(at robbyjo's request I'm putting in the Pinyin as well...some of you Mandarin speakers out there check it for me
tai4zu3 wu3huang2di4, Pei4guo2 Qiao2 ren2 ye3.
"The Grand Progenitor, the Martial Emperor, was a man from Qiao in Pei state,"
The way to express "A is B" in Classical Chinese (hereafter CC
) is [A B 也], where A and B are noun phrases. Sometimes a comma is put between them, but remember that there was no punctuation in CC texts, and the commas and whatnot we see now are edited in by modern editors. There are many other examples where there is no comma between A and B, and you just have to figure out. This sentence thus says: "太祖武皇帝 is 沛国谯人"
太祖, `Grand Progenitor', is the temple name
given to Cao Cao after his death. Chen Shou's use of this to refer to Cao Cao throughout the text of his bio is thus an anachronism.
武皇帝, `Martial Emperor', is the posthumous imperial title Cao Cao received when Cao Pi ascended the throne. In Chinese, the adjective or modifying words come before a noun, so in a rank title, the acutal rank follows all the decorative words. 武, `martial', modifies the title, 皇帝, `emperor'.
Similarly, in 沛国谯人, the actual noun is 人, `person', and 沛国谯 modifies it (by saying where that person is from, like when we say "a Chinese person", "an Oregon man", etc). When referring to place names, the widest area comes first. So Pei State is a bigger area than Qiao, which was a city in Pei. In English we'd say "Qiao, Pei State", just like we say, "Portland, Oregon" or "Beijing, China"; in Chinese, the order is reversed.
xing4 Cao2, hui4 Cao1, zi4 Meng4de2, Han4 xiang4guo2 Can1 zhi1 hou4.
"His surname was Cao, his tabooed name Cao, style Mengde. He was a descendent of Cao Can, former Han Chancellor of the State."
姓 = surname 讳= tabooed name 字 =style: standard fare at the beginning of biographies.
Regarding the tabooed name讳: in Chinese culture, it is taboo to opening say the name of one's elders or superiors. The given names of one's father, grandfather, or ancestors are to be avoided out of respect. Since an emperor (what Cao Cao is considered here) demands the utmost respect, his name cannot be uttered. Therefore, in historical texts or when you really really have to mention his name, 讳 is used. The regular character for `name, to be named' is 名.
之 is like the "apostrophe s" in English, such as "Mary's lamb", "the dog's tail", "the girl's mother", etc. 汉相国参之后 thus means汉相国参's 后. 后 means `after, descendent'.
汉相国参 is another case of the "backward description". In English, we say "Cao Can, Chancellor of the State of Han". In Chinese, we say "Han Chancellor of State Cao Can". The description always comes before
the entity under discussion--here we're talking about Cao Can, and we describe him as Han's Chancellor of State.
`Former' was used in the translation to show that Cao Can wasn't the Chancellor at the time of Cao Cao. Anyone versed in Chinese history would know that Cao Can lived some 400 years before Cao Cao, and thus it is not noted in the Chinese text.
Huan2di4 shi4, Cao2 Teng2 wei2 zhong1chang2shi4 da4chang2qiu1, feng1 Fei4ting2 hou2.
"In the age of Emperor Huan, Cao Teng was the 'Great Prolonger of Autumn' Regular Palace Attendant, was enfeoffed as Marquis of Feiting. "
Previously, we said that when we want to say "X's Y" or "the Y of X", we use "X 之 Y". Now we see that it is not necessary to use 之 to denote a relationship between two noun phrases. 桓帝 "Emperor Huan" and 世 "age, time" are both nouns, but there is no之 connecting them. It still means "Emperor Huan's time". It is also grammatical to say桓帝之世 (and it means the same thing), and it's stylistics that determine which version you use.
为 is a versatile verb. It means "do", "act as", "become", "faire", "devenir", in most of their regular senses. 中常侍大长秋 is a name of a position.
封XX 侯: This phrase will come up a lot in SGZ. 侯 is a Marquis. 封 is the ceremonial word for bestowing a noble title on someone. So to 封 someone a侯 of something (again, since modifiers come before the noun, the name of the marquisate or the decorative title will precede the侯) is to bestow that title of marquis on him. Here it's translated as a passive in English. There is no particular passive inflection on the verb in CC--you'll just have to tell by context, and sometimes you'll see phrases like "by so and so" that signal a passive clause.
yang3zi3 Song1 si4, guan1 zhi4 tai4wei4.
"His adopted son Cao Song succeeded the title and himself reached the position of Grand Commandant."
至 means `to reach, to arrive'. 官 could either mean "an official" or "an official position".
mo4 neng3 shen3 qi2 sheng1chu1 ben3mo4.
"It is unknown, however, the details of his birth.
莫 is a negative word. Negation always precedes the predicate, just as it does in English ("I'm not
hungry") or Spanish ("No
habló Español"). 能 means "can, able to". 莫能 thus means "not able to".
The subject is omitted, and this is an impersonal construction literally meaning "one is not able to determine the details of his birth".
其 = his/her/its: third person possessive pronoun. Like in English, it comes before the main noun ("his chair", "her mother", "its expiry date" etc). Here, the main noun phrase is 生出本末. 生出 literally means "born" and "out", so here it refers to "where he came from, his birth". 本末 = "beginning" and "end", so the compound means "details" (i.e. when you know the details of everything from beginning to end, "make head and tail of something", etc).
Song1 sheng1 Tai4zu3
Cao Song begot the Grand Progenitor [Cao Cao].
Ahhh... finally, the proof that CC is Subj-Verb-Obj. Subject = 嵩 [Cao] Song . Verb = 生 to give birth to, to beget. Object = 太祖 the Grand Progenitor.