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The Epitaph at Shuang-gang City 1

Ou-yang, Xiu (1007 A.D.-1072 A.D.)

    I was unable to honor my late father, Duke of the State of Chong 2, with an epitaph until sixty years after he was buried at Shuang-gang City. The delay was not because I dared to slow the progress, but because I desired to wait for the appropriate opportunity.

    I was unfortunate. My father died when I was four years old and my mother pledged to remain unmarried. She was poor, but she earned money for food and clothing so that she could raise and teach me until I grew up. My mother told me, “When your father worked for the government, he was a truly honest official and loved to entertain guests and give his money away to help others. Although his salary was low, he often discouraged me to have savings. He said to me, 'Don't burden me with money.' Consequently, when he died, I had neither one shingle to build a roof for shelter nor a row of rice plants as a means for survival. Then you may wonder where I found faith to remain unmarried. I understood your father a little and admired his character a great deal. Because you are his son, my faith came from the great expectations I had for you. Since marrying, I have had no opportunity to serve my mother-in-law. However, I know that your father would have taken good care of his mother. Your father died when you were still a child. I was not sure that you would succeed, but I was certain that some of his descendents would. When I married, your father had just removed his mourning clothes after a year of mourning. When honoring his parents at annual festivals, he would weep and say, 'Abundant offerings after the death of one's parents are not as good as being able to serve them a little during life.' When he took wine and food occasionally, he would weep again and say, 'When my mother was alive, we often did not have enough food to eat. Although we have extra food now, it is too late to serve my mother.' The first couple of times I saw this behavior, I thought it was appropriate for a man whose mother died recently to act in this manner. However, afterwards, I discovered that he always acted the same way. In fact, until he died, your father never behaved otherwise. Therefore, I knew that he would have served his mother well although I did not have the opportunity to do so.

    "When your father was an official, he often brought his work home and studied criminal cases by candlelight in the evening. Very often he stopped reading and sighed. When I asked why, he would explain, 'The suspect was sentenced to death. I cannot find a way to save his life.' I asked, 'Are you certain that you cannot?' He said, 'After I have tried every way to save his life, both the suspect and I will not have regrets. Sometimes, lives can be saved. In that case, the suspect would feel mistreated if the judge were to mistakenly pronounce a death sentence. Even when one strives to save lives, there is still a possibility that innocent people will be executed. Nonetheless, many judges in this world often try to sentence a suspect to death.' As he was talking, he turned back and saw a nurse maid standing by and clutching you under her arm as if she had been carrying a sword. He pointed at you and said, 'An astrologer told me that I will die when Jupiter reaches the assumed location by 1010 A.D. 3 If what he said is true, I will not be able to see my son grow up. You should relate my words to him.' When your father taught students on a regular basis, he also frequently related his cautious approach to the death sentence. My ears were so familiar with the story that I can still remember the details. I did not know how he behaved in his office, but I knew that he was never conceited or hypocritical at home. His humble and honest behavior came naturally from his kind heart. Oh! His heart was kinder than that of a benevolent gentleman. Thereby, I knew your father would have good descendents. I encourage you to follow in his steps. It is important to show filial obedience although it is unnecessary to provide one's parents with luxuries. It is important to be kind although one may not do favors to all living beings. I do not know how to teach you, but kindness was your father's aspiration." I wept as I kept my mother's words in mind. I did not dare to forget them.

    My grandfather died when my father was still a child. My father studied hard and passed the Advanced Exam in 1000 A.D. He was appointed to be the judge of Dao-zhou City 4, then later Si-zhou City 5, Mian-zhou City 6, and Tai-zhou City 7. He died at the age of 59 and was buried at Shuang-gang City by the Sha-xi 8 Creek .

    My mother was of the Zheng family, a reputable family from the area south of the Yangtze River. She was respectful, thrifty, virtuous, kind, and courteous. When I moved around to assume appointments as mayor, my mother traveled with me. She was first given the title "Mother of Fu-chang-xian City 9 ", then later "Mother of Le-an-jun County, An-kang-jun County, and Peng-cheng-jun County 10 ". Early in my life after our family became poor, my mother started to manage our home finances frugally. Even after our family's financial situation improved she would not allow expenses to exceed the thrifty standard. She said, "My son should not spend money as his peers do. Frugality is the key to surviving difficult times.” Later, I was demoted to Mayor of Yi-ling City. My mother took it well and said, "Your family has been poor before, so I am used to difficulties. If you are content, so am I."

