The Inscription on the Tablet at the Temple of Yu Han
Su, Dong-po (1036-1101 CE)
If a man becomes the teacher of hundreds of generations and his words become
the authority of the world, then he actually joins heaven and earth to nourish
the transforming and sustaining force of nature. His birth comes with a rich
history of past lives. After he dies, his work remains immortal. Thus, Count
Shen and Duke Lü 1 were
incarnated from patron gods of mountains. After Prime Minister Yue Fu
2 died, he became a star. Their stories, passed down
from ancient times, serve to honor their meritorious services.
Mencius said, "I am good at cultivating my noble spirit." This spirit is
contained in ordinary things and fills the universe. When we suddenly encounter
it, even a king's power, the wealth of states of Jin and Chu
wisdom of Liang Zhang and Ping Chen 4, the courage of Ben Meng and Yu
Xia 5, and the eloquence of Yi Zhang and Qin Su
pale in comparison. Why? There must exist something that can stand without
relying on its shape, can run without relying on a driving force, can exist
before its birth, and will not disappear even after its death. Thus it becomes a
star in the sky, becomes a mountain or a river on earth, becomes a god in the
nether world, and is reincarnated to human form in the real world. This is
natural, nothing surprising.
Since the Eastern Han dynasty, morality had declined, literary writing had
become flowery but empty, and heretical doctrines 7 had become
popular. Even the prosperity in the Zhen-guan and Kai-yuan Periods
during the Tang dynasty and the effort of great Prime Ministers Xuan-ling Fang,
Ru-hui Du, Chong Yao and Jing Song 9 could not reverse the
deterioration. However, Yu Han, born of a common family, alone ended the
deterioration with his interesting literary essays. Then the entire nation
responded to his call and returned to the right path. His grand influence has
lasted three hundred years. His essays revived Chinese literature, which had
deteriorated during the previous eight dynasties 10. His moral
principle saved China from drowning in pessimism. His loyalty to China even led
him to offend Emperor Xian-zong 11. His bravery exceeded that of the
Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces 12. Did his work not join
heaven and earth to nourish the transforming and sustaining force of nature, and
leave a grand, enduring legacy?
I have discussed the distinction between God's
principles and human affairs. People may achieve their goals by any means.
However, God's principles cannot allow
any falsehood. People's wisdom may
deceive an emperor, but it cannot deceive a swine or fish. A person's
strength may conquer the world, but it cannot win the respect of common people.
Consequently, Han's sincerity could
disperse the stormy clouds of Heng-shan Mountain 13, but could not dispel
the emperor's suspicion toward him. He
could tame ferocious alligators 14, but could not stop the slander
from Prime Ministers Bo Huang-fu and Feng-ji Li 15. He could gain the
trust of people in Nan-hai County 16 and his temple could enjoy their
offerings for a hundred generations, but he could not stay away from trouble in
the emperor's court for a single day.
This was because what Han could do was carry out God's
principles and what he could not succeed at were human affairs.
Originally, people in Chao-zhou City did not value education, so Mayor Han
appointed De Zhao 17 to be their teacher. From then on, the scholars
in the city have been diligent in practicing literary writing and their moral
beliefs. Han's great influence even
extended to common people. Since then, people there have become good citizens.
Confucius said, "Gentlemen learn morals to love and common people learn
principles to serve." His words are true indeed. People in Chao-zhou City
appreciate Han's legacy and honor him
like a god. Whenever they eat or drink, they present their offerings to Han.
