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The Biography of Lady Jia
Created by: Peter K. Bol
The Biography of Lady Jia
Lady Jia Guang (1355-1428) Written by her grandson Lu Tao in 1488
The Biography of Lady Jia (1355-1428) Written by her grandson Lu Tao in 1488
“The Biography of our Late Grandmother nee Jia, [with the title of] the Lady of Grand Humility.”
As to the late Grandmother, the Lady of Grand Humility, her given name was Guang 光 (Light), and her surname was Jia. Among her ancestors in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) was Chong 寵, a grandson of Jia Changchao, [who bore the honorary posthumous name] Wenyuan (Font of the Civil) enfeoffed as Wei (魏國文元公). Ever since Chong moved from Zhending to Dongyang, he embraced the virtuous township Nanxi (Southern Stream). His grandson Yan 炎 took office as the Vice-Minister of the Ministry of State Affairs. Yan begot Yuan 淵, who became the magistrate of Changxi. Yuan’s son, Tingzuo賈廷, passed the jinshi examination [in 1132], and was Registrar of Tonglu county [in Muzhou, Liangzhe] (授桐廬簿). During the Shaoxing reign period (1131-1162), he sent up a memorial arguing for reconciliation with the Jurchen, and later received an imperial decree appointing him as Reviser [rank 8a official in a central government agency]. His loyalty and righteousness was widely known throughout the nation. Every generation produced outstanding figures, so that all society recognized them as a great lineage. A few generations later, Hua, who commanded a garrison (zhen 鎭), divided his branch from the lineage and moved to Xixi (Western Stream). He was the seventh generation ancestor of the Lady of Grand Humility. Her grandfather Zifang and her father Juqing both personified hidden virtue. Her mother was Ms Chuan.
Our late grandmother was endowed with wisdom and brilliance, and received the family learning in childhood. She was able to learn by heart all the Classics, histories, and the affairs of the past and present that her father and brothers studied and recited. When she became old, she was able to educate sons and daughters-in-law by drawing on [the knowledge she had acquired]. As to children’s learning and woman’s work, she was able to do these without having been [formally] taught. When she reached the age of marriage, she was married to our grandfather Tianbao, who had the style name Yuanding. Our great grandfather said that he was the first son of Yizhong 怡仲. On the day [of marriage when] our late grandmother offered gifts to her parents-in-law, our great grandfather was delighted and said: “She will bring prosperity to our lineage.”
In the early period of the dynasty, the laws were harsh. In 1393, the Guiyou 癸酉 year of the Hongwu reign period (1368-1398), our great grandfather was employed in the transportation of tax grain all the way to the capital; he was implicated when those in the same service group missed the arrival deadline; he died on the road at an inn. Three brothers of our great grandfather died one after another in this unfortunate affair [in fact, they were executed]. When the court again drafted young men of conscription age and sent them to remote frontiers for military purposes, our grandfather was the only person who remained, and had to make a living on his own. At the time, three of our grand uncles were no more than children, and our grandmother was already pregnant. Our grandfather said thoughtfully: “our grandfather accumulated virtue and humanity, but he passed away before he could see the fruits. Now all our family members have been sent to remote frontiers for military service; fathers and sons cannot protect themselves and nobody eats properly in our family. Someone must be devoted to maintaining the ancestral sacrifices (宗祀).” He then had our grandmother assume the responsibility of caring for the orphans in the lineage. Although he did not say anything clearly, he surreptitiously expressed his will and lamented: “Husband and wife are originally a pair of birds in the same tree, but when this big calamity befell them, each flew away to different directions.” Grandmother gave solace to them and persuaded them, but did not do so because she felt compelled to (祖妣慰解 之, 猶未爲必然). When she suddenly found herself at this critical juncture, she did not shrink away (俄而密地竟不諱矣).
At the time, our grandfather was forty years old; he had become extremely sick and it was impossible to tell when he would get well. From this point on, she grieved to the point that she became sick and extremely emaciated. It looked as if she would not recover. She had nobody to rely upon, and neighbors in the lineage who encroached on the fishing [rights of her household] caused troubled and wrought havoc. Thus our grandmother barely had time to rest. She was derided as an outsider in [lineage activities such as] funerals and sacrificial rites. In the meantime, she relied on her parents’ home to care for all the orphaned children. She would pray in silence, wishing that all would be safe and sound. One night in her dreams, she saw a silk quilt spread inside the hall, on which were embroidered four children, one in each of the four corners, and a lady in the middle. Our grandmother saw great grandfather, who pointed to it and said: “How beautiful this quilt is! Carefully preserve it in secret.” She also dreamed of four persimmons (柿 ), two red and two blue, tied up to the tip of a tree (綴於樹杪). The next day, she told the people around; those who understood it all said that it was an auspicious dream, a sign that her posterity would flourish, and it would be so because her filial piety resonated with [heaven].
From then on, our grandmother moved with caution; she was worried and apprehensive; but she was firmly determined, she made great efforts and her will was solid, like iron and rock. Taxes and labor service were complicated and demanding, and there were difficulties in both public matters and private affairs (公私交蠹); however, she never made a mistake in daily conduct. After a while, even the lesser members of the lineage were shamed and voluntarily obeyed her. As uncle Ji grew up, she found him a teacher to improve his learning. Not long after, the family settled down. When she administered the lineage matters, she was diligent and hard-working; she completed the unfulfilled tasks of the generation. By taking from the better-off to support the worse-off, [she made sure that] the lineage never suffered insufficiencies. When lineage members had a death in the household or faced a disaster, she always took from those who had more than enough and supported them. Grandfather left approximately one hundred ounces (liang) of silver as well as gold, jades, pearls, and jade. She cherished them, and did not dare sell them off in times of hardship. She entrusted them to the head of the lineage [in the next generation].