    Twenty years after my father died, I became a judge and started to earn a salary. After another twelve years, I was offered an official post in the emperor's court. My parents were then able to be honored by the emperor. Two years later, I was appointed as a Scholar of the House of the Dragon Pictures and then the Senior Secretary of the Ministry of Civil Service. When I was an official in Nan-jing City 11, my mother died in the official mansion at the age of seventy-two. After another eight years, I became the Vice President of the Privy Council and then the Deputy Premier even though I lacked talent. I retired from these responsibilities seven years later. Ever since I was appointed to the Privy Council and the Premier’s Office, the generous emperor has rewarded the three generations of my ancestors. Since 1050 A.D., whenever the imperial court has celebrated an important festival, my ancestors have been honored. My great grandfather 12 was repeatedly given the honorary titles, Great Officer of State Who Attaches the Premier's Gold Seal to Himself with Purple Ribbons, Chief of Imperial Tutors, and Secretary to the Throne. My great grandmother was repeatedly awarded the honorary title, Mother of the State of Chu. Many times over, my grandfather 13 and my father were given the honorary titles, Great Officer of State Who Attaches the Premier's Gold Seal to Himself with Purple Ribbons, Chief of Imperial Tutors, Secretary of State, and Secretary to the Throne. My grandmother was repeatedly given the honorary title, Mother of the State of Wu. My mother was repeatedly given the honorary title, Mother of the State of Yue. In November 1067 A.D., during the emperor’s ceremony for worshiping heaven, my late father was given the title, Duke of the State of Chong; my mother was given the title, Mother of the State of Wei.

    Consequently, I wept and said, "Well, it is true that good deeds will be rewarded sooner or later. My father and my grandfather gained virtue by constantly performing good deeds. It is appropriate for them to be rewarded. Although they could not see the rewards during their lifetime, the honors they received from three emperors were glorious and praiseworthy. Their glory is sufficient to bless their offspring and to be passed down to future generations." With honor and reverence, I erected a tablet along the path to my father's grave. My parents' teachings and expectations of me are inscribed on the tablet along with the family genealogy of my ancestors. In this way, I let people know there is a reason for the fact that I am still able to attain important positions with good fortune, am lucky enough to be able to preserve integrity, and am able to live up to my parents' expectations even though I lack virtue and talent.

Your son,
Xiu Ou-yang
April 15, 1070
The Official Who Has Rendered Outstanding Services, Promoted Honesty and Integrity, as well as Praised and Supported the Emperor 14
Scholar of Guan-wen Palace 15
Minister of Defense
Mayor of Qing-zhou City 16
The Most Distinguished Official
The Founding Father of Le-a-jun County
Feudal Lord of 4,300 Houses in Name
Feudal Lord of 1,200 Houses in Fact

1 Shuang-gang City ("gang" means "hill" in Chinese), a town between Feng-huang (phoenix) Mountain and the Sha-xi Creek, is located south of present day Yong-feng-xin City in Jiangxi Province.

2 Guan and Zhong-bin were the first names of Xiu Ou-yang's father. He was given the title, Duke of the State of Chong, during Emperor Shen-zong’s reign in the Song dynasty.

3 The planet Jupiter orbits in twelve years. It turned out that Xiu Ou-yang's father died in 1010 AD. just as the astrologer forecast.

4 Dao-zhou City is now called Dao-xian City which is located in Hunan Province.

5 Si-zhou City is now called Si-xian City which is located in Anhui Province.

6 Mian-zhou City is now called Mian-yang-xian City which is located in Sichuan Province.

7 Tai-zhou City is now called Tai-xian City which is located in Jiangsu Province.

8 In Chinese, "Sha" means "sand"; "xi" means "creek".

9 Fu-chang-xian City is now called Yi-yang-xian City which is located in Henan Province. Based on the system of official titles during the Song dynasty, the mother of a mayor or a senior secretary of a board was qualified to be given the title "Mother of a City".

10 Le-an-jun County is now called Huo-shan-xian County which is located in Anhui Province. An-kang-jun County is now called Han-yin-xian County which is located in Shaanxi Province. Peng-cheng-jun County is now called Tong-shan-xian County which is located in Jiangsu Province. Based on the system of official titles during the Song dynasty, the mother of a fourth rank official such as an advisor, a supervising censor, a vice president of a board, or a member of the Royal Academy was qualified to be given the title "Mother of a County".

11 Nan-jing City is now called Shang-qiu-xian City which is located in He-nan Province.

12 Bin was the first name of Xiu Ou-yang's great grandfather.

13 Yan was the first name of Xiu Ou-yang's grandfather.

14 Xiu Ou-yang was given this title by the emperor during the Song dynasty.

15 This honorary title was only awarded to scholars who had experience in a position on the imperial cabinet.

16 In 1068, Xiu Ou-yang was transferred from Mayor of Bo-zhou City to Mayor of Qing-zhou City.