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Music Beyond Sound: An American's World of Guqin 1 希聲:一個美國琴人的境界  
A feature-length documentary by veteran Hong Kong filmmaker Lau Shing-hon,2 2019 紀錄長片;劉成漢監製導演,2019  
112 minutes;  Facebook page;3  Trailer;4  Two excerptsOuttakes;5  Reviews6 112分鐘;電影摘錄;   電影摘錄字幕、新聞稿  

This film premiered Saturday 31 August 2019 at the Hong Kong Movie Movie festival Life is Art 2019, preceded by a short foyer performance.7 The film itself was shot in segments over a ten year period.8 During its first year it is being submitted to various international film festivals; public availability will come after that.9


新聞稿 Press release

In 1974 an American, John Thompson, went to Taiwan, then Hong Kong, to study Chinese and the guqin, a silk string zither with an ancient history. Now, 45 years later, he plays on, still inspired by the beauty of the music and by the culture that produced it.
1974年美國人John Thompson 唐世璋往台灣和香港學習中文和絲弦古琴。45年後他仍在孜孜不倦,全情投入在優美的古琴演奏和文化硏究之中。

In 2010 he was the only non-Chinese among 14 masters the Zhejiang Museum invited to play in a program featuring guqins over 1000 years old.

How did this happen? And why should a Westerner spend so much of his life in something so Chinese?

This documentary film, made over a 10 year period by Hong Kong veteran filmmaker Lau Shing Hon, tries to answer this.
香港資深導演劉成漢花了十年時間拍成的最新紀錄長片, 試圖解答這個問題!

* * *

An East-West rendezvous in classical music and culture!
西方邂逅千年東方古典文化與音樂的璀燦 !

Beautiful music! Fascinating! Moving!
Absolutely inspiring!

Not to be missed!

See also:

  • Signed Reviews (longer ones in Appendix One)

    “Music beyond Sound: an American's world of Guqin" reveals one man's enormous dedication beyond culture , and beautiful music beyond national boundaries. Both are truly heart warming !
    ~ Derek Chiu, Hong Kong film director.
    "希聲:一個美國琴人的境界" 電影那份專注,不限文化。那種音樂,跨越國界。兩種境界,同樣動人。

  • 名家推介 - Testimonials from the film (Appendix Two)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 希聲:一個美國琴人的境界 - Music Beyond Sound: An American's World of Guqin
A number of people worked on this film, most notably those mentioned in the film credits.

製作名單 Film Credits:

This page was initiated 1 May 2019.

2. 劉成漢 Lau Shing Hon (中文簡介)
Further information about Lau is linked here; see in particular his entry in the Ultimate Guide to HK Film Directors

Lau and I have been friends since 1978, when he asked me to do the music for his first feature film, 慾火焚琴 House of the Lute. To my knowledge this is still the only full length feature film to have used guqin music almost exclusively (see Guqin in film). Some of the musical decisions are described there.

3. Facebook page
Select "Posts" to make a comment. You should also be able to make a comment on
my Facebook page.

4. Trailer
The text of the trailer is the same as the text from the
press release.

5. Outtakes
Other melodies recorded but not included in the film include:

These two scenes were filmed by 黃可範 Richard Wong on Cheung Chau island in February, 2017.

6. Reviews
See Appendix 1

7. Film premiere
The foyer performance (of necessity) featured my
qin with a piezo pickup under its silk strings. My piezo qin connects to an amplifier directly through a 1/4" plug on the end of the qin (warning).

8. Shot locations
Lau directed the filming in Hong Kong (including Cheung Chau and Tung Chung) and Hangzhou. The film also includes an official video from the Zhejiang Concert Hall (浙江音樂廳) in Hangzhou, plus a video I made in Tampa, Florida.

9. Screening the film
As of August 2019 non-commercial screenings can be arranged on request. Meanwhile, the "Watch Video" button on the film's
Facebook page links only to the trailer.
目前Facebook頁面上的"Watch Video"(觀看視頻)鏈接到電影預告片。

11. 電影預告片 Trailer for the film
Length: 2 min 36 sec.

12. 電影摘錄 Excerpt 1 from film
From 08.38 to 11.22; filmed in Tung Chung and Cheung Chau, Hong Kong

13. 電影摘錄 Excerpt 2 from film
From 17.10 to 18.07; filmed in Tung Chung, Hong Kong, with images from Taipei and Hong Kong.

14. Poster announcing the film
Poster design by 許晴嵐 Hui Ching Laam

15. Image from the opening scene
1 min 14 sec from the beginning; shot at the end of 海濤半島 Seascape Peninsula, above 香港長州南氹灣 Nam Tam Bay, Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong. The text on screen refers to my focus on music of the Ming dynasty, discussed further here.

16. More stills from the film
The first two images are from Hong Kong, the last two were shot in Hangzhou.

Appendix One - Film reviews and related articles
Below are two

  1. 鬼佬與中國古琴 A "Foreign Devil" and the Chinese Guqin A
    Here is a translation of an article by leading Hong Kong film critic 石琪 Sek Kei about seeing the premiere. He wrote it for his column 傾偈集 Kinggai Gei ("Chats in a Box") in 明報 Ming Pao, 7 September 2019 (中文 .pdf).

    Director Lau Shing Hon spent 10 years filming his English-language documentary "Music Beyond Sound: An American's World of Guqin", and looking back it is such a rare find. The guqin is the most traditional Chinese musical instrument, but how many among the billion or so Chinese people are able really to appreciate it? I also didn’t know much about it, but always kept my respect from afar. Now, having watched this film, I cannot help but salute this American qin player John Thompson.