Great grandmother Lady Ge passed away fifteen days after giving birth to grandfather Pu. Although grandmother had never seen her, when the day for sacrificial rites came she never failed to offer sacrifices to her and shed tears. Since matters concerning her as a mother-in-law were never-ending, she had no time for her own business, and even kept her hair-do in place (嘗制爲彩) [to save time for the preparation of rituals]. Great grandfather warned against it, saying: “do not put all your efforts into this matter. I will have a maid provide you with a water basin and towel [so that she can do your hair].” Grandmother did not do the job again by herself, but kept his words deep in her heart and did not forget them. She treated sisters-in-laws and wives of brothers-in-law with humility and harmony; she controlled the persons in the lineage with rigorousness and benevolence.
In general, when someone deviated from moral instruction and did not realize their mistakes quickly enough, her anger would mount until it burst out. When our second uncle (father’s second elder brother, 次伯父) passed the civil service jinshi examination and returned home, he verbally offended the first uncle. Grandmother angrily faulted him and flew into a temper. Second uncle received a flogging on his bare back (肉 袒負荊) and had to kneel before her chair and apologize for his misdeed. She forgave him only after ten days. Even when drinking [a cup of water] or eating [a spoonful of rice], she did not act improperly. In his early years, grandfather went out and drank with his friends, and brought back home some leftover food. Grandmother said: “those who are wholesome do not accept the food thrown at them impolitely (嗟來之食).” Grandfather was so ashamed that he finally quit drinking. When local functionaries (鄕邑所轄者) sent gifts of food, she warned against giving it to the sons to eat: this was because she was afraid doing so might not be completely in accordance with righteousness and because she wanted to guard against arousing desire for property and food (饕餮之欲).
When our uncle passed the examinations, she expressed no delight. She lamented instead: “People say fame is good; but when fame comes to an end, how will they act?” When our uncle rose to the post of Censor (御史), she frowned. When somebody asked why she replied: “How could one who holds an office [with the power of assigning] punishment ever avoid causing others to harbor grievances [against him]? Only when he is appointed to an office [with responsibility for] education will he begin to live up to my expectations.”
When her sons asked to draw her portrait for later generations to look up to her, grandmother said in anxiety: “Unfortunately I was born a woman. I regret I have not left the world earlier; I would have erased my worldly traces more quickly. Why would I want to pass down my ugly face to posterity? Even if a wife is old, it is hardly legitimate to have a painter to embellish her façade.” She would not accept their request. Throughout the region, when people far and near spoke about the exemplary worthies of the inner quarters (內範之賢), grandmother always came first.
When she was ill in bed, first uncle was working as a vice magistrate in Ninghua county 寧化 in Min Prefecture (in Fujian). He hurried back home by taking a shortcut. He led her offspring to sit by her sickbed and hear her utter her last instructions. Grandmother finally passed away on the 21st day of the fourth month in the Wushen 戊申 year of the Xuande reign period (1428,). She was born in the Yiwei year of the Zhizheng reign period (1355,), and was seventy-four years old when she died. Because of the prestige of the second son, the title of Grand Lady of Reverence (太孺人) was bestowed upon her; she was also given the title of Grand Lady of Modesty (太恭人).
She had four sons: the first was Hua whose rank reached that of magistrate in Bo county 亳 (in Guide Prefecture, Henan); the second son was Rui 睿, whose rank reached Junior Vice Censor-in-chief (右副都御史); the third was Kui 圭 and the fourth was Zhang 章. Among the grandchildren, only three have biographies (狀志). ... In the twelfth month of the year in which grandmother passed away (1428), she was buried at the ancestral tomb site on East Mountain of our village. Grandfather’s tomb was moved and he was buried together with grandmother [at this site]. The fourth son Zhang, Chief Supervising Secretary (都給事中), was given a biography, but it is too terse and incomplete. Therefore, what is written on his tomb is also curt. The benevolence and virtue of our fathers and brothers was written in the old genealogies, which have unfortunately been destroyed. Alas! In face of disasters and shifts in fortune, grandmother protected the lineage from the dangers of collapse and downturn, aided orphans to stand on their own, and finally restored the lineage. Even a brilliant man would have found this extremely difficult. We her offspring should never forget the completeness of her talent and intelligence, the far-reaching power of her virtue and benevolence. How could we dare not write [of her great achievement] in detail? My (Tao’s 濤) late mother was like a child of grandmother, and served at her side from her young years on. Therefore, she knew grandmother quite thoroughly. Whenever she thought about the great virtue of our late grandmother, she taught us brothers [with her memories of her]. Therefore her words still remain with us. Our grandmother has been dead for sixty years till now (於今五紀), and all our fathers and brothers have passed away: those days are gone and traces are scarce. If nobody in the future knows anything about this, it would be tantamount to leaving posterity ignorant. How could they ever overcome hardship [without knowing our grandmother’s example]? For this reason, I, Tao, have cautiously written down what I have heard in order to transmit it for eternity. In my view, should any of our progeny who read this record in the future and do not feel the pain of our grandparents’ disastrous experiences or do not feel the grace and virtue of our grandparents and shed tears should not be considered offspring of the Lu family. Grandson Tao bows down in tears and solemnly writes.
From From the Yaxi Lu Genealogy I, pp. 206-210
Translated by Song Jaeyoon; revised by Peter Bol
|Collection:||Texts: Lu Family Compound|