“What’s a nice Jewish girl like you doing writing about the Ming founding?”
A California-based literary agent once asked me this after I proposed a novel about the story of the fourteenth-century Ming Dynasty founder, Zhu Yuanzhang.
How to reply?
I mentioned that I’m not actually Jewish, but I knew that was not the point of the question. The agent was trying to tell me that he thought it strange to hear the idea for such a book coming from someone who is not Chinese.
Structuring a novel is a murky process, but one moment stands out in my mind as key to both my novel, The Lacquered Talisman, and its cover, which was created by my son.
I was sitting on the floor of a bookstore in Boston, flipping through art books about China, when suddenly it hit me: What I needed for my main character was a talisman. And this talisman would be a seal chop. The Lacquered Talisman is about the Zhu family, whose youngest son founded the Ming Dynasty in 1368. I needed a tangible item that could symbolize family for my protagonist. Thus the talisman. Continue reading →
Here’s a five-star review of my debut novel published August 12, 2020 on IndieReader.com, a website devoted to self, hybrid and small press published authors:
THE LACQUERED TALISMAN leads readers from the marriage of the first Ming Emperor’s parents, through his young life, and his years of devotion as a Buddhist monk, to the beginnings of the rebellion that would overturn a dynasty and set him on the throne of one of the greatest empires the world has ever known.
The Lacquered Talisman (300 pages, $19.99), a novel based on the life of Ming Dynasty founder Zhu Yuanzhang, is now available as a paperback or e-book wherever books are sold. Try my page on Bookshop.org! (Disclosure: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.) If you find my book at your favorite local bookstore – take a photo and send it to me!
She was born (on what corresponds to August 9 on our modern calendar) in 1332, married in 1352, and died in 1382. To be more specific, she was born in a Water Monkey year on the 18th day of the 7th month of the 3rd year in the Zhishun 至順 reign of the Mongol Yuan Dynasty’s Wenzong 元文宗 Emperor Tugh Temur.
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 →