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Confucian Qin Themes
"Confucian melodies?" Confucius Confucian learning images
Confucius teaching students at the Apricot Tree Forum 2
Guqin melodies with Confucian themes include those connected to stories about Confucius and to those that specifically endorse Confucian principles. Other melodies to consider for inclusion are those that use lyrics from the Book of Songs, supposedly edited by Confucius;3 those that concern the virtues of ancient rulers; and those that have a connection to the region of Confucius' home town, Qu Fu in Shandong province. The list here is not exhausitive; in particular, my personal focus being the Ming dynasty, it does not include several further melodies that seem to have originated during the Qing period.4
Melodies for Confucian academies? 5
There seems to be little or no information about what music might have been played at Confucian academies during the imperial period. In fact, it is difficult to say what is distinctive about music with a Confucian theme, just as there is with trying to identify musical characteristics of melodies with a Daoist theme. Perhaps more distinctive are differences based on which of the following three categories the melodies belong to: those set to Confucian texts, which may or may not have been sung; those set to Confucian-related lyrics that at onetime almost certainly were sung; and melodies with Confucian themes but no known lyrics. What follows here is a list based on an attempt to imagine what melodies might have been most suitable for study in an imperial Confucian academy.
Perhaps most unique amongst these three are the melodies with text settings focused on Confucian learning. So first on the list are melodies that have lyrics or texts that present the sort of ideas to which students might have been exposed at traditional academies, which during the imperial period largely focused on Confucian principles.
The first illustration, above right, suggests that Confucius played qin as he taught.
The second illustration, below right, purports to show a legendary sage teaching the rules of music using a qin, but here it is used to suggest the possibility that such ideas inspired some later teachers of Confucian learning also to play qin as part of their instructing. Although this has seldom been explored, it does seem possible, if not likely, that if this did occur, melodies with text settings, such as the following, would certainly have been suitable.
|I. Qin Melodies for Confucian Learning (儒學琴曲 Ruxue Qinqu)6||Teaching with qin: An imaginary Confucian School?)|
II. Poem settings
III. Instrumental pieces
To my knowledge no studies have been done as to whether these melodies have musical characteristics that distinguish them from other melodies (further comment).
Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)
Confucian qin themes ("Confucian melodies"?)
The melodies here are selected purely on a thematic basis, not on a musical or structural basis (regarding which see Modality in early Ming qin tablature). Musical and structual considerations include:
As suggested above, this topic does not yet seem to have been fully resarched. If such unique musical characteristics can be found, then perhaps one can speak more confidently of certain qin melodies being "Confucian melodies" rather than "melodies on Confucian themes".
|2. Images of Confucius||A common motif shows Confucius with qin|
Many such images can be found as woodblock prints in 孔子聖蹟圖
Traces of the Sage Confucius; only the ones above by Bai Yunli are copyrighted here. On the internet there are many other images of Confucius playing the qin.
Qin songs that use lyrics from the Book of Songs (詩經
Here it is perhaps significant that these 12 are among the very few surviving pre-modern qin song settings that do not pair the tablature and lyrics using the very word-intensive traditional pairing method: here there are quite a few extra strokes/notes per syllable. Having more notes per syllable should make it easier to make these song settings interesting. Was it difficult to get published songs that did not follow traditional rules? Was it possible to publish these songs because they had a supposed precedent in the Tang dynasty?
Thus one might argue that there were certainly more settings done of Shi Jing songs, but they were never published - perhaps never could be.
The melodies listed here were all pubished during the Ming dynasty; no link to the title means my reconstruction has not been finalized. Not included are several further melodies that seem to have originated during the Qing dynasty.4
Later melodies on the theme of Confucius
Melodies with a Confucian theme that I have not yet tried to reconstruct were mostly published beginning in the Qing dynasty. Some are virtually unknown, such as
Other Qing dynasty qin melodies on a Confucian theme are quite well-known; perhaps the two best known of these are listed in the Zha Guide as,
These latter two relate stories that have a connection ("孔子讀易 Confucius Read the Yi Jing" so much that the "韋編 Leather Bindings [of his copy] 三絕 wore out three times"). However, because these both come after the Ming dynasty I have not yet studied them carefully, so they do not yet have separate entries. Nevertheless, both pieces (and their variants) are discussed further here. My tentative conclusion, in sum, is that although the stories of the Wei Bian and Du Yi seem to be similar, the two Wei Bian melodies are musically unrelated to each other, and neither one seems to be musically related to any of the Du Yi melodies. However, this is a preliminary opinion based on examining the tablatures, not actually playing or hearing all the meloides. Perhaps further study might show that there are indeed musical relationships between them.
Not yet translated.
"In his old age Confucius loved to study the Book of Changes, the order of the hexagrams, definitions, appendices, interpretations, explanations and commentaries. He studied this book so much that the leather thongs binding the wooden strips wore out three times. "Give me a few years more," he said, "and I shall become quite proficient!"
