The Epitaph on Zong-yuan Liu's Tomb
Han, Yu (768 A.D.-824 A.D.)
Zong-yuan Liu's ancestor of seven generations, Qing 1, was the
deputy director of a governmental board in the Tuoba-Wei dynasty
and was later made the Duke of Ji-ying 3. The elder brother of
Zong-yuan's great-grandfather, Shi 4, was the Prime Minister of the
Tang dynasty. Shi, Sui-liang, and Yuan Han advised Emperor Gao-zong
not to appoint Ze-tain Wu 6 as Queen. Later, Queen Wu killed all three.
Zong-yuan's father, Zheng, in order to serve his mother, resigned the position
as Great Scholar and asked to be a mayor in the region south of the Yangtze
River. Later, he lost his position as mayor because he failed to flatter a
powerful dignitary. After the dignitary died, Zheng was reinstated as mayor.
Zheng was known for his integrity. Those with whom he associated were all
When Zong-yuan was a child, he was sharp, clever, and mastered all subjects.
While his father was alive, he was independent even though he was young. In
fact, he passed the Advanced Exam with shining talents which promised a
brilliant career. Everyone said, "The Liu family has a great son." Later, he
became a member of the Royal Academy because of his knowledge and talent. He was
clever, virtuous and skillful. When he expressed his opinion, he would quote all
the resources from the past and present, including all the bibles, history
books, and various schools of philosophy. His speech, accompanied by his
outstanding talent and energetic spirit, often won over the audience with a
power like a strong wind sweeping through. Soon his reputation spread far and
wide. All the contemporary scholars desired to befriend him. The dignitaries in
politics or in academics recommended and praised his talent unanimously and
hoped that his future success would glorify their recognition.
In 794 A.D., Zong-yuan Liu was promoted from the position of secretary in
Lan-tian City to that of Attorney General. In 805 A.D., he was promoted to
Counselor of the Board of Rites. Later, his political party lost in a power
struggle. According to rule, he was demoted to Mayor of Shao-zhou City. Before
assuming his office, he was demoted again to an even lower position of an
officer in charge of military affairs in Yong-zhou City. Although his situation
was difficult, he still studied very hard. He read the Six Bibles and wrote many
great literary essays. Because his literary art is rich in connotation and
overwhelmingly powerful, his writings are deep, profound, and boundless. At
leisure, he engaged himself with mountains and rivers. In 815 A.D., he was
summoned to the Capital as usual to report his work. Then he was transferred to
the position of Mayor of Liu-zhou City 7. After he arrived there, he
sighed, "Though Liu-zhou City is remote and desolate, we can still work to
improve its politics." Based on the local customs, he provided services and
banned evil practices. The people in Liu-zhou City trusted him and followed his
orders. For example, people there used their children as collateral to borrow
money from a lender. If the borrowers failed to pay the interest, the children
would become the lender's slaves when the interest grew to the amount of the
principal. Liu designed a plan for the borrowers to ransom their children back.
Liu also ordered the lender to make labor contracts with the poor people who
could not afford the ransom. When their labor was equivalent to their loans,
they would be able to bring their children back. Later, the governor applied
Liu's method to other cities. In less than a year, thousands of slaves were
allowed to return home. To the south of Heng-yang City and Chang-sha City, the
ones who passed the Advanced Exam loved to ask Liu to be their teacher.
Through Liu's guidance, their writings became consistently organized.
When Zong-yuan Liu was summoned to the capital of China and transferred to
the position of Mayor of Liu-zhou City, Meng-de Liu 8 was also sent
into exile for the same reason. Meng-de was supposed to go to Bo-zhou City
9 to assume his new office. Zong-yuan Liu wept and said,
"Bo-zhou City is
too remote and desolate for habitation. Meng-de supports his old mother. I do
not have the heart to see him suffer that much. I could not face his mother to
explain the government's punitive assignment either. There is absolutely no
reason to punish both the mother and son by sending them to Bo-zhou City
together." Therefore, Zong-yuan intended to write a letter to the emperor and
request the exchange of his position with Meng-de's. Even if this request might
irritate the authority and incur severe punishment, Zong-yuan would not complain
or regret his decision. At this moment, Advisor Du Pei explained to the
authority about Meng-de's situation, so Meng-de was reassigned to be Mayor of
Lian-zhou City 10. Alas! One sees true friendship only when one is
having difficulties. Nowadays people living in the same village show their
mutual hospitality and admiration. They invite each other to play games or go to
parties. When they play together, they pretend to smile as if they were
trustworthy. When they shake hands, it seems that they will take out their
hearts to show their sincerity. They take the oath that they will not betray
each other until death sets them apart. However, once there is a conflict
between them, even one as slight as a hair, they will look the other way as if
they never knew each other. Suppose someone is trapped in a well. You can always
find people who will not rescue him, but rather push him down, and then stone
him. Even though an animal or a barbarian does not have the heart to do it,
these people think themselves "clever". They should feel ashamed when they hear Zong-yuan's story.
