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Towering Rock Melody2 Secluded Orchid1 碣石調2 幽蘭1
A General Introduction3 Jieshi Diao You Lan  
- 碣石調 Jieshi mode or melody? tuning: 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 Beginning of the original score (compare typed version) 4    

The title "Secluded Orchid" (幽蘭 You Lan) conveys the image of a flower of such beauty that it makes its surroundings seem plain by comparison. It is thus seemingly lonely, though perhaps content in its solitude. Mention of orchids in poetry might thus suggest an author trying to convey such a self-image. Perhaps this viewpoint has also helped make orchids a popular theme for qin melodies. This has also helped make this the popular choice for the theme of the present melody.

Here, however, an alternative interpretation of this melody will be suggested. First, though, it should be made clear that the common association of this melody has generally been with Confucius. Confucius himself is said to have extolled the virtues of the orchid, the solitary, secluded orchid in particular. Here it is as though rather than trying to answer an existential question such as whether a tree falling in the woods has sound, the ancient philosophers wished make this into a moral question, to which they had their own answer: just as an orchid keeps its fragrance whether or not anyone is around to smell it, people can keep their moral nature no matter whether or not put into a position to carry out moral acts.

The connection to Confucius could perhaps be epitomized by interpreting the first two notes as forming a dissonance: it represents Confucius being startled by seeing the lonely but flourishing orchid. This is the theme of the Shen Qi Mi Pu melody "Flourishing Orchid" (猗蘭 Yi Lan), connected to the story of Confucius comparing himself, an upright minister not achieving proper recognition, to a solitary orchid in a field of common plants. However, although the title to Jieshidiao You Lan gives "Self Reliant Orchid" (倚蘭 Yi Lan) as an alternate title (see facsimile), the title of the 1425 Yi Lan is written differently ("猗蘭" instead of "倚蘭") and it is melodically unrelated to the ancient version.

Furthermore, early references to You Lan do not mention the Confucius story, instead referring to the orchid's natural beauty and its use as a body ornament. The Rippling Orchids Melody (漪蘭操 Yilan Cao, 1511), with melodic connections to the just-mentioned Flourishing Orchid, has lyrics that include a set of five You Lan poems by Bao Zhao that are quite romantic in their treatment of the orchid theme (in keeping with this reference). And even the afterword to the other surviving melody with the title You Lan, the musically unrelated 1525 You Lan, also makes no mention of Confucius.

Another theme: Towering Rock
This brings up an alternate interpretation: the other part of the title, instead of referring to the musical mode or melodic type, might suggest that the present melody is either an alternative to or a reaction against the Confucius story. According to this scenario, what is written at the front, just before the preface, "碣石調幽蘭序一名倚蘭“, could actually mean, "The Towering Rock version of Secluded Orchid, which could equally be called
Self-Reliant Orchid". "Secluded Orchid" was an established title, but this version concerns not the melancholy seclusion of a neglected advisor but the vigorous self-reliance of a conqueror.

The conqueror, in this case, is the warlord and erstwhile emperor Cao Cao. Cao Cao, having conquering territory all the way to the eastern seacoast, encounters not a secluded orchid but a towering rock (Jieshi) from which he can look out to sea. This inspires him to create a set of four Towering Rock Stanzas, discussed in some detail in this footnote. And these, in turn inspired someone to create a melody that not only is in four parts ("movements"), but also arguably covers similar themes. And just as those stanzas each end with an upbeat declaration, each movement of the melody ends on a nearly identical upbeat melodic motif.

The individual texts of these four Towering Rock Stanzas (poems or songs: 碣石篇 Jieshi Pian) have themes that have been described by Walter Kaufmann (Musical Notations of the Orient, 1967 edition p.462) as follows:

  1. Mentions the emperor's travels eastward to Jieshi and the vastness of the ocean from which the sun and moon rose and into which sun and moon set
  2. Mentions how, after work in the fields was accomplished, the merchants became active
  3. Explains how the shape and climate (in this case harsh) of a region influence its inhabitants
  4. In praise of the brave man.

The content of these poems, as preserved in the Yuefu Shiji, actually fits quite well into my musical understanding of the moods expressed in each of the four "movements" of Towering Rock Melody Secluded Orchid. Following this argument may require extensive study of the melody's Mode and Structure, but it is also summarized in these comments on the melody's four movements.

So is it likely that Qiu Ming, the person said to be responsible for the Jieshidiao version of You Lan, was familiar with these stanzas of Cao Cao? And what are the chances that he was aware of the Jieshi dances apparently done at one time in Luoyang (though it had ceased being the Jin capital in 311, it was from 493 to 535 the capital of the Northern Wei then later the Sui dynasties)? Did there still exist (stories of) any imperial models apparently once made of Jieshi? If he was so aware, he must have known their story contrasted strongly with that of Confucius and his orchid.

The You Lan score
The You Lan manuscript discussed here details a lengthy and complex melody, enough so as to suggest strongly it comes out of a long and fully developed musical tradition. However, it is in fact also by far the earliest substantial melody from any culture to have been notated with detail sufficient to give expectation of reasonably accurate reconstruction.
5 Furthermore, evidence has been presented that at the time of its being copied it was but one of many such melodies written down. However, none of them seems to have survived. In fact, other substantial guqin melodies only survive beginning from the 15th century, when the first came to be printed.

The You Lan preface suggests that the melody was either created or refined in the mid sixth century CE6 by a man named Qiu Ming (493-590),7 originally from Kuaiji (near Shaoxing?8) but then a recluse in the Jiuyi Mountain Range9 in the south of what is today Hunan province; this was at the southern edge of the Chu region and the implication is that the melody was in a Chu melodic style.11 The preface adds that in the year 589 CE Qiu Ming transmitted the melody to one Chen Shuming,12 Prince of Yidu.13 Chen was a member of the royal family of the Chen dynasty,14 which had its capital in what is today Nanjing. The title at the front of the preface to the surviving scroll copy (see image) is 碣石調幽蘭 Jieshi Diao You Lan (Towering Rock Melody, Secluded Orchid). Right after the preface comes the tablature, with the melody now titled only as 幽蘭第五 You Lan, #5. The title Jieshi Diao You Lan then again returns at the end of the scroll, where it is at the top of a list of melody titles (see also the second image at right).

Evidence suggests that this tablature was almost certainly brought from China to Japan during the Tang dynasty. Yang, Tale (p.50) suggests that it quite likely was brought to Japan by one of the many imperial missions sent from Japan to China to collect such materials. (Others have speculated it might have been brought from Jiankang [Nanjing] by a Buddhist traveler). However, it is unknown whether it was brought as part of a set or by itself. Nor is it possible to say how well-known in China this particular melody was at that time, or whether it had already left the active repertoire.

Apparently this manuscript scroll went into an imperial collection soon after it arrived in Japan. Then some time around 1700 the retired Emperor Gomizuno bestowed it, together with another ancient Chinese music document that has come to be known as the Hikone manuscript, to the Koma clan, or a part of the clan that were hereditary musicans. These both then remained in private hands until the 20th century, when the You Lan scroll was bequeathed to the Kyoto Museum, which in 1968 sent it to the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno (a district of Tokyo); meanwhile the content of the Hikone Manuscript remained obscure, known only through the early 18th century copies by Ogyu Sorai. As discussed further below, Sorai made revisions for his copy of the Hikone manuscript; he then attached this to his copy of the You Lan manuscript. Meanwhile, the original Hikone manuscript remained separate, eventually arriving at the Hikone Museum. There are further details about the Hikone manuscript in the separate page about these finger technique explanations.
  End of the original score (compare in typed version) 15      
Two very noticeable facets of this tablature for You Lan require special attention here.

These facets aside, here the study of You Lan becomes even more complicated because, after the You Lan tablature was first given modern publication in China (in 1884), it turned out that this was a relatively modern copy, probably dating from around 1700.20 For many years this led to doubts that the melody itself was in fact so ancient. Meanwhile, the finger techniques of the Hikone manuscript were until recently available only through what became known as the Wusilan Finger Technique Explanations, and this led to similar problems regarding them. How did this happen?