Zha Guide lists Wei Bian as surviving only in the hand-copied 琴書千古 Qinshu Qian'gu (1738; XV/444), where it has 7 sections, its mode is not indicated, and it has no commentary or lyrics. Zha's statement, p. 39, that the melody is "明代民間 from the people of the Ming dynasty" should be seen basically as a political statement, not historical. To my knowledge this melody has not yet been reconstructed.
Zha Guide does not mention Leather Bindings Broken Thrice (韋編三絕 Weibian Sanjue). The melody of this name has been transcribed in Guqin Quji, Vol. 1, pp. 265-7, where it is divided into three sections. Commentary with the earliest known recording, by Le Ying, included in CD #6 of the China Records 8-CD set of recordings from the 1950s, identifies the melody only as from 抄本琴譜 hand copied tablature, but a comment at the front of the tablature/transcription in Guqin Quji (p. 265) says its source is 賈闊峰傳譜 tablature transmitted by Jia Kuofeng, who was Le Ying's teacher. The brief commentary on p. 10 of Guqin Quji says that the melody survived only though that hand-copy, no printed scores. It then suggests that this modern melody is related to that of the Wei Bian in the 1738 handbook and points to the story shared with Kongzi Du Yi. However, as mentioned above, my own tentative examination comparing the two Wei Bian tablatures did not reveal any musical relationship between them, nor any between either of them and any of the Du Yi melodies mentioned next.
The introductions to Du Yi do not actually mention Confucius except where his name appears in the title (i.e., the Kongzi Du Yi from 1876). Nevertheless, from the titles it would seem that the theme of the Du Yi melodies might be similar to that of the Wei Bian melodies.
Again, although further study might show that there are indeed musical relationships between the Wei Bian melodies or between them and the Du Yi melodies, until that time one should be skeptical of the claims one can read that 韋編三絕初見於《琴書千古》（1738，抄本）Wei Bian San Jue can be traced back to 1738. In fact it has not even been traced back prior to Le Ying and/or his teacher. It should be needless to add that, though this is criticism of the commentary, it is also in fact praise for the performer.
Melodies for Confucian academies?
Since ancient times there have been teachers and groups fostering Confucian learning. From the Han dynasty onwards there were government academies for this; during the Tang dynasty these were either supplemented with or replaced by private academies. For a basic background on this see, e.g., various Wikipedia articles such as those on Imperial Academies (太學 Taixue), Academies 暴匡人 (書院 Shu Yuan) and the Imperial College (國子監 Guozijian).
Although yet I have not uncovered specific evidence for qin melodies being played at such traditional academies, this is certainly a topic worthy of further examination.
|6. Qin Melodies for Confucian Learning (儒學琴曲 Ruxue Qinqu)||(Full illustration above; details)|
絃歌不輟 Xian Ge Bu Chuo is actually a phrase found in the book of Zhuangzi (ctext, with translation by Legge). The passage tells of Confucius playing a string instrument (usually interpreted as a qin) while traveling in Kuang, a district in the Song kingdom (apparently in what is today's Henan province). Suddenly a group of Song ruffians surround him and act in an apparently threatening manner. Nevertheless, Confucius does not stop. (Here the Chinese text says only "不惙", not specifying if this means he doesn't stop traveling or doesn't stop playing.) When asked about this by one of his disciples, Confucius says that he has offered his services to rulers but they have all rejected him. As a result he is now talking to, and/or playing for, anyone who will listen. Eventually the leader of the ruffians apologizes, saying that until they heard him (or heard him play his music) they thought he was someone who was their enemy. They then leave.
|插圖：孔子聖蹟圖 Illustration from "Traces of the Sage Confucius"||匡人解圍 Surrounded by Kuang (expand)|
"絃歌不輟 Xian Ge Bu Chuo" is not specifically mentioned in this illustration, but the above explanation should make it clear that it can apply to a program on the theme of Confucian education, such as what is outlined below.
As a result of such stories the phrase "絃歌不輟 xian ge buchuo" has at times been used to suggest providing music and song for anyone who will listen (so as to educate them and/or raise their spirits): thus 不惙 means he didn't stop playing. This perhaps suggests an interpretation that Confucius would stop in public places and play for anyone who would listen.
This also brings to mind a quote from 論語，衛靈公 Book 15 Duke Ling of Wei in the Analects of Confucius, where it has, 子曰：「有教無類。」 Confucius said, When it comes to education there aren't different categories (of people)" (ctext). This is generally interpreted as meaning that everyone should be educated. It is thus in contrast to the attitudes one can find in qin literature saying you should not play qin for certain types of people (see, for example, in this list.)
|Commemorative seal (see at left; expand)|
The complete version of this program includes melodies where the Confucian connection is not so direct, such as the first and last ones listed here.
And for contrast and as time permits, some non-Confucian themed melodies could also be included, such as
Zhuangzi's Butterfly Dream
Confucius' Household Sayings (孔子家語 Kongzi Jiayu)
See under Confucius: a collection of stories attributed to Confucius but most probably dating from the Han dynasty. Quoted variously on this site: see especially the six selections from four books.
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