It is interesting that the only time the word 明 is used in the Imperial Tomb Tablet of the Great Ming (大明皇陵之碑) is in the introduction, when Zhu Yuanzhang writes that his essay is meant to “describe the hardships and difficulties, while clarifying the advances and good fortune 述艱難，明昌運.” He does not mention that 明, which means “bright” and “clear,” is also the Chinese character Zhu selected as the name for his dynasty, the Ming.
Nor does Zhu say that he was a Red Turban – the only hint of his allegiance to this famous rebellion is his description of his banners as red in Line 62. He clearly did not see himself – or did not wish to be remembered – as a rebel. Rather, Zhu carefully portrays his rise to power as part of the natural progression of China’s great dynastic and military tradition. Continue reading →
Line 91: 欲厚陵之微葬，卜者乃曰:不可，而地且臧。I desired a more lavish tomb for the modest graves, but the one who divined said that this could not happen, because the burial location was auspicious.
Line 92: 於是祀事之禮已定，每精潔乎蒸嘗。Therefore the sacrificial duties of performing rituals were established, and each spirit was kept pure through the seasonal offerings.
Line 93: 惟劬勞罔極之恩難報，勒石銘於皇堂。Thinking of my parents’ toil and suffering, I know I can never repay their limitless kindness, I can only carve into stone the inscription for this imperial hall. Continue reading →
Line 91: The text concludes with a discussion of the gravesite in Fengyang, Anhui Province. As explained above in the note for Line 10, Zhu’s parents were buried during a rainstorm, when his family was in desperate circumstances. Naturally, once he rose to power, Zhu wanted a fancier tomb. “厚” means “thick” or “lavish” and is the opposite of “微” which can mean “tiny” or “imperceptible,” but also has the meaning I use here of “modest” or even “hidden.” (See Kroll’s dictionary for more on these terms.) Zhu used the same verb for “divined” as in Lines 49 and 51, so perhaps he (or his designate) is once again tossing shells. In any case, the burial site was to remain undisturbed, though an elaborate complex was then built around this royal cemetery, and it can still be visited today.Continue reading →
(In this 9th installment of this blog’s Huangling Bei 皇陵碑 translation, Zhu Yuanzhang’s armies pacify China as he settled on Nanjing as his capital city. Click here to see the previous section. Also – click on any line number to see complete annotations of each section.)
Line 81: 親征荊楚，將平湖湘。I led a campaign into Jingchu and with my generals pacified the Huxiang region;
Line 82: 三苗盡服，廣海入疆。To the south the three tribes of the Miao obeyed and the coastal region became part of our territory.
Line 83: 命大將軍東平乎吳越，齊魯耀乎旌幢。I sent my leading general to pacify the regions of Wu and Yue, while the lands of Qi and Lu were decorated with my banners and streamers. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →
(In this 8th installment of this blog’s Huangling Bei 皇陵碑 translation, Zhu Yuanzhang leads his army across the Yangzi River and captures Nanjing, which will become the capital of the Ming Dynasty. Click here to see the previous section. Also – click on any line number to see complete annotations of each section.)
Line 71: 於是家有眷屬，外練兵港。From then on, my household had relatives in it. Beyond us, my soldiers were well trained and ready
Line 72: 群雄並驅，飲食不遑。Our band of heroes galloped off, with no more leisure for dining and drinking.
Line 71: This line marks the transition from an extended description of being reunited with family to Zhu’s military exploits. The second half of the phrase, “my soldiers were well trained and ready 外練兵港” is literally “exterior trained, weapons sharpened.” The word “exterior 外” indicates the physical body being strong and ready for battle, but also refers to Zhu’s switch from talking about his interior family life to the external world his troops must now face.Continue reading →
Line 61: I convinced the locals 倡農夫. These locals were farmers in the Huai River valley, in today’s Anhui Province. Zhu Yuanzhang is calling on them to join a righteous cause (as opposed to what the ruling Mongols would have deemed a rebellion). The recruits were joining Zhu’s original band of “24 heroes,” who have been named in several places and included companions like Tang He 汤和 and Xu Da 徐达, the future generals who would fight at his side straight through to the dynastic founding in 1368.Continue reading →
Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋 is famous as the peasant-turned-rebel who defeated the Mongols and founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368. However, prior to tying on a red turban and joining the rebellion, Zhu spent eight formative years as a Buddhist monk. It is these years that are the focus of the middle third of the Imperial Tomb Tablet of the Great Ming 大明皇陵之碑. Understanding how the Ming founder’s religious beliefs guided his path to the throne is another reason why this text matters.
To recap: after losing his entire family to a plague strike and its aftermath, the orphaned 16-year-old Zhu would have hardly looked like a future emperor. In fact, he ranks as China’s most unlikely dynastic founder. Continue reading →