From the beginning of the 1880s a Chinese scholar named Yang Shoujing spent several years in Japan looking for old Chinese books.21 In Kyoto he found a scroll in longhand tablature of a melody called Jieshidiao You Lan that had been in the possession of the famous Japanese Confucianist Ogyu Sorai (1666-1728).22 A tracing copy (by Kojima Hosu, 1797-1847) was quickly published in Japan, Then, based on this, in 1884 this copy was published in a collection of Chinese documents that had been found overseas, the Guyi Congshu. From there it found modern publication in the first volume of the original series of Qinqu Jicheng (1963), as well as in Tong Kin-Woon's Qin Fu (1971).23

Problems with dating this scroll led to doubts, but eventualy another copy of You Lan was found, also in Kyoto, which proved to be much older. Authentication of this edition revealed that the score found earlier was in fact an early 18th century Japanese reproduction, probably by Ogyu Sorai himself or under his supervision. Furthermore it seems that Sorai had spread the word that the Hikone manuscript was a companion document. This then led to the widespread but erroneous belief that the Hikone document existed mainly to explain how to play the You Lan melody. This, then, is apparently how the Hikone document became transformed into the Wusilan Finger Technique Explanations.

Eventually, however, the original You Lan scroll was discovered. Now authenticated, by carbon dating and other methods, as dating from the 7th century, this is the one that is now in the permanent collection of the Japan National Museum, Ueno. In 1981 this version was printed in Qinqu Jicheng, New Series, Vol. 1, together with a preface by Zha Fuxi that makes it clear why that version now in Tokyo was selected.24

Recovering the music
In November 1999 I took part in a
You Lan seminar in Tokyo. In honor of this seminar the Japan National Museum had on display the original Tang dynasty document. The total scroll is over four meters long, so they were able to display only a part. There was a lecture by a museum curator in which he said they have examined the ink, paper and writing style, and have concluded that it was copied by hand in the 7th century (with perhaps a few corrections made a century or so later).25

The earliest musical known reconstructions (recordings) of You Lan followed the edition published by Yang Biaozheng in Qinxue Congshu (1910).26 This edition put modern tablature alongside a copy of the longhand tablature. Newer renditions usually simply copy or slightly modify earlier reconstructions. Others focus on strongly differing interpretations of a few of the finger techniques. Often a special effect comes from people taking advantage of the special sonorities allowed by playing the melody on metal strings.27

Regarding the original You Lan fingerings, many of the terms for finger techniques used in the original tablature, though out of use by the Ming dynasty, were explained in handbooks of that period. As a result there is today explanation for almost all of the techniques, though these are not always consistent.28 One of these handbooks is Qinshu Daquan, which includes finger technique explanations written during the Tang dynasty by Zhao Yeli and Chen Zhuo, and during the Song dynasty by Cheng Yujian and Yang Zuyun.29

In addition, there are are the Wusilan Fingerings (烏絲闌指法 Wusilan Zhifa) that were preserved in Japan. These are discovered in some detail on a separate page.

The You Lan manuscript that we know as Jieshidiao You Lan also used the title "You Lan, Number Five." Some have suggested that this means either that this is the fifth movement of You Lan, or the fifth melody in a suite. What it most likely means, though, is that it is the fifth melody in what was apparently once a larger collection of melodies. These are listed at the end of the You Lan manuscript, where the tablature is followed by a melody list with 59 titles.

Completing my first reconstruction (2004)
For many years I did not do a detailed reconstruction of You Lan. The main problem was that a number of the finger techniques are not clearly explained, the biggest hurdle perhaps being the very first two notes.
31 My usual methods for interpreting these problems had not worked to my satisfaction.

Then in January of 2004 Yuan Jung-Ping, then president of the New York Qin Society, told me that for some months he had been working on You Lan from the original manuscript.32 He gave me his interpretation of a number of the difficult terms, and this both inspired and enabled me finally to do my own version. While doing it I tried not to pay attention to the rhythms worked out by other people.

In fact, many other people have worked on this melody, making both transcriptions and recordings. There is a lot of information online as well.33 On the other hand, many of these versions are based on people modifying earlier reconstructions, rather than on doing their own directly from the tablature.

Two major issues have been the modality of You Lan and its intonation.34 As written, the modality is certainly different from what can be heard in modern guqin melodies, and it also seems rather different from the melodies I have studied in early Ming dynasty handbooks, the music of You Lan being even less pentatonic. On the other hand the melody does seem to move through structures similar to those in melodies preserved from the Ming dynasty: there are parallel phrases, repeated motifs, and variations on themes and motifs. Also, as with the later melodies, the best results seem to come from putting the melodic lines into duple meter rhythms, then interpreting these rhythms freely.35

Completing my second reconstruction (2020)
In 2020, while in quarantine because of the Covid-19 virus, I received some inquiries regarding my You Lan reconstruction. I found it difficult to respond. While working on my earlier reconstruction I made detailed notes to myself, but most of these were handwritten, for example, on photocopies of the original tablature or drafts of the staff notation. I found it very difficult to follow my explanations.

Having decided to put those explanations online I then began consulting works I had not previously examined, in particular the work of Yang Yuanzheng. I had already referred to the poems of Cao Cao, but (as with others who had worked on the melody) had not paid attention. The more I studied these materials, the more intrigued I became: doing the new reconstrucion then became a major project.

There is now a summary of the result of this work in the Bottom line near the bottom of the page that analyzes structures to be found in the melody itself. To reiterate what is written there: the casual listener quite likely will not hear a great difference between to old and new versions. Careful study and/or listening should reveal that they are in fact very different.

It has been said that Jieshi Diao You Lan is so old that we must respect it, even though it may be too obscure. Different reasons have been given for this, and as a result many players have adjusted the music so that it suits them more.

My own reaction when encountering difficulties has always been to search the tablature itself for solutions. Whereas previously with You Lan I instinctively felt structures in the melody, on the mode and structure page I have tried to document them in a precise manner. This in turn has led to finding more such structures, and as these have become more clear to me, I have felt more comfortable in playing flexibly while still remaining faithful to the original.

Preface to the Towering Rock Melody Secluded Orchid, also called Yi Lan (Self-Reliant Orchid),

Qiu Gong, style name (Qiu) Ming, was a native of Kuai Ji. At the end of the Liang Dynasty (502-557) he became a recluse in the Jiuyi Mountains (at the southern edge of the old state of Chu), and was very good at (melodies in the) Chu mode. As for the melody You Lan, he was exceptionally skilled. He used its subtle sounds for his own lofty goals, but was unwilling to transmit them to others. In the third year of Chenming period (589) of the Chen Dynasty he did transmit it to (Chen) Shuming, prince of Yidu. Then in the 10th year of the Sui dynasty's Kaihuang period (590) he died in Danyang37 prefecture. At that time he was 97 years old. He had no disciples to carry on his tradition, so his melodies were seldom transmitted.
Written at the end of the tablature, just before the melody list.

This melody is relaxed; there is ebb and flow in playing it.

Four Movements, untitled (the original tablature, copied out here, indicates the movements only by calling for a break between each one)

Listen to my 2020 recording (replacing the 2004 original)

Small numbers in the transcription correspond with Chinese numbers in my computer copy of the original manuscript

Although a musical connection between this guqin melody and the four Towering Rock Stanza's of Cao Cao has not been established, when I play the melody I do often think of those four stanzas.40

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)
  中文大辭典 9411.431        
1. 幽蘭 You Lan references (also 倚蘭 Yi Lan)
The following references suggest that the modern associations made between this melody title and Confucius are somewhat tenuous, perhaps based primarily on the writings of the Japanese Confucian Ogyu Sorai. Sorai's opinions in this regard may have been based more on politics than on fact. Here it is interesting to compare these references with those below to Jieshi and Jieshi Diao.

Classical references (modern references below); see also 歇指調 Xiezhi Diao
Before the preface at the beginning of the You Lan scroll (image above) the text says, "碣石調幽蘭序,一名倚蘭 Towering Rock Melody Secluded Orchid Preface, also called Self-Reliant Orchid". The preface itself makes no mention of Confucius. Furthermore, the references to Qiu Gong might suggest a better association might be with the poetry of Chu, as in the following dictionary reference.

