The full name of Fei Zhi Bei (肥致碑) is Henan Liang Dong An Le Fei Jun Bei (河南梁東安樂肥君之碑) or Xu Xiaochang erects a monument for Feizhi and his father (許孝萇為肥致及其父置神坐碑). The stele was unearthed in 1991 at Nan Caizhuang Village, Southwest of Yanshi County, Henan 河南偃師縣城西南南蔡莊鄉.
Fei Zhi Bei is 98 cm high, 48 cm wide, 9.5 cm thick, with a halo head (bēi é, 碑額) engraved in 6 lines of clerical script, with a total of 28 characters. The text on the stele contains 484 characters of clerical script written in 19 vertical columns. Each character is confined in a square grid. The stele mentioned a date in the second year of Jianning (建寧二年) (169 CE) in the Eastern Han Dynasty. This may be the date at which the stele was erected.
The characters are extraordinary clear and the stele seems to be in unblemished condition without any erosion. The stele is now kept in Yanshi Shangcheng Museum (偃師商城博物館)
The Story of Fei Zhi (肥致)
The stele tells the story of a Taoist called Fei Zhi (肥致). He was an extraordinary person who lived in seclusion on a jujube tree (棗樹) for not less than three years. He could work wonders and overpower the evil spirits. The wonders include travelling thousands of miles in the sky in an instant (行數萬里,不移日時), floating in the four seas, entering and exiting between the heaven and the earth. The Emperor gave him the position of Ye ting dai zhao (掖庭待詔) and awarded him with ten million coins (錢千萬). Fei Zhi refused to have the money. Once in a winter month, the Emperor would like to get some fresh vegetables, probably sunflower leaves (生葵). (At that time, there was no refrigerator and fresh products were unavailable in winter.) In no time Fei Zhi managed to get out two bundles of fresh vegetables (抱兩束葵出) from the province of Shu (蜀郡) which was about 1000 kilometres away. This was indeed a miracle.
Fei Zhi learned and made friends with Taoist masters such as Zhang Wu (張吳), Yan Zi (晏子), Huang Yuan (黄淵) and even ancient immortal such as Chi Song Zi (赤松子). Fei Zhi taught disciples Taoist practices. Xu You (許幼) was his faithful disciple and served him very respectfully. Fei Zhi lived in Xu You’s home and passed away there. In the Taoist belief, Fei Zhi became a fairy or an immortal as the spirit of the body joined the universe after death. Later on Xu You also passed away. Xu You’s son, Xu Jian (許建)(courtesy name Xiao Chang 孝萇) installed a ‘bianzuo’ (設便坐), probably a ‘spiritual tablet’ or a memorial shrine for Fei Zhi on the fifteenth day of the fifth month in the second year of Jianning (建寧二年) (169 CE). The ‘bianzuo’ was not only for remembrance but it was believed that it served as a sanctuary for the spirit of the deceased. Xu Jian paid respect to Fei Zhi and showed high filial piety to his late father and his father’s teacher. Children and grandchildren would be inspired and blessed by the immortals. The stele might probably by installed by Xu Jian, but some scholars think that the stele might be installed by other people such as the disciples or disciples of the disciples of Fei Zhi.
The ink rubbing of the stele has been made into an album. In the pages below, I have added the transcript in regular script for easy reference and highlighted the punctuation in red.
The text of the stele is as follows:
河南梁東安樂肥君之碑。漢故掖庭待詔。君諱致, 字萇華, 梁縣人也。其少體自然之恣(姿), 長有殊俗之操, 常隱居養志。君常舍止棗樹上, 三年不下, 與道逍遙, 行成名立, 聲布海內, 群士欽仰, 來集如雲。時有赤氣, 著鍾連天, 及公卿百遼(僚)以下, 無能消者。詔聞梁棗樹上有道人, 遣使者以禮娉(聘)君。君忠以衛上, 翔然來臻, 應時發算, 除去災變, 拜氵掖庭待詔, 賜錢千萬, 君讓不受。詔以十一月中旬, 上思生葵。君却入室, 須臾之頃, 抱兩束葵出, 上問: 君於何所得之? 對曰: 從蜀郡太守取之。即驛馬問郡。郡上報曰: 以十一月十五日平旦, 赤車使者來發生葵兩束。君神明之驗, 譏徹玄妙, 出窈入冥, 變化難識, 行數萬里, 不移日時。浮游八極, 休息仙庭。君師魏郡張吳、齋(齊)晏子、海上黃淵, 赤松子與為友生, 號曰真人, 世無及者。功臣五大夫雒陽東鄉許幼仙, 師事肥君,恭敬, 烝烝解止幼舍。幼從君得度世而去。幼子男建, 字孝萇, 心慈性孝, 常思想神靈。建寧二年太歲在己酉五月十五日丙午直建, 孝萇為君設便坐, 朝莫(暮)舉門, 恂恂不敢解(懈)殆(怠), 敬進肥君, 饌順四時所有, 神仙退泰, 穆若潛龍, 雖欲拜見, 道徑無從, 謹立斯石, 以暢虔恭, 表述前列(烈), 啟勸僮(童)蒙。其辭曰:赫赫休哉, 故神君皇, 又(父,又)有鴻稱, 升遐見紀, 子孫企予, 慕仰靡恃, 故刊茲石達情理。願時仿佛(彷彿), 賜其嘉祉。土仙者, 大伍公, 見西王母崑崙之虛。受仙道, 大伍公從弟子五人, 田傴、全囗中、宋直忌公、畢先風、許先生, 皆食石脂仙而去。
Some interesting features of Fei Zhi Bei
First, bēi é (碑額 top part or the head of a stele) usually states the name or the title of the stele. Seal scripts (篆書) were commonly used in Han bei e. But in Fei Zhi Bei, instead of the name of Fei Zhi, 28 characters concerning two emperors were written in clerical script.
