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.
Line 41: The city was taken 陷城.This refers to the walled city of Haozhou 濠州, which Guo Zixing 郭子兴 captured with a small force of Red Turbans. Haozhou no longer exists. After the Ming founding, Zhu Yuanzhang reorganized his home district and created Fengyang. Haozhou was situated at the confluence of the Hao River with the larger Huai River 淮河.
Line 42:They encountered no defenders 拒守不去. According to Wu Han’s biography of Zhu Yuanzhang (see Sources, “Wu Han”), “On the 27th day of the second month (of 1352), Guo Zixing led several thousand men on a midnight raid of Haozhou. When the signal cannon sounded, the raiders charged the yamen gate and killed the magistrate…The Yuan general Cheli Buqa was camped many li away from Haozhou and feared the ferocity of the Red Army to the point that he refused to attack.”Continue reading →
(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 →
It’s an old text that is virtually unknown in English. So why bother reading the Imperial Tomb Tablet of the Great Ming?
My answer is that it’s a rare insight into the anguished heart of a remarkable man, the only peasant who founded a dynasty in imperial China.
And I think anyone who has a family should take a look at these words, because this is a speech by a son standing with his back to his parents’ graves and his face toward posterity, trying to express how his life has given meaning to his surname. What would you say if faced with such a task? Continue reading →
Or, as this phrase would have been chiseled into an actual stone stele in 1300s China: aintnopunctuationbaby
For English speakers new to classical Chinese, it is most disconcerting to realize that the original texts contained no punctuation. How is that possible?! How did readers in the Ming Dynasty know when to pause, when to stop thoughts completely, when to ask questions??? Continue reading →
(In this 3rd section of the Huangling Bei 皇陵碑, Zhu Yuanzhang and his only surviving sibling must decide how to survive the drought and plague deaths. Click here to see the previous section. Also – click on any line number to see complete annotations of each section.)
Line 21: 兄弟異路,哀動遙蒼. Elder and younger, we took separate paths, with even distant Heaven moved by our sorrow.
Line 21:With even distant Heaven moved by our sorrow 哀動遙蒼.The verb “to move 動” here indicates a moving of the sentiments. 遙蒼 is literally the distant green, but the 蒼 here is “蒼天,” which means not just a blue-green sky, but “Heaven” in an anthropomorphic sense. This phrase contrasts with Line 20, which featured a merciless sun glittering over the earth, thus in this line further emphasizing the piteousness of the two brothers.Continue reading →