9411.431 "幽蘭 you lan" says it is "an orchid growing in a secluded valley", "the name of a flower", and "the name of a melody". It gives the following references:

Notably, there is no reference to Confucius. There is also no suggestion as to the theme of the melody but, in fact, although there are many historical references connecting Confucius and orchids, none specifically connect him to "secluded orchids" (幽蘭 youlan). The closest might be a reference to orchids in secluded valleys such as the following one, quoting from 淮南子,說山訓 Huainanzi 16/5 (Major, 16.18).

When an orchid grows in a secluded valley, it is not as if, there being no one to utilize/wear it, it has no fragrance.
Huainanzi does not mention Confucius here, but in popular literature this phrase seems to get transformed into Confucius saying the same thing slightly differently, "蘭花生於幽谷,不以無人而不芳。"

You Lan is also referred to as a melody title in the following poems.

You Lan in early lists of qin melody titles.
The title You Lan is included in the following early qin melody title lists. These lists are all said to date from before the Tang dynasty, but for the only one with commentary, the Qin Cao attrbuted to
Cai Yong, the date of its commentary is uncertain.

倚闌 Yi Lan (Self-reliant Orchid) references
As a hypothesis, perhaps someone who accepts the possibility that the true theme of this melody is Cao Cao's military conquests might also accept the possibiity that this alternative title also shows such a connection, suggesting that Cao Cao's Jieshi experiance showed his self-reliance. As yet there does not seem to be enough evidence to argue this possibility strongly. Even its mention as a qin song title in Japan (
倚蘭操) is quite possibly a mistake.

You Lan explanations make no mention of 猗蘭 Yi Lan (Flourishing Orchid; see 20945.22 猗蘭 a type of orchid, and 20945.24 猗蘭操,琴曲名 Yi Lan Qu, qin melody name). There are two related early qin melodies with this title:

Yi Lan (猗蘭) in Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425), with no lyrics;
Yi Lan Cao (漪蘭操 this Yi meaning rippling) in Taigu Yiyin (1511), which has a similar introduction and melody to the 1425 version but is set to five poems in YFSJ (see pp. 839-841), the latter two of which are called You Lan.

Both 784.313 and I/1462 have 倚闌 (= 倚欄 lean on railing) but neither has 倚蘭 Yi lan.

倚闌 Yi Lan can also be the name of a poem, e.g., one by 陸游 Lu You (故山未敢說歸期,十口相隨又別離。 小雨初收殘照晚,闌乾西角立多時。).

2. 碣石調 Jieshi Diao: classical references (modern references below)
The following references do not establish definitively whether jieshi ("towering rock"/"stone tablet") is a mode or a nelody, or whether there is indeed a connection with Towering Rock Mountain (碣石山 Jieshi Shan). So it should be emphasized that, just as the You Lan references do not establish Confucius as a clear inspiration for the melody Jieshi Diao You Lan, the following references for Jieshi Diao do not clearly eliminate him. The competing references hopefully complement more than negate eachother.

As for "Jieshi", it literally refers to a stone tablet with a rounded top, usually used as a place marker or grave marker. Here, though, it most likely uses the extended meaning of a mountain that similarly rises vertically out of the land and so towers over it.

The 碣石山 Jieshi Mountains (including this towering rock?), near where the Great Wall meets the coast of what is today Hebei province, presumably derived their name from such an appearance. Relevent historical references include,

  1. Annals of History 2 (Nienhauser I/29) has Emperor Yu building a road through there.
  2. Annals of History 6 (Nienhauser I/144) has the Qin emperor going to Jieshi to look for the immortal Xianmen Gao and inscribing a pillar there.
  3. The Western Capital Rhapsody by 班固,西都賦 Ban Gu (32 - 92 CE) has the sea "揚波濤於碣石 dashing its waves against Jieshi". Knechtges, p.134, adds that it "seems to be the name of an artificial hill built in imitation of the famous Jieshi Mountain on the eastern coast from which voyagers to the magic islands often embarked." At least one such hill is reported as having been built in Chang'an (modern Xi'an), on an island in "太液池 Taiye Lake", part of the 建章宫 Jianzhang Palace complex built by Han Emperor Wu in the 1st century BCE (Wiki). If Cao Cao was aware of this Taiye Lake, it would explain why he specifically wished to see the sea from Jieshi Mountain.
Because of such stories, and because of its dramatic location amongst mountains meeting the sea, Cao Cao (155-220; ruled 208-220 with Emperor Wu of Wei being his posthumous title) must have been quite inspired when he arrived there in 206 C.E. at the head of the Wei army and wrote his Jieshi Pian (see below). In fact, it was once said that Cao Cao would "compose poems whenever he ascended a high spot, and when a piece was finished, he would have it set to music." However, actual musical references are very few, and it is not clear why the YFSJ grouped these "Jieshi" lyrics under 晉拂舞歌 Jin era "Whisk Dance" Songs. Were the lyrics connected in some way to music associated with that region, or with a commemorative dance back in Luoyang, his capital (and later the Jin capital)?

At the same time, though, in YFSJ these Jieshi songs and/or dances are also included under Longxi Ballads. Longxi is in the far west of China, but claims have also been made for a musical connection there, as well, though Longxi is at the opposite end of China from Jieshi Mountain). Of course nothing is actually known about the music or dance of that those regions at that time.

Now, though, it is also said that Jieshi Diao and You Lan must have been Chu melodies, or at least in a Chu mode, because Qiu Ming lived there (see the melody Preface). Since there is virtually no information at all about any of the music that might have been connected to any of these disparate regions, Longxi, Chu and Jieshi (or Luoyang), we should not demand answers to what these poetic and literary associations must mean. Instead we should know what we can about the three and let that simply add another layer to the mystery and intrigue regarding the origins of this ancient music known as Tower Rock Melody Secluded Orchid.

碣石篇 Jieshi Pian (Towering Rock Stanzas)
Although these You Lan and Jie Shi musical references may tell us little of the origins of Jieshi Diao You Lan, they and their literary references can activate our imagination. Part of fully appreciating an old melody is trying to gain the sort of related knowledge that listeners from that time and/or place would have brought into their own listening experience. The
Jieshi Pian (YFSJ, Category 7, Dance Song Lyrics, third folio) are the set of four stanzas by Cao Cao that, as just mentioned above, came to be grouped with dance lyrics. But was there ever a related melody connected to certain song lyrics? Did Cao Cao's lyrics get set to a melody or melodies in a certain style? And were these also arranged for dance?

The Yuefu Shiji preface to Jieshi, after saying (p. 790) Cao Cao wrote them, then connects the lyrics to the Xianghe Ge lyrics (and perhaps melody) called Walking Out through the Summer Gate Ballad (Bu Chu Xia Men Xing). These are in YFSJ, Category 5, 相和歌辭 Xianghe ge ci: Matching Songs, where Folio 37 has a series of Bu Chu Xia Men Xing lyrics. The first, identified only as "old lyrics" (古辭), is structured (5+5) x 7; the second, Cao Cao's set (see YFSJ 545), is identical to the four also mentioned as in the dance section. Here, though, they have at front a prelude in irregular meter, also by Cao Cao.

Although there is no explanation why the Bu Chu Xia Men Xing lyrics, grouped under Longxi Ballads from the far west, are the same as the four Towering Rock Stanzas associated with dance, the Jieshi title and the fact that there are four segments (songs? dances?) makes them worth further exploration.
  Cover calligraphy: Stanza 1  
Cao Cao's four Towering Rock Stanzas, each structured [4+4] x 7, have been translated by Rafe de Crespigny in his Imperial Warlord: A Biography of Cao Cao 155-220 AD, Brill 2010. The fact that calligraphy for the first poem is on the cover of the book (see at right) underlines their significance. (As of this writing this part of the book can be found online under Google Books; most of them are also included below, copied here with the kind permission of Professor De Crespigny.)

In his commentary, Prof. De Crespigny says Cao Cao visited Towering Rock Mountain in 205 CE, after a successful military campaign in the region. Cao's prelude and poem lyrics speak of "his hopes for the empire and the reality of his own mortality", adding that it is not clear exactly where this took place, but that "it is fairly established that it represents the place where the land meets the sea, in the same fashion that sacred Mount Tai linked Heaven and Earth." Such a place is shown in the image above this link to my recordings.

