|Pardon my poor writing. This is month's worth of effort as I learnt from the calligraphy lessons of Professor Tian on Youtube, 每日一题每日一字 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Putqx_2nSeQ&list=PL216D25F4F657AC2E|
夫以銅為鏡, adult_male with bronze as mirror
可以正衣冠. able with straighten clothes formal_hat
以古為鏡, with ancient as mirror
可知興替. able with flourish substitution
以人為鏡, with man as mirror
可以明得失. able with understand obtain error
朕常保此三鏡, We always protect/defend this three mirror
以防己過. to prevent self error
今魏徵殂逝, now Wei Ching dead passed
遂亡一鏡矣 thereupon death one mirror alas
By literal translation
Man uses bronze as mirrors to straighten his gown and cap. To use the ancient as a mirror, one knows of its rise and fall. To use man as a mirror, one understands one's errors and failures. We have long defended these three mirrors to check our errors. Now that Weiching is dead, thus a mirror's death.
A more polished semantic translation.
Man uses bronze as mirrors so that he can straighten his attire. Using history as a mirror, one knows of its rise and fall. Using Man as a mirror, one understands one's errors and failures. We have long guarded these three mirrors to check our oversight. Now that Weiching is gone from us, a mirror is shattered.
1. 夫 is an adult male. However, in classical Chinese, as an initial particle, it means that whatever comes after it is an opinion. Thus it can be left out in translation. However, in this context, it works in both cases. Thus the first line can be also translated as, "To use bronze as mirrors, one can…"
2. Mirrors in the modern sense are a western invention. In ancient China, bronzes are highly polished to give a good reflection. Of course, it is only an approximation. Depending on the hue of the surface, true colors are not reflected. The back of the mirror is highly etched into a high degree of art work. There are mirrors that can exhibit their designs in a faint illusion in the reflection.
3. Weiching was a minister to the second Tang Emperor, Tai Tsung. He was such an upright person that even the emperor dreaded him. He was not considered a true loyalist, however. He had been a trusted advisor to the former crown prince whom the Emperor had killed to usurp the throne. He had advised the crown prince to take action first against his pretender brother. Once the emperor had questioned him on this, he merely replied that if his older brother had listened to his counsel, today's questioning is moot! He had served five other masters before the Emperor. In Confucianism, this is not considered as someone who is loyal but an opportunist.
Another story is that once, the Emperor had a sparrow hawk for hunting; so pleased was the Emperor that he had it on his hand. Then, upon the arrival of Weiching to discuss some state matters, the Emperor dreaded his admonishment of imperial pleasures (hunting costs a plenty because of its size, security etc) and hid the bird in his chest since there was not enough time to put it away without him seeing it. After he left, the Emperor took out the bird and found that it had suffocated.
Weiching is the subject of many stories and legends. The most famous of these is "Executing the Dragon in a Dream" 魏徵夢中斬龍. It is one of the subplots in the story of the Monkey King.
The original article had many of the details of this story left out due to space limitation on italki. However, this blog has no such limitation, so here's the full blown story (still omitting other irrelevant details).
It all started with this fortuneteller in the city of Changan who told a filial fisherman where to go at a certain spot at a certain time in the river for his daily catch, with the stipulation that only a certain number is to be caught, no more and no less. As time went on, the Dragon King of this river became alarmed at the number of subjects caught with such uncanny accuracy. One day, he appeared in front of the fisherman asking for the reason. The Dragon King was incredulous and could not believe his dragon ears1. So he went before the fortuneteller to test him.
He posed an impossible question: How many drops of rainwater will fall the next time? Even as the guardian and bringer of the rain, he himself would not know such detailed information until the edict came from the Jade Emperor. He warned the fortuneteller if he is wrong, he will come and destroy his shop. Without missing a beat, the fortuneteller went with his calculations and told him of the answer of how many drops of water will fall the next day at such a time.
No sooner than the Dragon King returned to his palace that the Jade edict came. He was told to scatter the exact amount of rain at the time given by the fortuneteller. However, he did not want to lose face and decided to add three more drops of water and to rain a bit later.
After his deed, he smugly went to the fortuneteller to thrash his place while shouting at the fortuneteller that what a fraud he was. However, the fortuneteller looked calmly into the dragon's eyes and muttered,
"You rascal of a worm! Don't you know that I knew who you are when you first came to me. You dare go on with this proud rant of yours. Not only did you not discharge your duty, you dared to falsify the edict. How long do you think your head will be with your neck!"
Upon hearing these words, the Dragon King grew cold with fright and realized what a treasonous crime he had committed. He fell onto his knees begging the fortuneteller to tell him of a way out.
"Since you have repented, I shall show you a way. Your appointed executioner will be Weiching and you will be executed at noon tomorrow. If you can persuade the True Dragon2 on your behalf, you may have a new lease on life."
When the night drew in, the Dragon King appeared before Emperor Tang Tai Tsung as an old man in a dream begging for his life. The Emperor agreed.
The very next day after the morning audience, Weiching was summoned to the Inner Palace for a few games with the Emperor. Not wishing to defy his master, Weiching complied even though he knew he had a heavenly duty to perform. The Emperor employed all his tricks to delay the minister, reasoning that if he can't leave the palace, he can't perform his divine duty on time and thus the Dragon King will be saved.
A few minutes before the appointed time while at the chess game, Weiching fell asleep. Upon seeing this, the Emperor smile to himself and lamented to himself,
"This old rascal has been working too hard for the empire. I shall leave him in peace for a much needed rest."
However, unbeknownst to the Emperor, the soul of Weiching flew up to the execution's site in the heavens to witness and oversee the execution. The dragon's head was lopped off.
Just moments after, Weiching woke up and apologized to the Emperor most profusely for his lack of decorum. The Emperor merely smiled and thought smugly that he too had accomplished his deed when suddenly news poured into the palace saying that there was a shower of red rain falling from the sky and a dragon's head fell.
The head was brought into the palace and shown to the Emperor. Upon looking at it, its eyes suddenly popped open and glared most venomously at the Emperor. The Emperor took fright and fell ill. He could not sleep nor rest, hearing the wailing of a headless soul the moment his eyes closed.
The next part of the story tells how the Emperor was being summoned to Hades to answer against a charge of breach of promise. After witnessing the terrors and horrors of Hell, the Emperor needed a way to help ease these eternally damned souls. Therefore when he returned to earth safely, he ordered Buddhism to be spread in the Empire. Thus the impetus and the cause for the Journey of Tripitaka, aka the story of Monkey King
1. This is a joke on my part. For dragons don't have ears - or they are so insignificant compared to other majestic parts of its body. Hence the character for deafness is聾!
2. The reigning emperor.