The Monument Inscribed by Yu Han 1

Li, Shang Yin (812? A.D.-858 A.D.)

Emperor Xian was sacred and naturally endowed with a military bearing.
His talent could compete with that of wise Emperors Huang and Fu-Xi.
He swore that he would avenge the humiliation suffered by his ancestors.
And that afterwards he would sit in his court and receive homage from the neighboring countries.
The rebellious warlords had occupied the land west of the Huai River for fifty years.
The wolves were joined by foxes, and then by bears.
Animals should occupy mountains and rivers.
However, the sharp spears and long lances of these warlords were brandished against the sun 2.
The emperor had a great prime minister whose name was Du Pei.
Prime Minister Pei was severely wounded in the war,
But God protected him.
He had the seal of the prime minister hanging from his waist and served as the top commander.
The emperor's flag flapped in the ominous, howling wind.
Generals Su Li, Gong-Wu Han, Dao-Gu Li, and Wen-Tong Li followed Commander Pei's orders as they fought at his side.
The Minister of Culture, Zong-Ming Li, was assigned to be the war reporter.
General staff officer Yu Han was wise and brave.
Our 140,000 troops were strong like tigers.
They captured Cai City 3, tied the enemy chief,
And then delivered him to the emperor's ancestral temple as a sacrificial offering.
Because of Prime Minister Pei's peerless contribution to the victory
The emperor rewarded him highly
And asked Yu Han to record the victory on the monument.
After thanking the emperor, Han danced to celebrate this honor.
The ones chosen for such work have always been great writers since ancient times.
Han told the emperor,
"I must do this project by myself.
There is a saying,
'When there is an opportunity to perform a virtuous deed, one should grasp it rather than be courteous and let others have the glory. 4'"
The emperor nodded and smiled.
After returning home, Han fasted first and then retired to his study.
He soaked his fur pen fully with black ink and wielded it with expression and grace.
Han modified the great writings during the reigns of Emperors Yao and Shun.
And altered the famous poems: "Clean Temple 5" and "Teaching People to Prosper 6".
His completed essay in paper transcended the old style.
Next morning Han went to see the emperor in the palace and told him,
"Although I am risking my life to express my thought about the celebration of the victory,
I have ordered people to inscribe my writing on the monument."
The monument was a tablet thirty feet tall
And the size of a character was about that of a wine cup.
At the base of the tablet was a heavenly turtle.
A dragon without horns twisted around the tablet.
Han's writing was creative and each of his phrases had strength,
But few people could understand his subtle points.
General Su Li's wife went to the emperor and slandered Han's writing.
A 100-foot long rope pulled down the tablet.
Sand paper and grindstones were used to erase Han's inscription.
Han's essay was like light that energized spirit.
Once it entered people's minds, it stayed.
The plate of Emperor Tang and the worship caldron of Confucius' ancestor no longer exist,
But the mottos inscribed on them 7 remains.
I wish I could read and copy Han's essay ten thousand times
Until I drool and my right palm becomes callused.
Emperor Xian and Prime Minister Pei made great contributions to the victory.
The splendor of their achievements will last forever.
I believe Han's essay will last at least seventy-two generations
And is as important as the Emperor's folder for the worship ceremony 8
Or the cornerstone of the palace.

1 Yu Han's inscription on the monument attributed the war victory to Prime Minister Du Pei rather than General Su Li. Consequently, General Su Li's wife, the daughter of Princess Ann, complained to the emperor that Han's writing was not true because it was her husband who captured the commander of the enemy. Therefore, the emperor gave orders to erase Han's inscription on the monument and asked someone else to rewrite it. In this poem, Shang Yin Li agreed with Han's view that the credit for the victory should go to Prime Minister Pei.

2 This line means that the warlords were outrageous to the extreme.

3 On October 11th, 817 A.D., General Su Li entered Cai City and captured the enemy commander Yuan-ji Wu.

4 Nowadays the saying has been twisted a little and also applied to the following situation: Suppose A and his friend B pursue the same girl. A will go after the girl rather than act out of friendship and let his friend have her.

5 "Clean Temple" is a poem in The Ballad of the Zhou Dynasty.

6 "Teaching people to prosper" is a poem in The Major Graces.

7 The motto on Emperor Tang's plate says "We should improve ourselves every day." The motto on the worship caldron of Confucius' ancestor says "It is not wise to insult polite and patient people."

8 The Emperor's folder for the annual worship ceremony of Heaven and Earth contained the text the emperor read describing his achievements.