Clearly Cao Cao's encounter with Towering Rock was quite different from Confucius' encounter with the secluded orchid. Does this mean that this connection between these two names is simply accidental? Or does it suggest that the title Jieshi Diao You Lan was in fact deliberately intended to make this contrast?

The original text of the preface and my translation (based largely on that of Prof. de Crespigny) is,

    Clouds roll and rain proceeds,
    flooding the river's
nine marshpools.
    The nearby landscape has a strange resonance,
    so my thoughts and feelings wander accordingly,
    and I don't know along which path to continue.
    I have now traversed my towering rock,
    but my heart despairs at my sea to the east.
    ([added comment]: "[clouds] coming to here is spectacular"?)

Cao Cao's four stanzas, with the original text and translations, are as follows

  1. 觀滄海 To gaze on the blue of the sea (from Jieshi Mountain)
    Translation by Rafe de Crespigny

    East I climbed the Towering rock
        To gaze on the blue of the sea.
    How tossed and troubled the waters,
        How tall and stark the island peaks.
    The trees grow crowded together,
        Every plant flourishing and green.
    The autumn wind sighs and sings
        As the great waves break and surge.
    The courses of the sun and moon
        Seem to rise from the waves;
    The Milky Way in splendour and brilliance
        Seems to rise from the sea.
    Fortune indeed is come
        And singing expresses our hopes.

  2. 冬十月 The Cold Tenth Month
    Translation by Rafe de Crespigny, op.cit., p. 238.

    The tenth month, first of the winter;
        Winds from the north come in fitful gusts.
    The air of Heaven is biting cold,
        With heavy frosts and driving sleet.
    The birds of the wilderness cry to the dawn,
        Wild geese fly to the south.
    Birds which hibernate have scattered to shelter,
        And bears are huddled in their caves.
    The work of spades and hoes is ended,
        The farmers have gathered and threshed the grain.
    The innkeepers set up tables
        To welcome travelling traders.
    Fortune indeed is come
        And singing expresses our hopes
  3. 土不同 The Ground is Different
    My own tentative translation (especially "勇俠輕非");
    The title in De Crespigny, op.cit., pp. 238-9, is 河朔寒 Hushuo Han.

    Xiāng tǔ bù tóng, hé shuò lóng hán.
    The soil here is different,
        north of the river the cold flourishes.
    Liú sī fú piāo, zhōu chuán xíng nán.
    As ice breaks up it drifts along,
        for boats to go forward it is difficult.
    Zhuī bù rù dì, fēng lài shēn ào.
    A pickaxe cannot penetrate the earth,
        dense vines cover the hard ground.
    Shuǐ jié bù liú, bīng jiān kě dǎo.
    The water is so hard it won't flow,
        ice so solid one can walk on it.
    Shì yǐn zhě pín, yǒng xiá qīng fēi.
    Recluses are distressed,
        while bravados make light of it.
    Xīn cháng tàn yuàn, qī qī duō bēi.
    I sigh and resent it,
        this sadness and misery.
    Xìng shèn zhì zāi! Gē yǐ yǒng zhì.
    But here's good fortune!
        Through song I can express my hopes.

  4. 龜雖壽 Though the Sacred Tortoise lives long
    Translated by Rafe de Crespigny, op.cit., p. 239.

    The sacred tortoise had a very long life.
        But he still reached the end of his days.

    The soaring dragon can ride on the mists,
        But he ends as dust and ashes.

    The swift steed in old age rests in his stable,
        But still thinks of a thousand li.

    A brave man may come to his evening years,
        But stout heart remains the same.

    The times of our life and death,
        Do no rest with Heaven alone.

    If a man is in harmony with himself,
        He may live for long years.

    Such good fortune indeed is come
        And singing expresses our hopes.

Further regarding the four movements of Jieshi Diao You Lan, if you listen (here) while reading the lyrics, does the feeling of the four poems match that of the four parts of You Lan? Could it be that "Jieshi mode melodies" (if such a category existed) should always have four parts? Could this You Lan melody have developed from settings of these old poems in the Jieshi mode?

The fact is that the Cao Cao lyrics do not make a natural fit if you try to sing them to any reconstructed version of the melody, especially if you try to follow the pairing method that is found in virtually all surviving qin songs since the Song dynasty.

Thus, if there is in fact a connection between You Lan and Jieshi it is quite likely a looser one. Could the title be suggesting a contrast between Confucius encountering and lamenting a secluded orchid on his way home from his failure to find a ruler to serve, and Cao Cao encountering a mountain after his successful conquest of the northeast? And what about structural similarities between the melody and the poem? For example, as outlined here, there is some correspondence between the mood of the four movements of the melody and the four stanzas of the poem; even more tantalizing is the fact the each of the stanzas ends on the same poetic couplet while the final phrase of each movement of the melody ends with a virtually identical and quite distinctive musical phrase.

Perhaps one reason for the general neglect of a possible connection between Cao Cao and Jieshi Diao You Lan is the influence of Ogyu Sorai, the Japanese Confucian whose copy of the melody was discovered by Chinese scholars only in the late 19th century. Ogyu Sorai strongly argued that Jieshi Diao You Lan was in fact created by Confucius himself. The possible connection with Jie Shi and Cao Cao has subsequently largely been ignored. (This in spite of the fact that in 1954 Mao Zedong himself wrote a poem about the visit of Cao Cao to Jie Shi: his 浪淘沙·北戴河 Bei Dai He in the form Lang Tao Sha [copy; translation here and in De Crispigny, p.502].)

Nevertheless, as I play my revised version of the Towering Rock Melody Secluded Orchid, Cao Cao's poems do inspire certain thoughts.

3. General modern references for the study of Jieshi Diao You Lan
The earliest modern commentary on Jieshi Diao You Lan is of course in Chinese, beginning with the work of 楊宗稷 Yang Zongji published in his 琴學叢書 Qin Xue Congshu (QQJC XXX, pp. 32-38, 107-130, 299-303 and 480-483). Beyond this, detailed modern Chinese commentary is currently beyond the scope of this page, mainly because I have not yet found the sort of modal or structural analysis that has been the focus of this page (which, of course, does not mean it is not there).

For modern commentary in English the best place to begin is with three works by 楊元錚 Yang Yuanzheng:

In addition, a You Lan seminar held in Tokyo in November 1999 (see further) were produced a number of articles in .pdf format. As of August 2020 these can still be found here:

Japanese You Lan Conference papers This Japanese website includes all 14 papers from the seminar; numbers 3, 7 and 9 are in Chinese, the rest in Japanese.

Some mention should also be made here of:

David Ming-Yueh Liang, The Chinese Ch'in, Its History and Music

This book, Liang's M.A. thesis at UCLA, has some useful information. Unfortunately, although many of his comments are clearly erroneous, it is difficult to check on them because he has no footnotes and his Romanization is too often so hopelessly inaccurate that it makes verification almost impossible (e.g., "ming-chen" for "民間" - it should be "min-chien" or "minjian"). He often does not quote any sources for what are clearly second hand comments from a source or sources. (Liang's Ph.D. dissertation is similiarly remarkable for its dearth of footnotes.)

Nevertheless, Chapter V (pp.208-292): History and Analysis of "Yu-lan" ("Elegant Orchid"), has some useful information for the study of You Lan, in particular its section explaining "finger techniques", and its charts showing frequency of pitches, pitch relations, cadences and so forth. It ends with a lengthy melographic analysis.

(張培幼張培幼 Xiezhi Diao
16492.17 "燕樂商聲七調之六調 the sixth of seven shang sound pieces in (Tang dynasty) banquet music". The research of 陳應時 Chen Yingshi and others suggests a connection between Jieshi Diao You Lan and one of the modes used in Tang dynasty court music (Kaiśika; Picard: Sâdhârita; also compare 褐石調 Heshi Diao.)

4. Original You Lan manuscript
The above image begins with title 碣石調幽蘭 Jieshi Diao You Lan. There is then the preface followed by the title written as 幽蘭第五 You Lan #5 (see comment). The tablature itself begins "耶臥中指...." For interpreting the two symbols immediately after those four characters see further above. Various websites have copies of the beginning of the original manuscript.