When there is a flood, drought, or a plague, they pray to him for an end to
their suffering. However, the old temple was located behind the mayor's
office. People felt inconvenienced when they entered or left the temple. The
previous mayor attempted to ask the government to build a new temple, but the
plan was never undertaken. In 1090 CE, Mr. Di Wang, an ex-court-official, became
the mayor of Chao-zhou City. He used Han's city government as a model to educate
scholars and govern people. People willingly accepted this governing style. Then
Wang declared that those who would like to build a new temple to Han could start
anytime. People responded enthusiastically. By divination they selected a site
seven miles south of Chao-zhou City and built the new temple to Han within a
year. Some may say, "As a result of his demotion, Han left the capital and
traveled several thousand miles to Chao-zhou City. He stayed in the city for
less than a year. If Han had had sense after death, he definitely would not have
missed Chao-zhou City." I say, "This is not true. Han's spirit in the world,
like water under ground, exists wherever we go. Because the people in Chao-zhou
City respected and missed him so much, their inspired hearts seemed to be able
to see Han's spirit as the aroma from sacrifices rose. Like digging a well,
after one finds water, he may say, 'All the water is here.' Can it be true?" In
1078 CE, Emperor Shen-zong of the Song dynasty bestowed upon Yu Han the
posthumous honor, the Count of Chang-li City 18. Therefore, the
plaque of the temple says, "The Temple of Earl Yu Han from Chang-li City". The
people in Chao-zhou City asked me to inscribe Han's story on the tablet of the
temple, so I wrote a song for them to sing when they worship Han. It is as
“Han used to ride a Chinese unicorn 19 in the Village of White
Clouds. He opened the gate of the river of heaven and revealed heavenly beauty
by writing down the greatest literary essays. The goddess of weaving made a
dress of colorful clouds for him. He rode the wind and flew to see God. God
ordered him to descend to the sinful earth to rid the world of the vulgarity in
literature. He went to the east where the sun rises and to the west where the
sun sets. Even a grass or a plant was inspired to shine wherever he passed. He
went after the greatest poets Bai Li and Fu Du and joined them to glide in the
sky. The great writers Ji Zhang and Shi Huang-fu 20 regarded Han as
their role model. They ran after him with great effort, streaming with sweat and
exhausted. However, they finally realized that Han's greatness, like the elusive
shadows of sunset, was impossible to follow. Han criticized the emperor's
Buddhist superstitions and asked him to visit Nan-hai County, the Heng and Xiang
Rivers, and paid homage to great Emperor Shun and his imperial concubines
21 at their mausoleum on Jiu-yi Mountain. The god of fire led the way and
the god of sea hid from him. Han tamed dragons and alligators as if they were
sheep. However, God was sad about the shortage of talented people in heaven, so
he sent a singing angel to ask Han to return. Now we have presented beef,
chicken, wine, lychees, and bananas as our offerings to Han. We wish that he
could stay with us a little longer as tears stream down our cheeks. However,
Han, with his long hair trailing behind, disappeared in the distant prairie like
1 Count Shen was a maternal uncle of Emperor Xuan-wang and a wise official during
the Zhou dynasty. Duke Lü was a famous
official during Emperor Mu-wang's reign in the Zhou dynasty.
2 Yu Fu was Emperor Gao-zong's wise prime minister during the Shang dynasty.
3 Jin and Chu were strong and prosperous
countries during the Spring and Autumn
4 Liang Zhang and Ping Chen were Founding Emperor Gao-zu's wise advisors
during the Han dynasty.
5 Ben Meng and Yu Xia were ancient men of great muscular strength.
6 Yi Zhang and Qin Su were great persuasive politicians during the Warring
7 "Heretical doctrines" refers to pessimistic Daoism and Buddhism.
8 The Zhen-guan Period was a period when Emperor Tai-zong reigned. The Kai-yuan
Period was a period when Emperor Xuan-zong reigned.
9 Xuan-ling Fang and Ru-hui Du were wise prime ministers during Emperor Tai-zong's
reign. Chong Yao and Jing Song were wise prime ministers during Emperor
10 "The previous eight dynasties" refers to the Eastern Han, Wei, Jin, Song,
Qi, Liang, Chen, and Sui dynasties.
11 Emperor Xian-zong of the Tang dynasty was Shun Li, the son of Emperor Shun-zong.
Emperor Xian-zong had been on the throne for fifteen years. He was a very
superstitious Buddhist. He planned to send an envoy to India to acquire the
bones of Buddha. Han advised the emperor to cancel the plan. The emperor was
very angry and wanted to put Han to death. Due to the help of many officials in
the emperor's court, Han avoided the
death sentence and was demoted to mayor of Chao-zhou City.
12 A border commander, Ting-cou Wang, planned to rebel. Yu Han was ordered to
go there to stop him. Han chided Wang severely with moral principles and finally
persuaded him to end his plans for rebellion.
13 Heng-shan Mountain, one of the Five Great Mountains in China, is located in
Hunan Province. Once during the fall Yu Han visited Heng-shan Mountain. It was
raining. Han sincerely prayed for sunshine. Then the rain stopped.
14 When Yu Han first assumed the position of mayor of Chao-zhou City,
alligators were a serious problem for the city. Therefore, he wrote the essay
"Offerings to the Alligators" and threw it into the river. Several days later
the alligators moved west 300 miles. From then on, there was no alligator
problem in Chao-zhou City.
15 Bo Huang-fu was Emperor Xian-zong's prime minister. He was a slanderous
flatterer. Fengji Li was Emperor Mu-zong's prime minister.
16 Nan-hai County is located in Guangdong Province. The county seat of Nan-hai
County is now called Fan-yu-xian City.
17 De Zhao was a native of Hai-yang City during the Tang dynasty. He passed
the Advanced Exam. When Yu Han was the mayor of Chao-zhou City, he appointed De
Zhao as a junior officer in charge of education.
18 Chang-li City is now called Tong-xian City which is located in Hebei
19 Chinese unicorn was an auspicious symbol in China.
20 Ji Zhang and Shi Huang-fu were Yu Han's disciples.
21 Nü -ying and e-Huang were Emperor
Shun's imperial concubines. After they heard of their husband's death, they
drowned themselves in a river and left a request in their will to be buried with