When Zong-yuan was a teenager, he was brave in helping people. However, he
thought he could quickly accomplish great work, so he did not treasure his
hard-earned positions. Consequently, he suffered the dismissal. When he was
demoted, there was no person in power who could recognize his talent and help
him. Therefore, Zong-yuan died in a remote border city. It can be said that the
talented could not be utilized and morality was on the decline during his time.
If Zong-yuan had been prudent when he was a counselor of the Board of Rites just
as when he was the mayor of Liu-zhou City, then he would not have suffered a
dismissal. If there had been a powerful person who could help Zong-yuan when he
was demoted, then Liu would have been promoted again and would have been free
from hardship. However, if Zong-yuan had had a short exile and had not been
driven into extreme difficulty, he would have gained success in wealth and
power, but he might not have become a great writer. It was his misfortunes that
caused him to turn to his writing and raised it to a level of enduring
importance. In other words, if Zong-yuan had realized his political dreams and
had become the Prime Minister, he might not have achieved what he did. In view
of his achievement as a great writer, it is obvious that no one would exchange
this everlasting honor for a temporary position, even as high as prime minister.
Zong-yuan died on November 8th, 819 A.D. at the age of 47. On July 10th, 820
A.D. his bones were reburied beside the tombs of his ancestors in Wan-nian City
11. Zong-yuan had two sons: At the time of this writing, one son is
only four years old; the other was born after Zong-yuan's death. Zong-yuan also
had two daughters, but both of them are still little. The expense of the
reburial was paid by Governor Xing-li Pei 12. Pei is a man of
integrity and always keeps his word. He and Zong-yuan were friends. Zong-yuan
had helped him before. After Zong-yuan died, Pei helped Zong-yuan's family in
return. The person who took charge of Zong-yuan’s reburial was Zun Lu,
Zong-yuan's cousin. Zun, from Zhuo City, is prudent and diligent in studying.
After Zong-yuan was demoted, Zun moved in with him until Zong-yuan's death. Zun
has also taken care of Zong-yuan's family after reburying him. It can be said
that Zun is Zong-yuan's constant friend.
The inscription on the tomb says, "This is Zong-yuan's tomb; it is strong and
stable; it blesses his offspring."
1 Geng-sheng was Qing's other first name. He was a native of Jie City which
lay east of the Yellow River.
2 Gui Tuoba was the founding emperor of the Kingdom of Wei during Northern
dynasties. The Tuoba-Wei dynasty was different from the Cao-Wei dynasty.
3 Ji-yin County was present day Ding-tao County in Shandong Province.
4 Zi-shao was Shi's other first name.
5 Zhi and Wei-shan were Emperor Gao-zong's first names.
6 Zhao was Ze-tain Wu's other first name.
7 Liu-zhou City was located in present day Ma-ping County in Guangxi
Province. In March 815 A.D., Zong-yuan was appointed to be Mayor of Liu-zhou
8 Yu-xi was Meng-de Liu's other first name. He passed the Advanced Exam and
became a member of the Royal Academy. Later, he was appointed Mayor of Su-zhou
City and then a Guest of the crown prince. He was sent into exile due to a
struggle between two parties.
9 Bo-zhou City was present day Zun-yi City in Guizhou Province.
10 Lian-zhou City was present day Lian-xian City in Guangdong Province.
11 Wan-nian City was located in Xian-ning County in Shaanxi Province.
12 Xing-li Pei was the great grandson of Shou-zhen. Xing-li was a native of
Ji-shan City in Jiang-zhou County. He was a governor during the Zhen-yuan
Period. His government was benevolent. People cherished the memory of his virtue
by building a temple to honor him.