Online version
The complete original You Lan scroll is online at this
Japanese eMuseum website (English page).

The image is clear enough to allows detailed study.

5. Modern reconstructions
See also Historically Informed Qin Performance. Existing interpretations vary in length from about eight minutes to over 12 minutes, but the melody does seem to have been created with a certain sense of structure, one that can be recreated through adequate study.

6. Mid-6th century (梁朝 Liang dynasty, 502–557-587)
The preface refers here to the Liang dynasty, which first had its capital at 建康 Jiankang (502–557 CE; Nanjing) then later at 江陵 Jiangling (555- 587; now part of Jingzhou, a city on the Yangzi River in southern Hubei province, about 500 miles to the west of Nanjing). The founder of the Liang dynasty, Xiao Yan (r.502-549), has an entry in Qin Shi Bu. Under him Jiankang became a major Buddhist center (potentially significant because Buddhists were important travelers between China and Japan). In 557 the Liang were replaced in Nanjing by the Chen (557-589; below).

7. 丘明 Qiu Ming
Also called 丘子明 Qiu Ziming. 40.59 丘明 refers only to someone else, 左丘明 a minister of Lu during the Spring and Autumn period. The dates ascribed to him (493-590) appear to be based on the comments in the present preface. Bio.xxx.

8. 會稽 Kuai Ji, Kuaiji (sometimes Romanized Guiji or Huiji)
14636.156 會稽 mostly refers to the area around Shaoxing, west southwest of Hangzhou. Other possible places are listed under Yu Hui Tushan.

9. 九疑山 Jiuyi Shan
In Hunan near the border with Guangdong. Also connected to the melody Fan Canglang.

11. Chu melodic style?
See Chu Region; there is no evidence to suggest any melodic connection between this ancient You Lan and the Chu-themed melodies surviving rom almost 1,000 years later.

12. 宜都王叔明 (Chen) Shuming, Prince of Yidu
In 589 C.E. there was a 陳叔明 Chen Shuming (564‐616) who was prince of Yidu at the Chen court in Nanjing (see below; Yang, p. 124). Chinese records have someone of this name as a qin player in the lineage of the qin master Liu Kun (271-318), but do not specifically mention the melody You Lan.

Thus, a commentary in Qinshu Daquan (1590), Folio 10 (see QQJC, V/210, top left) traces a melody (or group of melodies) from Chen Yidu back to Liu Kun as follows:

The five melodies of Liu Kun such as Hu Jia (劉琨胡笳等五弄 Hu Jia Deng Wu Nong, which might better be translated as "five melodies of Liu Kun in the Hu Jia [mode]") were transmitted to his son-in-law 陳通 Chen Tong (nfi); Tong transmitted them to 柳進思 Liu Jinsi (nfi); Si transmitted them to 司馬均 Sima Jun (Bio 480: "Eastern Han"!), adding five musical sounds it was transmitted to 普明 Pu Ming (Bio 2347: Yuan monk!). Pu Ming transmitted them to 封襲 Feng Xi (nfi); Xi transmitted them to 陳宜都 Chen Yidu (i.e., Chen Shuming, prince of Yidu). When Yidu died, this all stopped.

The Qin Shi biography of Liu Kun (#90) does not mention any of the above people. It also refers to his 胡笳五弄 Hu Jia Wu Nong rather than 胡笳等五弄 Hu Jia Deng Wu Nong, listing them as:

In other words, none of them had the title Hu Jia (or You Lan) so this might have meant Hu Jia was the name of the musical mode. To this the biography adds that these were transmitted to 超耶利 Chao Yeli (of the Sui dynasty). All five of these titles are in the list of 59 melodies appended at the end of the You Lan manuscript, apparently grouped with the Hujia mode melodies. Wu Wenguang in an essay on You Lan presented at the 1999 You Lan conference in Japan suggests that Pu Ming was in fact Qiu Ming, and that this is evidence that in the 6th century You Lan was already an ancient melody. However, even if Qiu Ming learned the melody as a youth early in the 6th century, it is something of a stretch for there to be only four generations necessary to take it back 200 years to Liu Kun in the early 4th century.

王叔明 may sometimes be referred to as Wang Shuming, but I have found no further information on any Wang Shuming from this time period. 3223.82 叔明 Shuming is a nickname for many people, but none from this period surnamed either 王 Wang or 陳 Chen.

13. 宜都王 Prince of Yidu (For his name, 叔明 Shuming, see above)
For 宜都 Yidu 7263.76 says it refers to the region also called 宜昌 Yichang, on the Yangzi river in Hubei province.

14. 陳 Chen dynasty (557-589)
Succeeded the Liang dynasty, also with its capital in Jiankang (Nanjing). In 589 Nanjing was captured by Yang Jian, founder of the Sui dynasty.

15. End of the original score (compare in typed version)
Note the added text clearly written across the bottom of the scroll.

16. Longhand tablature (文字譜,看細節; wenzipu, see this typed version of the example at top, as well as this typed version with original pdf of a version published in 1552.
Longhand tablature writes out in full characters all the details of performance. Shorthand qin tablature (減字譜 jianzipu; outlined here) conveys the same information by combining abbreviated forms of several characters to make "clusters". One cluster usually defines one note, but there are also a number of multi-note clusters. This shorthand form is thought to have developed during the Tang dynasty. See, for example, Cao Rou.

Longhand tablature required a whole phrase to convey the same information as one of the shorthand clusters (see example). At least one source claims that longhand tablature was invented in the 3rd C. BCE by Yongmeng Zhou. The first surviving mention of written music may be in Ya Qin Zhao Shi (1st C. BCE). The only authentically ancient example of longhand tablature is that for the present melody You Lan. It can also be found in the 1552 publication of an introductory exercise called Caoman Yin, but this may have been a contemporary work written in this form to suggest antiquity.

17. Set of melodies: did it have 55 or 59?
Yang and others have suggested that this You Lan was part of a set consisting of the melodies listed at the end of the surviving You Lan tablature. As for the number of melodies, this depends on whether the four modal names at the front are simply modal names or actually modal preludes. The list at the end of the surviving tablature has 59 titles, but the first four are the names of modes: are these actually modal preludes? Or are they simply titles of modes into which these melodies will fall? If they are simply titles, then You Lan is in fact the fifth melody on the list. If the first four are only mode names, then You Lan is the fifth name on the list. If in fact the first four are modal preludes, then You Lan is the ninth name on the list, though perhaps then the fifth piece in the Chu mode. Since its title identifies You Lan as being in Jieshi mode, one muse assume (or assume that someone else assumed) that Jieshi Diao is a subset of Chu modes.

18. Interlineal writing
This refers to three insertions, maked off by 【 and 】in my typed version; they correspond to the following measures of my transcription:

This marginal writing appears in the original version as well as all the early copies. According to Yang (p. 44-47) these were done in a different script (by a "Scribe B") to that of most of the document ("Scribe A"), and he suggests they were done by an active qin player adding his own revisions to the original. However, based on my understanding of the music, it seems just as likely that these were characters discovered missing during proof-reading and so thus put back in. This brings up the question of the process by which qin tablature was written down (see next: is it possible that Scribe A was a student of the person who actually played the music (or was copying a rough draft made by the student)? If so, then perhaps after playing through the transcription the original player realized some parts were missing; these were then inserted either by a different scribe or by the original player himself.

19. Writing process and analysis of the interlineal writing
My own analysis is based partly on my understanding of the process by which qin music was actually written down. The common image of classical Western compositions is that they were written down by a composer telling musicians how to play it; part of the composition process was often re-writing passages to strengthen and/or manipulate music structures. With guqin, however, it seems more likely that the initiator and/or revisers of the music did so while playing (hence my preference for the term "creator" rather than "composer"). A listener (perhaps a student or an especially trained qin player) would write down what he/she heard and saw; this would, of necessity, be a draft that would eventually have to be copied out in final form; this latter could be done by an expert copyist. Someone (perhaps the original player) would then play from this manuscript; that might be the end of it, or further changes might be made, requiring the process to be repeated until the score was correct. The final result could then be re-copied more neatly and perhaps printed.

