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Chu Region
Melodies connected to the old state of Chu 

問訊衡陽 Asking News of Hengyang, in Hunan; from Qiu Hong          

The ancient kingdom of Chu once included a large region of central China, especially what are today's Hunan and Hubei provinces. Here the Yangzi, Han and Xiang rivers emerge from the mountains of western and southern China. Sometimes it has rivaled the north and east of China as a center of power and culture. At other times it has been viewed as a place of exile for scholar-officials who were out of favor.

Qin melodies with a Chu connection have some general characteristics. Many use a non-standard tuning, as can be seen from the melodies listed below. Tuning for #1 requires raising the second, fourth, fifth and seventh strings from standard tuning; tuning for #2 requires raising the second, fifth and seventh strings from standard tuning; tuning for #3 to #7 raises the fifth and seventh strings; while tuning for #8 to #10 raises the fifth string. In this they can be contrasted with melodies associated with north and central Asia, which generally seem to use the Yellow Bell Tuning.

#15 Geese Settle on the Sandbank, which is very popular today, and #16 Geese Arrive at Hengyang both use standard tuning. They seem to be later melodies, but have a similar theme to #1.

Most of these melodies with non-standard tuning have themes found in the Songs of Chu (Chu Ci), a collection of poetry dating from the Han dynasty. The word "qin" itself acutually occurs in these poems only once, but many qin melodies in this tuning are attributed to or connected with the famous scholar official Qu Yuan. These all can be interpreted as being laments by scholars at being out of favor with the government or the society in which they live. This theme as found in poetry and painting is discussed in wonderful detail in Alfreda Murck, The Subtle Art of Dissent, Poetry and Painting in Song China.

Since the early Ming dynasty, melodies using non-standard tuning have become less and less common. This might suggest that melodies 1 to 10 here are the earliest. However, Cangwu Lament (#13) is specifically identified in its earliest occurrence (1525) as being tablature from the famous Song dynasty connoisseur Yang Zan.

It is also possible that tunings used here were specifically associated with the old Chu region. However, there are some notable melodies using these tuning which do not have the Chu connection. The most prominent of these is Thrice Parting at Yangguan (Yangguan Sandie), more thematically connected to Central Asia. Its tuning, originally raised second and fifth, is now raised fifth.

I reconstructed all the qin melodies mentioned here (those with no links are not completed) from Ming dynasty qin handbooks. Many of the melodies can be accompanied by visual images.

  1. Guxian Modal Prelude (61 2 3 5 6 1); 1425
    Calling out in Flight
    Wild Geese in Autumn

  2. Yize modal prelude (3 5 6 1 2 3 5); 1525
    Dwell at the Source; 1525
    Wander Afar; 1525 (8 images; poem)

  3. Celestial Air defining Chushang (2 4 5 6 1 2 3); 1425
    Song of Chu 1425 (1 image; partial lyrics)

  4. Marshbank Melody (poem: The Fisherman); 1425 (4 images; poem )

  5. Encountering Sorrow; 1425 (18 images; poem)

  6. Song Yu Mourns Autumn (poem: Nine Changes); 1525 (9 images; poem)

  7. Qu Yuan asks at the ferry; pre-1491

  8. Celestial Air defining Ruibin mode (2 3 5 6 1 2 3)
    Floating on the Canglang River; 1425

  9. Water and Clouds over the Xiao and Xiang Rivers; 1425

  10. Melody of the Fisherman's Song; <1491
    Fisherman's Song; <1491

  11. Spring Dawn at Peach Spring (Taoyuan Chunxiao)
    Compare Mount Tiantai Prelude (Tiantai Yin), a standard tuning melody telling a similar story but connected to Mount Tiantai, south of Shaoxing

  12. Seeking Seclusion (Zhao Yin) (gong: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6); 1425 (poems)

  13. Lament of the Xiang River Concubines (shang: 1 2 4 5 6 1 2); 1511 (song)

  14. Defining Jiao Mode (jiao: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6); 1525
    Covered Brambles Prelude; 1525
    Cangwu Lament; 1525

  15. Exemplary Woman Prelude (Fan Ji); 1525 (1 image)

  16. Geese Settle on the Sandbank; 1634

  17. Wild Geese Traverse Hengyang (zhi: 1 2 4 5 6 1 2); 1539

  18. Bo Ya mourns Zi Qi (yu: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6); 1525 (song)

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