孝章皇帝大歲丙子(Emperor Xiao Zhang in Year of Bing Zi 囗
孝章皇帝 (Emperor Xiao Zhang)(57 CE – 88 CE)
孝和皇帝(Emperor Xiao Zhang)(79 CE – 106 CE)
孝和皇帝大歲己丑 囗 (Emperor Xiao He in year of Ji Chou 囗.
According to literature 孝章丙子 was 76 CE, 孝和皇帝己丑 was 89 CE.
The character 囗 cannot be identified. Some scholars say it is 崩, that means ‘collapse, burst or die’. (The term ‘jia beng’ 駕崩 means the emperor has died. )
Emperor Xiao Zhang died in 88 CE not in 76 CE, whereas Emperor Xiao Zhang died in 106 CE not in 89 CE, therefore the character could not be 崩.
Some scholars say the character is 册 or 笧 or 萌 or 朋, etc. The two emperors were not mentioned in the text of the stele. The character ‘shang‘ 上 in the text may refer to the emperor.
Recently some scholars suggested that the character is 封, which means ‘awarded’ or ‘knighted a title’. Some other scholars suggested that the character is 憑 means 憑據 i.e. provided with credentials. This may also means awarded with a title.
Fei Zhi might be awarded by Emperor Xiao Zhang in 76 CE and Emperor Xiao He in 89 CE.
This makes sense but I am not totally convinced that the unidentified character 囗 is 封.
Secondly, the two characters 仿佛 is the simplified script of 彷彿 or 髣髴. In other Han Bei such as Shi Chen Bei (史晨碑), the two characters were written as follows.
Those two characters are similar to the script has been used widely in China since 1950s.
Thirdly, the dates of death of Fei Zhi and Xu You were not recorded in the stele. Xu You’s son Jian (建) was addressed with his courtesy name ‘Xiao Chang’ (孝萇) but Xu You was not addressed with his courtesy name. The stele might not be erected by Xu Jian as it was not polite to call his father by his first name ‘You’.
The date ‘the Second year of Jian Ning’ (建寧二年) was the date that the ‘bianzuo’ (設便坐), probably a ‘spiritual tablet’ was installed for Fei Zhi. The stele (if different from the bianzuo) might be installed after 169 CE, probably by other people such as the disciples or disciples of the disciples of Fei Zhi.
Fourthly, Ye ting (掖庭) was the place where the concubines (妃嬪) lived. It was unlikely that Fei Zhi was given the post ‘Ye ting dai zhao’ (掖庭待詔), a post attending the concubines.
Fifthly, according to the text of the stele, Fei Zhi was a mighty Taoist who could work wonders and contributed greatly to society. His name and his life should have been well documented in Taoist literature. But no clue indicated that Fei Shi existed. Some people doubt about the authenticity of the stele. To forge a han bei, a stele for a well-known person of the Han Dynasty could have been made. While Fei Shi was an unknown figure in history, the stele can still be an authentic. As the calligraphy is of high standard, it is highly worthwhile to study the stele.
Some strokes are missing in some characters
Some strokes or part of a stroke have been missing in some characters. On the left are the original characters, on the right are the modified ones with the missing strokes added in red.
My copy of the stele is as follows:
Eastern Han tomb at Nan Caizhuang Village, 南蔡莊鄉
Fei Zhi Bei was unearthed from an Eastern Han tomb at Nan Caizhuang Village. The floor plan is as follows:
The tomb contains 4 chambers. The back chamber facing the entrance is the host chamber. This may be for Xu You (許幼), the father.
Fei Zhi stele is found in the south side chamber. This may be the reason why the memorial shrine is called bianzuo (便座，informal seat) as it is in the side chamber.
Other than the writings on the stele, there is no further information about the tomb occupants. According to the reports a few skeletons were also unearthed. The tomb has been disturbed by tomb raiders throughout the centuries, valuable items might have been stolen and the positions of items left behind might have been changed. From the information on the stele, the tomb main occupant may be Xu You (許幼) , the father. His son Xu Jian (許建) built the tomb. At that time, Fei Zhi had already passed away. Xu Jian might move Fei Zhi’s remains into the tomb as a respect for his father and his father’s teacher.
The stele mentioned five other people at the end 大伍公從弟子五人: 田傴、全囗中、宋直忌公、畢先風、許先生. Those five people might be the students of Fei Zhi, fellow ‘classmates’ of Xu You. They all passed away before Xu You died. They might all die of poisoning 皆食石脂仙而去. Xu Jian also put their remains inside the tomb of his father, thus they might be co-occupants of the tomb.
Taoists at that time believed in spiritual immortality, where the spirit of the body joined the universe and became ‘immortals’ or fairies after death. They made and consumed elixirs so as to become ‘immortals’. Those elixirs might be deadly poisons containing mercury.
Is the stele itself the ‘spiritual tablet ‘ (memorial shrine) or is there another spiritual tablet other than the stele? The question remains unanswered.
I would like to thank Prof P Lam most sincerely for his consistent guidance and providing me with the original papers from archeological journals.
河南偃师县文物管理委员会: 《偃师县南蔡庄乡汉胞致墓优掘简报 》，《文物》1992年第9期
黃展岳（2012 ）肥致碑及相关问题 《考古》 2012 年第5期
字帖 | 《肥致碑》为伪汉碑？ 作者：宋开罗