However, until the 15th century there are only a few short examples of such printed qin tablature. Before that, the labor of hand-copying tablature would have made some of these original copies, even with corrections written into the margins, so precious that they would not have been simply discarded. Such a neat copy, even if a newer and corrected copy had been made, would not necessarily have been discarded.

Furthermore, a study of the transmission of qin tablature since the 15th century shows that there are almost invariably changes from one publication to another. To my knowledge it has not yet been studied to what extent a new copyist might consult earlier tablature when trying to copy down what was being either newly played or newly revised from existing but perhaps unclear tablature. So changes might be due to copy errors but more commonly they are re-interpretations. Of the surviving tablature, very few are "first editions" from the original creator of the melody. So even if we accept that the version we have of Jieshi Diao You Lan was directly transmitted from Qiu Ming, it is quite likely it had aleady been changed by the time the surviving copy was made.

Punctuation is a particular issue in this regard. For example, many scores from certaiin Ming dynasty handbooks have not punctuation, and two different people trying to do punctuation might come up with very different versions, even if they had heard the melody.

Then, in the case of You Lan, if either the initial player or a later player made changes in how he/she played it, and had these written into the original tablature, one might expect such changes to occur throughout the piece. Here, however, they only occur in three places, all in the fourth (final) movement.

This suggests that in the case of You Lan the changes came from the original player, who upon seeing the "finalized" written copy realized that there were errors in the fourth movement. Perhaps if the rough copy/copies with corrections could be found one might see why the errors were only in the fourth movement. In any case, this suggests that after the present copy perhaps another one was made incorporating these corrections. This, then, became part of the set of melodies listed at the end of the scroll, but subsequently lost, while this imperfect version was allowed to go to Japan.

In this context, it seems unlikely that all of these melodies were shipped to Japan together: the way the Japanese treasured such objects, how could all but one have been lost? Also, the melody list at the end suggests that if this scroll originally was part of a set, it may have become detached and the melody list added after the mistakes were found.

On the other hand, if Jieshi Diao You Lan was part of a large set, since the copyist of the melody titles was apparently Scribe A (who originally copied out the You Lan tablature itself), does that mean this list was included at the end of each of these melodies?

20. 古逸叢書 Guyi Congshu (Old Lost Books Collection; 1882-4)
A collection, 26 volumes, compiled by 黎庶昌 Li Shuchang (1837 - 97) and 楊守敬 Yang Shoujing (1839 - 1915)
3308.331: 叢書名,清黎庶昌菟輯我國遺籍之在日本者編輯而成.... Name of a book collection.... The entry suggests Li Shuchang (the Chinese ambassador to Japan) collected them and Yang Shoujing edited them. Li and Yang were two bibliophiles who searched extensively for such works, mostly in Japan. What they found they then reproduced for publication. GYCS is a source for the biographies of Pei Ni and Qiu Ming, and the GYCS publication of You Lan is discussed in QSCM, #29 (as well as here).

21. 楊守敬 Yang Shoujing (1835-1915) and his time in Japan
See Lore of the Chinese Lute, page 29n. R. H. van Gulik wrote that when the "Chinese scholar and bibliophile" Yang Shoujing was in Japan from 1880 to 1884 he bought a copy of the You Lan manuscript. However, Van Gulik expressed uncertainty about the authenticity of this document, suspecting that perhaps Ogyu Sorai himself had manufactured it.

22. Ogyu Sorai 荻生徂徠 ("Disheng Culai"; 1666-1728)
Ogyu Sorai, also known as 物部茂卿 Mononobe Noke ("Wubu Maoqing") was a Japanese Confucianist. Further details here.

23. Modern published versions of You Lan
See the bibliography. In Tong Kin-Woon's 琴府 Qin Fu it is on pp. 1-9. Its main difference with the original seems to be the addition of marks separating the notes (but note its interpretation of the opening xiewo/yewo technique as being done at 十上半寸許; compare in image below). Otherwise it was copied line for line: even the characters added between lines and trailing around towards the end are left in that position. (See also next footnote.)

24. Jieshi Diao Youlan in Qinqu Jicheng, Volume 1
New Series, Beijing, 1981, p.1 and 2010, p.3. I have not yet translated the introduction written by Zha Fuxi in Qinqu Jicheng, which begins as follows:


However, it does give several examples that make it clear that the 古逸本 Guyi Congshu version (from the copy by Kojima) and used in the 1963 Qinqu Jicheng was made from Ogyu Sorai's copy, not from the original 神光院本 Jinko Yin volume (already moved from Kyoto to the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno). He adds that as a result the 1981 (copied in 2010) edition used this original scroll instead of the Kojima copy used earlier. On the other hand, Zha makes no reference to the inserted next that in my typed version has been put in brackets (see【 】).

25. It was preserved at a monastery in Kyoto until the 20th century, when it was brought to the museum in Ueno.

26. Qinxue Congshu (1910)
楊表正,琴學叢書 See also Tong Kin-Woon's 琴府 Qin Fu, p. 838ff.

27. Other interpreters make much of their attempts to play the melody according to certain concepts of mode. I have never seen any of these concepts explained very clearly, and so have not found them very convincing. For more on this see You Lan Mode.

28. For some techniques there is more than one explanation. These explanations are not all consistent, so differing interpretations can be legitimately debated.

29. The relevant section of Qinshu Daquan is in Qinqu Jicheng Vol.IV, pp.149-194. Within this it is not always clear to me the attributions of the explanations. Some say Zhao Yeli (565-639) was the person most responsible for adapting the long hand tablature into shorthand tablature, so perhaps the others are based on his explanations. The following shows where names are actually mentioned.

p.149, not clear (Zhao Yeli 趙耶利 ?)
p.151, Master Chen 陳居士 (= 陳拙 ?)
p.153, Yang Zuyun 楊祖雲
p.155, Cheng Yujian 成玉澗 (written 石+間)
p.156, Collection 諸家指法拾遺
p.160, Chen Zhuo 陳拙,
p.177, illustrations 指法手勢圖

31. The first two notes of You Lan (see my transcription and further comments) Opening      
Interpreting the first two notes of Jieshi Diao You Lan depends either on deciphering the damaged fifth and sixth figures/characters in the tablature or on the reliabiity of the person or persons who, apparently in the early 18th century, interpreted those two characters as 十上, making the actual finger position "十上半寸許 a little above 10"; all Chinese copies followed that interpretation. Since then, though, a few people (incuding Wu Wenguang and Yuan Jung-Ping) have suggested it really should be "十下半寸許 a little below 10", usually on the basis that the middle stroke in the sixth figure is angled down to the right, as with 下, whereas in calligraphic forms of 上 it usually goes a bit up from the left.

Here it must be explained that the original copyist (Scribe A) wrote the complete text as he understood it on a sheet of rice paper. This was then mounted on another sheet. The second copyist (Scribe B) then made his changes on the top layer. This scroll was subsequently taken to Japan. By the year 1700, around the time Ogyu Sorai obtained a copy, the upper right corner of the scroll (part of the first 11 columns, as can be seen at top) was so damaged it had to be replaced with a new sheet. Here a third copyist (Scribe C) tried to replicate what originally had been in that area of the scroll. It is not clear how this was done. Was there another copy used for reference? Was enough of the damaged layer there, or had enough ink from that damaged layer soaked into the backing, that the third copyist could trace over it on the new sheet? Apparently none of this is certain.

Coming to the account in Yang, p.47, it mentions the aforementioned upper right corner of the original scroll being so damaged that a new top layer of paper had to be added in that area, and on this new top layer Scribe C tracing what could be seen from a lower layer, but it does not seem clear about what was actually visible at that time. (Yang actually seems first to suggest nothing was left from the original layer, or perhaps nothing that can now be seen; but he then says Scribe C only "retouched" the scroll.)

It is also not clear exactly when these repairs took place - Yang says only that it was "certainly no earlier than the Edo period" (1603 - 1868), which would mean either that the current damage to the fifth and sixth characters occurred after that, or that the damage was there and Scribe C copied the damage rather than trying to correct it. It is thus not certain whether the apparently early 18th century interpretation of "十上" was based on a never-damaged copy, a damaged one that was unclear, or a repaired one.

