finding a capital for the new regime remained unsettled for more than a decade after the founding when the decision was made to remain Nanjing,” Farmer notes. The Song Dynasty capital of Kaifeng and Zhu’s birthplace of Haozhou were both contenders.  However, in 1374 Zhu made his decision, writing (as translated by Farmer) from Nanjing that, “I was born poor and insignificant, but thanks to changes in world conditions, I created a base here.” Nanjing has had many names over its long history, and in Line 89, Zhu is using an old and prestigious term, rather than Jiqing Circuit 集慶路, which the Mongols called it, or even Yingtian 應天 (Answering Heaven), the name Zhu used for his base as soon as he captured it.  The association of Nanjing with crouching tigers (and coiling dragons) dates to the Three Kingdoms era, when the famous military strategist Zhuge Liang (181-234) considered its topography to have these characteristics.  Wang Jianying considers “phoenix” to be a reference to Fengyang, which (as noted in the annotations to Line 1) means “South Side of Phoenix Mountain,” and was the name Zhu gave to his birthplace.  Sounds like he is still feeling a bit guilty for not having made Fengyang his capital.

Line 90: The reference to the Yangzi, China’s longest river, is a poetic one: “天塹” or “Heaven’s Moat.”  Zhu uses the old name, 鐘山, or Bell Mountain for Nanjing’s most famous peak.  I have gone with the better-known “Purple Mountain” name used today.

NOTE: Text highlighted in blue is quoted from the post “Lines 71-80,” which has the full Chinese text and English translation for this section of the Huangling Bei.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s