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Wusilan Finger Techniques
Finger techniques connected to the tablature for You Lan2
烏絲闌指法 1
Wusilan Zhifa    
  Front page of Wusilan Zhifa Shi 3  
Just as the melody You Lan is the oldest surviving qin tablature (as well as the world's oldest surviving fully developed instrumental melody), the Wusilan Finger Techniques Scroll (Wusilan Zhifa Juanzi) is considered to contain the earliest explanation of qin tablature still extant. The explanations were apparently collected or compiled by Ogyu Sorai 1666-1728), and they are essential to reconstructing the melody You Lan itself. However, it is not clear whether they were compiled at the same time as the earliest surviving You Lan manuscript. It does not appear that they were directly intended for use with You Lan: there are many techniques here that are not used in You Lan or have either different forms or interpretations from the ones used in You Lan. On the other hand, even in the modern period finger techniques included in handbooks seem simply to be copying earlier explanations rather than ones specifically referring to the way the techniques were used in that handbook.

In 1955 Wang Mengshu4 (1887-1969) mimeographed and bound the handcopied materials that he had been compiling and editing as part of his own research into the Wusilan materials (as well as You Lan), then circulated copies of these privately. This publication has the following content:

Explanation of Wusilan Finger Techiques (烏絲闌指法釋 Wusilan Zhifa Shi)
After the Wusilan title page the contents are as follows:

  1. A front page with hand diagrams, shown at right
  2. The melody list that had been appended at the end of You Lan.4
  3. Explanations for 94 "left and right hand finger techniques", 55 for the right hand, 49 for the left. (Original: larger writing; commentary: smaller writing)
  4. Folio page 19 in two parts, showing what look like fingernails for 35 of the techniques5
  5. A list of 59 references from which explanations for the 94 finger techniques were added.
  6. 19 footnotes
  7. A back page with hand diagrams (view).

This page is intended eventually to include all the left and right hand finger techniques from the original manuscript. One can try to find how these symbols are actually used in the You Lan manuscript by doing a search in this typed and punctuated text file of the tablature.6

The section begins as follows:

  1. 挑(圖一):右指申向上挑一絃。或頭,或中,二指通用。
    Tiao (page 1 圖 1): A right finger extends up and "stirs up" one string. Either the index or middle finger equally can do it.
    Note that this list of techniques begins with only five basic ones (挑、擿、打、觸、拘) and two of these are different from ones in the usual eight (擘、托、挑、抹、剔、勾、摘、打). Thumb actions are put later: #30 is pi, thumb 向前 forward (?); no apparent equivalent of 托.

  2. 擿(圖二):無名挑一絃。
    Ti (page 1 圖 2): "Pick out": the ring finger "stirs up" one string (presumably outward, like 剔).

  3. 打(圖三):右指向下打一絃着面。頭、中、無名三指通用
    Da (page 1 圖 3): A right finger "hits" a string away from the player along the surface; the index, middle and ring fingers all do it the same.
    (In the illustration at right the figure on the left hand side is not in any dictionary; the closest recognizable character to it seems to be the grass script form of the standard character , at right, and so this is how it is interpreted here. Note that today "打" exclusively refers to the ring finger plucking inward towards the player; this suggests that here "" ["xia, downwards"] should also mean "inward", but then it would conflict with #7, where it is "上" ["shang, upwards"] that clearly means inward. It thus seems that "打" refers to outward strokes and thus can be interpreted as either "挑 tiao", "剔 ti or 摘" depending on the finger actually prescribed. (Inward would bemo, 勾/拘 gou, orda).

  4. 觸(圖三):無名打一絃。
    Chu (page 1 圖 2): "collide": the ring finger "hits" a string (inward, as with the later 打?)

  5. 雙打(圖?):(沒有)
    Shuang da: No illustration or explanation; some later ones include this, however they suggest inward motions, i.e., different from #3.)

  6. 拘(圖四):右指拘一絃向上,或頭,或中,或無名,三指(通)用。
    Gou: (page 1 圖 4): A right finger "hooks" a string inward; the index, middle and ring fingers all do it the same.

  7. 間拘,一作間句(圖六更[正]):假令右中指拘角,無名拘商,各拘一絃度。

  8. 挑間拘(圖十二):假令大約徴,食挑角,中安商上,食挑角,中、無名仍間句商宮,相搩拘布之。

  9. __7間拘(圖十三):若假食安商上,中安宮上,食先拘商,中即打宮,中仍住商,次下無安宮上,中拘商,無即打宮,相連作之。

  10. 雙拘(圖七[疑圖]更[正]):右頭指、中指相逐同拘一絃度。

  11. 全扶(圖十四更[正]):右頭指、中指相逐拘度二絃,無名即約前絃,絕余[餘]聲。

  12. 半扶 (圖十五更[正]):
    The rest is not yet online....

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Wusilan Zhifa references
烏絲闌指法 only 烏絲闌 ("black silk border") = 16454.289 烏絲欄 Wusilan "謂絹紙類之卷册有織成或畫成之黑格線也。欄亦作蘭,或坐襽。 refers to a black structural line stitched or drawn on a traditional folio page". (Refers to references in the Ming dynasty 通雅 Tong Ya.)

  1. Wusilan Finger Techniques Scroll (烏絲闌指法卷子 Wusilan Zhifa Juanzi)
    This document, said to preserve ancient qin fingering explanations, was apparently written or compiled by
    Ogyu Sorai (荻生徂徠 Disheng Culai; 1666-1728), also known as Mononobe Noke (物部茂卿 Wubu Maoqing). A copy of this found its way to the Chinese imperial court, thence to the National Palace Library. Ogyu Sorai was a well-known Japanese Confucianist who acquired a handcopy of the original You Lan tablature (further details), to which he apparently added and/or edited "commentary and explanatory illustrations" (see VG, Lore, p. 29fn).

  2. Wang Mengshu's Explanation of Wusilan Finger Techiques (烏絲闌指法釋 Wusilan Zhifa Shi, 1955)
    These You Lan finger techniques were all included in this volume, which was only mimeographed and had very limited circulation. In 2013 the Zhonghua Publishing Company re-published it in the compendium Valued Writings of Qin Studies by Mr. Wang Mengshu of Old Wu, edited and annoted by 楊元錚 Yang Yuanjing.

The original preface is translated here

2. Connection between Wusilan Zhifa and You Lan
This has not yet been fully examined.

3. Front page of Wusilan Zhifa Shi
Scanned from a mimeographed original.

4. 汪孟舒 Wang Mengshu

5. Folio page 19 in two parts Page/Diagram 2 (Expand)       Page/Diagram 1 (Expand)    
These two pages have only 35 diagrams in all (14 on the right, 21 on the left) but some cover more than one technique. What they convey other than the direction from which strings are struck is at present somewhat elusive.

A comment at the end refers to Zequan Heshang's Rhythm and Finger Methods in Qin Yuan Yao Lü. The hand diagrams there include little holes that show where the strings are in relation to the fingers. It also says that 袁荃猷綜繪手圖 Yuan Quanyou (a music research associate of Wang Mengshu, etc.) drew the diagrams (or only the 叠蠲 shown there?).

6. Searching for characters explained here
Such a search will show that many are never used, beginning with #2 擿 ti, #4 觸 chu and #5 雙打 shuang da.

7. Figure #7
The original has 木 on left and 甘 over 攵 on right : does not exist. Speculation includes "復", "複" and "覆" (all "fu").




Return to the annotated handbook list or to the Guqin ToC.