Yang furthermore says that the work of Scribe C was of lesser quality than the earlier calligraphy. Could this perhaps have been a factor in causing the currently visible damage, in particular to characters five and six? Is it possible that the damage now seen to these two characters is due to further damage to the new top layer on which Scribe C had traced his reading of the underlying text? What is necessary to know, of course, is how reliable is the source used for the early 18th century copy or copies that belonged to Ogyu Sorai and that were apparently the basis for the copies then brought back to China. Because modern interpretations have generally been based on copies of that version, such as this one from 1884, it is most common to interpret characters 5 and 6 as as "十上". Very few people, however, want to accept that this makes the actual position "十上半寸許". The problem with that position is that there is no such note unless you claim either that the melody used a unique tuning method details of which are complex and obscure, or that here and only here the creator of the melody decided to use an intermediary pitch found nowhere else, and it just so happens that this unique note occurs in the one place where there is the worst damage to the manuscript.

To help explore this further, at right is the title and first nine characters, as shown in a closeup from the online Ueno Museum eCopy of the original, linked above. Directly below that, still at right, is a separate image with two extracts showing examples from the same manuscript of the four most likely characters that should correctly be in the fifth and sixth positions. The lower right column has the characters "下 below" and "十 ten"; the right column has characters "上 above" and "八 eight".

In the upper image, showing the damage, after the title (幽蘭第五), the melody begins with the instructions to "耶臥 xiewo (or "yewo") the 中指 middle finger (of the left hand) on 商 the second string. This is itself quite puzzling, but that is a problem discussed elsewhere

After 邪臥中指 there is no "dang", as is common later; instead there are the damaged 5th and 6th characters: "⼎" followed by "半寸許" (許 more or less 半寸 half an inch above or below ⼎). The scroll goes on to say that this is on the 商 second string and that the index and middle finger (of the right hand then) should "pull" the (open) first and (stopped) second string. The score says this is done twice, followed by a slide downwards; all this forms what could be called an anacrusis preceding the real opening, a ten note couplet. This, altogether, forms a unit later repeated twice, as outlined here. A comparative examination of these three occurrences also informed my interpretation of each occurrence individually, as is discussed further below

Most people (apparently following the 1884 copy) have interpreted the fifth figure typed here as "⼎" (the closest my computer can do to what is actually there) to be 十 with the cross stroke missing. This interpretation is supported by the existing figuere, written ⼎ in my text version, which seems clearly to be a 十 with the middle missing, but it is not possible to be certain about this without knowing the condition of the original manuscript at the time Scribe C wrote the character. The same source also interpreted the sixth figure ("") to be 上. As mentioned above, some people have suggested 下. This argument begins with the fact that in the lower figure at right the middle stroke of 上 usually points somewhat upward while that of 下 points downward. This is a significant argument in favor of 下, but the existing arguments then seem to make comments on melody or mode that at are not totally convincing; it should also be noted that in 下 the middle stroke generally comes a bit higher and goes more sharply downward than in this manuscript. In any case, "十上半寸" exists nowhere else: does it really mean sol sharp? Likewise "十下半寸" exists nowhere else: can it mean sol flat? Whatever the note, it is then played together with the open first string, do.
  5th and 6th figures  
To recap, differences of opinion in interpreting the opening passage usually center on the fifth and sixth figures, shown directly at right. The copy of the manuscript that first came from Japan to China in the late 19th century clearly wrote these two as "十上 above 10", and since then that has generally been assumed to be correct: the top figure is a 十 (10) with the middle cross-stroke missing; the bottom somehow ended up with that middle stroke, so you take that away and get "上 above". Since then, however, some people have pointed out that the angle of the cross stroke in the middle of that figure slants downward to the right, hence is more like "下 below".

This has led to a variety of opinions of what the document was originally trying to convey. These include the following:

  1. The majority of players follow the transcription of the performance by Guan Pinghu (and almost everyone else). These ignore the "半寸許 ban cun xu" on the basis that it must be a mistake; they then reverse the 5th and 6th figures, making it say the middle finger is "下十 put down on 10th position". In fact, the transcription of Guan's performance says it should be "上十 put on top of the 10th position", but such an instruction does not follow the practice of that time, as discussed further here.
  2. Play "十上半寸許" actually as "a little above 10": perhaps not as G# (see my original transcription), but as an only slightly sharpened G (hear my original recording). The slightly sharpened G would actually still be considered as a G (or sol); notice again that "許" means "more or less". In connection with this interpretation, one might hypothesize that the opening "耶臥 xiewo/yewo" means to angle the middle finger to this lower position slightly below 10.0 in order to get the correct note; in the next phrase the position is given as "十竪案商 vertically on 10.0 of the second string", with the player somehow realizing that from then on one should play this note in the theoretically correct position. The rationality of the latter is dubious, but it could be used to try to explain why the slightly modified position was intended to occur only as part of the very first stroke.
  3. Resolve any "dissonance" by retuning the instrument, or suggesting that the modality was different at the time, and/or arguing that the positioning of the fingers was based on observation rather than theory (e.g., a stopped note indicated as being at position 7 must be played a little below 7 to give the same pitch as a harmonic played at 7). A few have apparently tried to do this, but any retuning solution brings problems elsewhere.
  4. Argue that any resulting "dissonances" are actually more interesting, therefore intentional and beautiful. The prominent juxtaposition in You Lan of harmonic notes played using just intonation and pythagorean tuning makes this an intriguing possibility, but the argument would be stronger if one could point to any examples of deliberately intermediate pitches being indicated elsewhere. This may actually be the fundamental problem with any of these explanations that does not include the possibility that there is a mistake in the surviving copy.

    Arguments in favor of interpreting the 5th and 6th figures as "十下半寸許" (a half cun below 10") have also led to some speculation about adventurous modality, but also to solutions based more closely on the known idiom. These include,

  5. Playing the fifth and sixth figures a little below the 10th position can yield a note actually found elsewhere in melody: F# (more specifically, either what the transcription writes as F# or a slight variant on F# [Gb?]). The problems here are:
    1. In theory, although the "cun system" as described here could perhaps be used to describe such microtonal differences as the one between Gb and F#, there does not seem to be any evidence it was ever in fact used that way. Thus, there being no identified examples in the tablature of attempts to indicate "slightly flatted" (or "slightly sharped") notes (other than perhaps in the Pythagorean vs natural tuning harmonics), expressions such as "below 10 on the 2nd string" should indicate a "normal" note; in the transcription this note is written as F#, with no way to distinguish this from Gb.
    2. Whether F# or Gb, when played on the second (or seventh) string this note is always indicated elsewhere in the tablature as being played at 十一: the 11th position. For this, see in particular mm.299-300, where there is a slide from F# (十一 11th position on 7th string) up to G (十 10th position). Another significant place is at mm.041-044, where 半寸 indicates F#, but that is on the 6th string; again on the seventh string it is at 11.
  6. Interpret "below 10" as G itself. On many qin (related to the height of the bridge or even maybe to incorrect positioning of hui stud markers), to get the correct pitch one sometimes must play slightly below the officially correct position. Occasionally in later tablature I have observed that some notes seem to have had their position indicated by observation rather than theoretical correctness. This may be related to the copying process: when someone does a revision or editing of tablature for a new handbook, the new copyist might use this eyeball method only on a few notes, leaving later players to have to decide which system is being used.
  7. Interpret the opening "耶臥 xiewo/yewo" (aslant) as meaning not just to angle the middle finger in this lower position slightly below 10.0, but also then to roll the finger slightly until it reaches the correct position. This then could be an instruction specifically intended to help the player begin the melody on the precisely correct pitch. This latter observation came from Dominic Eckersley, who then pointed out that this is also the strongest argument in support of "十" being the best interpretation of the 5th figure: although there are no further occurrences of the middle finger stopping the second string "slightly below" the 10th position, in two places (mm. 4 and 27) the middle finger is said to be "豎案 shu an directly placed on" the 10th position. Since the character "豎" appears nowhere else in the piece. By thus saying the note is not to be played as at the beginning, it thereby makes clear that this refers to its position on 10. Here, although once again there is no textual evidence to support such an interpretation, it does answer all the questions and, in any case, one cannot prove that it is not correct.

