Why does this text matter? (Part 2 – The Monk Years)

Statue of Zhu Yuanzhang in the Anhui temple that claims him as a member of its fold.

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

Lines 51-60

(In this 6th section of the Huangling Bei 皇陵碑, Zhu Yuanzhang divines that he should join the Red Turban rebellion, but he discovers that working with rebels can be difficult. Click here to see the previous section. Also – click on any line number to see complete annotations of each section.)
Guo Zixing, the Red Turban leader in Haozhou.

Line 51:卜逃卜守則不吉,將就凶而不妨。Escaping or guarding, both were inauspicious; then I understood and did not try to interfere.

Line 52: 即起趨降而附城,幾被無知而創。I hastened to the city gates to pledge allegiance, but some of the gate guards did not know who I was and harmed me.

Line 53: 少頃獲釋,身體安康。After some time, I was released and ready, my health restored.

Line 54: 從愚朝暮,日日戎行。I had to deal with fools day and night and led a military life. Continue reading

Lines 41-50

(In this 5th section of the Huangling Bei 皇陵碑, Zhu Yuanzhang mulls over whether he should become a Red Turban. Click here to see the previous section. Also – click on any line number to see complete annotations of each section.)

Line 41: 未幾陷城,深高城隍。  The city was taken by only a few who surmounted the walls and moats;

Shaoxing gate
Bridge over a moat before a Chinese city wall.

Line 42: 拒守不去,號令彰彰。  They encountered no defenders and took clear control.

Line 43: 友人寄書,云及趨降。  A friend sent me a letter saying that I should hasten to submit;

Line 44: 既憂且懼,無可籌詳。  But I was too worried and afraid to make any plans.

Continue reading

Lines 31-40

(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 32: 魂悠悠而覓父母無有,志落魄而倘佯。  My spirit fretted and sought out my father and mother, but to no avail; my will ebbed and I wandered aimlessly. Continue reading

Lines 21 – 30

(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 22: 汪氏老母,為我籌量  Old Mother Wang helped me prepare a temple offering,

Line 23: 遣子相送,備醴馨香.  She sent her son to accompany me, laden with sweet wine and incense. Continue reading

The Intro and First 10 Lines

(Click on “Annotations” to see notes on this first section of the Huangling Bei 皇陵碑 translation.)

孝子皇帝元璋謹述: The filial son, emperor Yuanzhang, sincerely relates:

洪武十一年夏四月,命江陰侯吳良督工新建皇堂。 In the 11th year of the Hongwu era, during the fourth month, the summer season, I commanded Wu Liang, the Duke of Jiangyin, to supervise work on the new construction of the Imperial Hall.

Fengyang Wall.jpg
The wall that Zhu Yuanzhang ordered built around his hometown, today’s Fengyang 凤阳,which Zhu wanted to make his Middle Capital 中都.

予時秉鑒窺形,但見蒼顏皓首,忽思往日之艱辛。 At this time, I picked up a mirror and examined my appearance, seeing that my color was pale and my hair white.  My thoughts abruptly turned to the hardships of the past.

況皇陵碑記皆儒臣粉飾之文,恐不足為后世子孫戒。 Moreover, I realized the original text for the Imperial Tomb Tablet had been embellished by the Confucian ministers to the point that I feared it would not sufficiently admonish later generations and descendants. Continue reading

Annotations to the intro and first 10 lines

NOTE: Text highlighted in blue is quoted from the post “The Intro and First 10 Lines, which has the full Chinese text and English translation of this section to the Huangling Bei.

Intro, Line 1: “Yuanzhang” 元璋 is the given name of Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋, who was born in 1328 in a rural area south of the Huai River, located to the north of today’s Anhui Province.  I have translated as “sincerely,” but it also could be “respectfully.” Continue reading

大明皇陵之碑 The Imperial Tomb Tablet of the Great Ming, the “Huangling Bei”


The town of Fengyang 凤阳, to the north of Anhui Province in the heart of China, may seem at first glance to be an ordinary, and rather unremarkable, provincial outpost.  But carefully preserved in a park southwest of the town lies a key site for the Ming Dynasty, which ruled the Middle Kingdom from 1368 until 1644.

Fengyang is where the eventual dynastic founder lost most of his family to the plague demons.  This founder, Zhu Yuanzhang 朱元璋, was a grieving and impoverished peasant youth when he buried his parents and brother and nephew on a remote hillside near the town that he later expanded, renamed, and tried (unsuccessfully) to make his dynastic capital.  Continue reading