(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.
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 →
(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.
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.