    Interestingly, this then could also make "耶臥 xiewo" into a kind of ornament, perhaps comparable to the modern chuo, usually written 卜. As outlined just below, I have also considered the possibility that "十" is a mistake, in which case 八 (ba: 8) would be the most natural choice. In my recording of that option I used xiewo as such an ornament: it seems to heighten the resulting opening octave in a way that accentuates the the mountain theme already discussed here.

  8. Because of all the problems with the above interpretations, and because of some uncertainties about that part of the score, another solution I have consideres is the possibility that there is a mistake in the original document. In this case the least invasive and perhaps thus mostly likely error would be the fifth character. Although it does seem that this character is almost certainly "十" (10), the idiom as it exists suggests that the most logical position here might actually be "八" (8): "八上半寸許 about a half cun above 8" can be interpreted as "7.6", yielding a perfect octave;. Such an interval would be most appropriate if the theme of the melody actually concerns a soaring mountain; the grandness of such an octave could then be emphasized by interpreting the opening xiewo/yewo as a slight roll of the left middle finger. Given the damage to this area, it is not unreasonable to suspect that this might have been in an earliest version (it is not known how the melody was transmitted from its souce to the surviving manuscript). So, although this does not seem to have been suggested elsewhere, it the basis for the interpretation on this recording. Someone else playing the piece while thinking of Cao Cao might play the same way, but if thinking about Confucius might prefer an altered fifth (sometimes said to represent Confucius being startled at seeing the secluded orchid in a plain field).

    Opening with "八上半寸許 a little above 8" (in this case 7.6) yields a perfect octave, the same notes that end the piece. The almost-completely missing 5th character now looks something like "⼎". A close examination of the image above shows that someone at one time must have interpreted it as "十", but at first glance it could just as well be "八". As detailed above, the score was restored in Japan, probably around the year 1700, with a layer added in the damaged area of the upper right corner of the scroll; what could be seen there of the original calligraphy was then copied over or otherwise corrected by a person Yang refers to as Scribe C. In Japan, at least beginning around that time, the interpretation of these two figures has always been "十上", and this is how it came back to China in the 19th century. However, it is still not clear whether at the time the restoration was made in Japan the scroll, for example, had the figure seen at right as an actual "十" and the middle section came out later, or whether what we see now is Scribe C's tracing over of exactly what he saw then. Based on the extra strokes in the lower figure at right, which is what makes it ambiguous on "上" versus "下", it would seem that the original paper got twisted around either before, during or after the restoration. If before, Scribe C could well have misinterpreted the two parts of that figure, and so it was he who made it look like the upper and lower parts of a "十". And so, if the strokes in the sixth figure also got displaced, then perhaps what was intended there was either "八上半寸許 a bit above 8" or "七下半寸許 a bit below 7". A perfect octave at 7.6 would fit in with the abovementioned cun system (note that "八上一寸許" would be 7.3). In fact, an octave on the open first and the stopped second string does occur elsewhere in You Lan: see, for example, I/14 (m.60), where the second string is stopped at 八上半寸 above 8 (no such examples of 七下半寸 below 7). Another excerpt might also be relevant here, II/12 (m.171), where the ring finger is placed down on the 7th position then slides down all the way to 13.1 before continuing in a way very much similar to the opening passage (see this description).

The above possibilities were all evaluated according to the logic of the modality as outlined on the related modal chart. Here both the perfect octave and the rolled-into perfect fifth seem to provide the most logical choices. Internal evidence suggests that quite likely there were several versions copied down before the surviving one (this is based on inconsistencies in certain usages). Although the overwhelming evidence argues in favor of 10, since all the surviving copies seem to come from Ogyu Sorai's early 18th century copy or copies, and since it seems likely that the damage now visible on the Ueno Museum original occurred before Ogyu Sorai, it remains important, indeed necessary, to know what twisted paper possibilities have been explored or can be explored with regard to the Ueno document. These would have to be predicated on whatever information we have about when the damage occurred to the original document as well as the actual condition of the different levels of the manuscript.

Finally, also of relevance are the two later passages already referred to above as related to the opening sequence. These three occurrences can perhaps best be seen in mm. 000-3, 171-6 and 282-8 of this staff notation. The second of these also has a textual issue, also in the anacrusis, but the issue is most logically solved with a long slide, from A down a seventh to B (the opening slide goes down a sixth if the opening note is C). Meanwhile the third example has a shorter anacrusis; the final note in the preceding section is F#, but it is played at 十一 the 11th position, and in any case there seems to be a clear break after that note. Thus, there is nothing to suggest any unusual modal material in any of those three passages.

32. 袁中平 Yuan Jung-Ping has produced quite a few materials in connection with his reconstruction. However, this does not include a transcription into staff notation: he prefers to work from the shorthand tablature he made from the original longhand tablature.

33. This includes a paper 吳文光 Wu Wenguang presented in 1999 at the Japanese You Lan conference; this paper was quite useful in writing the present introduction.

34. Intonation in You Lan
A guqin is tuned so that its harmonics mostly follow pythagorian intonation. However, strings can be stopped anywhere, and it is not certain whether past qin masters tried to follow that intonation for stopped notes. Over time there have been variations in the ways of indicating stopped positions, but fundamental to my interpretation is the belief that the variations in indication of finger position (e.g. "down one inch" vs. down half inch"; see tuning a qin) are not attempts to indicate special intonations, but rather inconsistencies resulting from my belief that the manuscript was copied by more than one person, quite possibly during different generations. My experience with Ming tablature is that when an actively played melody is re-copied for a new handbook, much of the new tablature is a direct copy of the old. However, in parts where the melody has changed somewhat a different system may be used to indicated finger position (e.g., "above 8" instead of "between 7 and 8".

35. Fixed rhythms interpreted freely
This is discussed further elsewhere.

36. Original Preface
The original test says,


37. 丹陽縣 Danyang district
101.179 Danyang mentions a number of places, including a Chu city in Hubei.

38. Original Afterword

39. Music, 4 movements
The movements are not numbered. The endings of Movements 1 and 2 are each indicated by the statement 拍之,大息 (Melody finalizes, Long rest); Movements 3 and 4 each end with 拍之 (Melody finalizes). As yet I have not seen instructions like this in any other qin tablature. The melody begins and ends with the statement 幽蘭第五 You Lan, the Fifth. This could mean either The Fifth Section of You Lan, or that You Lan was the fifth in a series of melodies.

40. Cao Cao's Towering Rock, 4 stanzas
It seems quite natural to think of the themes of these stanzas when playing Jieshi Diao You Lan. Note in particular that, just as each movement of the melody ends with a distinctive ascending microtonal passage as a refrain ("五度蠲之。初緩,後急"), each of Cao Cao's four stanzas ends with the same optimistic couplet (part of this four-part melodic motif),

Xìng shèn zhì zāi! Gē yǐ yǒng zhì.
Great fortune has come! Sing of it to express our hopes."

The titles and meaning of Cao Cao's four stanzas might be summarized as follows:

  1. 觀滄海 Looking at the Sea (from Jieshi Mountain)
    Exhilarated by the breadth and beauty of nature, Cao Cao feels confident about the future
  2. 冬十月 The Cold Tenth Month
    Although it grows chilly, people can celebrate the harvest, also hopeful for the future
  3. 土不同 The Ground is Different
    The climate north of the Yellow River is bleak and people's lives are difficult, but still there is hope for the future
  4. 龜雖壽 Though the Sacred Tortoise lives long
    There is grandeur in the life of brave men, and although all good things eventually come to an end, still there is hope for the future.

Another outline of the significance of each movement of You Lan can be found in Walter Kaufmann, Musical Notations of the Orient, p.462 (1967 edition), as follows:

  1. Mentions the emperor's travels eastward to Jieshi and the vastness of the ocean from which the sun and moon rose and into which sun and moon set;
  2. Mentions how, after work in the fields was accomplished, the merchants became active;
  3. Explains how the shape and climate of a region influence its inhabitants
  4. In praise of the brave man.

Of the source for this information Kaufmann wrote only that it came from a "copy in possession of this writer". Clearly, though these refer to the four Towering Rock stanzas attributed to Cao Cao. This is discussed further above.

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