    For a "foreign devil" to be so enchanted with the Chinese guqin that he works so hard at it and gives performances is rarely seen. However, the actual difficulty that can be most valued is that fact that his studies of classical qin tablature have contributed so much, by taking the ancient tablature from its original condition then making it possible to play it that way again, causing not just a few ancient melodies to "come back to life"; in this way his efforts have far exceeded those Chinese experts in the field. His guqin website gets more than ten thousand hits daily, making it a catalyst for the guqin renaissance.B

    This documentary was filmed in quite a straightforward manner: it focuses on John’s in-depth talking about and playing of the qin, with inserts of photos and videos, the story line showing how he began studying music as a child, came to Asia while serving in the US army during the Vietnam war, developed a love for Asian culture, then went first to Taiwan then to Hong Kong to study guqin.

    John seems to have had a special bonding with Hong Kong. He lived on Cheung Chau island for more than 20 years and became almost like a local. He also worked for over 10 years with Hong Kong's "Festival of Asian Arts“.C And in 1980 he was responsible for the guqin music in the movie “House of the Lute”, directed by Lau Shing Hon, and in the documentary "Music Beyond Sound” there are excerpts from it showing 40 years ago the film stars Simon Yam Tat Wah in his first major role and Herman Kwan Hoi-san as his co-star.D

    Guqin also brought John love. In Hong Kong he met a New Yorker who became smitten by his qin music and they subequently tied the knot. The film has a scene showing the two of them revisiting Cheung Chau, and him playing the qin while he softly sings a classic love song for her in Mandarin. How sweet! John also explains that he must play on silk strings to maintain the traditional sound and style. And he points out that from ancient times literati always played qin for self enjoyment, never making a living from their art.

    Comments on the article:

    A: In the original text "foreign devil" was put in quotes to show it is intended as irony. Whoever wrote the headline (see the Chinese original: .jpg or .pdf) seems to have missed that.
    B: The website is very active but these official statistics, given by the website host, are rather dubious.
    C: 18 years: early 1980 to late 1998 but missing 1982.
    D: This is still the only feature length film to use guqin music almost exclusively from beginning to end. Part of the job was teaching Kwan Hoi-san to pretend to play qin.
    Thanks to Louisa Ross for help with the translation.

  2. 唐世璋:西方人過上東方古琴撞出火花 John Thompson: A Westerner experiences the Eastern guqin and hits a spark
    Published October 11, 2019 in the Chinese daily newspaper 文匯報 Wen Hui Bao (
    online edition; jpg).
    This is mainly a background article about me. After that (on the right side of the page) is the following short article that mentions the film; just above it is a photo taken at the place on Cheung Chau island where I spend two to three months a year; under it is the photo from the pre-show foyer event.

    紀錄長片傳播古琴之美 Documentary film transmits the beauty of the qin

    Hong Kong film director Lau Shing-hon, deeply moved by the fact that it is a Westerner who has worked so hard and accomplished so much on the guqin, and captivated by performances on guqins with silk strings, spent 10 years making the full length documentary "Music Beyond Sound: An American's World of Guqin", recently shown at the Taikoo Shing Movie Theatre. Director Lau Shing-Hon reckons that, John Thompson's decades of studying Chinese traditional music and culture have made huge contributions, but that many Chinese people don't know about (his important contributions) and this is very regrettable. He hopes that this film will also help them to appreciate the beauty of his guqin performance.

    香港導演劉成漢感嘆於一個西方人在古琴上的造詣與成就,陶醉於絲弦古琴演奏,以十年時間拍攝出紀錄長片《希聲:一個美國 琴人的境界》,日前在太古城戲院公映。 劉成漢導演認為,數十年來唐世璋對中華傳統音樂和文化貢獻龐大,但很多華人卻並不知悉,他認為實在非常可惜,希望將其拍攝成電影令更多人能夠欣賞古琴之美。

    The original text of the full article, by Hong Kong reporter 胡茜 Hu Qian, is as follows:

    在中國文化中,琴棋書畫向來被看作文人雅士修身養性的必由之徑,其中以「琴」為首,又以弦樂古琴為主要演奏樂器。古琴根據中國傳統「天人合一」的自然觀設計,琴面琴底對照天地,琴頭琴項、琴肩琴身比對人形,古琴家更以雙手撥奏人文與品格之美,展現無分民族的高雅美感。美國古琴家唐世璋(John Thompson)年輕時深受中華文化吸引,上世紀七十年代隻身走到香港與台灣學習中文及絲弦古琴,當年他的老師本認為外國人無法理解中華文化,不願收他為徒,但後來為了向熱衷西方音樂的中國學生證明古琴的價值,決定將他收歸師門。成就了今天的他。■文:香港文匯報記者 胡茜 部分圖片由劉成漢導演提供


    John Thompson的第一個中文名叫湯約翰,但他覺得這個名字不太夠「中國」,一直到1971年,他正式開始學習中文,當時的語言老師為他改成「唐世璋」,「璋」取他的名字「John」的諧音,「唐」則是他本來姓氏的第一個音節,亦寓意「唐人」。由此一來,才奠定了他開啟中國文化的第一個篇章。


















    The pdf also shows an unrelated article underneath this one. Much of the information here can be found in English in the detailed version of My guqin work.

電影預告片  Trailer for the film 11

電影摘錄 Excerpt from the film12

電影摘錄 Another excerpt from the film 13

Poster announcing the film 14

Music source (from the opening scene) 15

More stills from the film16

Appendix Two: 名家推介 - Testimonials from the film
The film includes the following testimonials from scholars and qin players:


Go to JT Bio or to the Guqin ToC