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Taiyin Daquanji 1
Folio 1B : Information about making qin strings 2
Explanations provided by the translator are put either in brackets ( ) or in footnotes.3
Method of Discerning (Proper) Silk 4
Image continued from previous page  

[Main text:] "Yu Geng" (a section of the Classic of History [Shu Jing], dealing with Emperor Yu, 23rd c. BC), in a part concerning Qingzhou, (a district in Shandong province, says), "His wicker basket had silk made from a yan (mountain mulberry) tree".

Summary Narrative of the People of Qi (Qi Min Yao Shu, written during the Northern Wei [386-535]) says, "Silk from silkworms (fed on the leaves of the) zhe tree (cudriana5) is suitable for (qin) strings; (the sound is) light, clear, resonant and penetrating. It is better than any (other) kind of silk string.

Bo Ya (a famous qin player of the Chun Qiu period 770-476) used "basic silkworm silk".

[Explanation:] "Basic silkworm" is the same as "second silkworm". 6

[Main text:] This is what is meant by "the good and the bad" strings.

If you talk about appropriate soil, that in Sichuan is best. Next best is in Shaanxi and the lower Luo river (in Henan province). That from Shandong and the region of the Yangzi and Huai Rivers is worst. This is all because of the influence of the water and soil.

Nowadays one only uses white silk from the cudriana as the best source (and) "basic silkworm silk" (from the same source) as next best.7 If you don't use one of these two types, then select "raw crimson silk".8 One cannot use the cocoons with salt mixed in.9

[Explanation:] Nowadays people often use (cocoons with) salt mixed in. (This) perhaps results from a desire to make the nature of the silk more coarse;10 it thus emphasizes marketabilty. (But) using this kind of silk makes strings which are brittle and easy to break. And when a dark and rainy day comes, the strings become damp and do not resound. The nature of salt causes this. People who sell silk in the cities often use this kind of silk for string. How could they have the free time to be selective? From this you can see that one must make one's own strings.

[Yin Shi:] Yu Geng is the name of a chapter from Shang Shu (another name for the Shu Jing, said to date from the Zhou dynasty, 1122-255). Qingzhou Jun (one of the nine commanderies into which Yu is said to have divided China) is today called Qingzhou Fu. The wicker basket (fei) is a bamboo product like a kuang (an open basket). Yan is pronounced the same as yan (remain), and means "mountain mulberry". "Yan silk" is the name given to silk raised/grown from cocoons of the mountain mulberry. "Summary Narrative of the People of Qi" is the name of a book.

(String Sizes)11

Big (i.e., thick) Qin Strings12

[Main text:] The first (gong) string has 240 strands (lun).

[Explanation:] One cocoon (jian) (provides) one filament; the silkworm spits it out. A strand made from 12 of these filaments together is called a 12-filament strand. Having more (than 12) makes the strands too thick; having fewer makes the strands too thin.

[Main text:] The second string has 206 (strands). The third string has 172. The fourth is the same as the second. The fifth is the same as the third. The sixth has 138. The seventh has 104.

[Explanation:] From the first to the fifth string each succeeding string has 34 strands fewer than the preceding one.

[Main text:] Three strings, the first, second and third, are wrapped (i.e., they have an inner "core" [tai, lit., "womb"];13 see "Wrapping Gauze" below).

[Explanation:] Another method also wraps the fourth string (this is the common method today), (and) uses the sixth string as the core (while) medium qin strings use the seventh as the core.14

Medium (in thickness) Qin Strings 15

[Main text:] The first string has 160 strands, the second string has 140 strands, the third string has 120 strands, and the seventh string has 100 strands.

[Explanation]: From the first to the seventh string, each has 20 strands less than the previous.16

Small (i.e., thin) Qin Strings 17 Original text, beginning with 小琴絃                 

[Main text:] Each string has 20 strands fewer than each of the corresponding medium qin strings.

Fine (i.e., very thin) Qin Strings 18

[Main text:] Each string has 20 strands fewer than each of the corresponding thin qin strings.

Wrapping Gauze 19

[Main text:] The thick strings use seven strands (around the outside of each of the strings?). The medium strings use six strands. The thin strings use five strands. If the wrapping is too thick, then the sound will not be clear. If it is too fine then the present sound's clarity will not last. Best is for it to be medium in size. When drawing it tight (around the core) the tighter the better. If in another way you use (or: If you don't use?) a "tube" (guanzi to wrap them, then you must (will?) not have the strings together with the tube (?).20

[Explanation:] Make the tube carefully. It should be about five cun ("inches") high and four cun broad. The inside should be round and the outside should have eight ridges (hunleng). 21

Method for Correcting Size with the Zhuizi22

[Main text:] Take two boards of jujube tree wood (zao mu), measure them and make them round (like round platters?). The size (broad/narrow, i.e., thickness?) should be about that of four coins. With bamboo make a handle (and) on four sides use small bamboo pegs (i.e., both sides of the two round boards?).

When operating this zhui, use small coins (?). Combine () the zhui to take the place of three*. Each silk-strand zhui (lun si zhui) should have the weight of four coins. If the first string (being medium) has 160 strands, then dividing this into four strips (tiao, i.e., zhui?) means each strip will have 40 strands; each zhui will weigh 160 "cash" (wen) and the (four) zhui (together) will weigh 640 cash. (The weight of the) remaining (zhui) should be calculated on this basis.... First place the coins on the lower board. The bamboo pegs (go on) top (of this). Then with the upper board press this down together.

[Yin shi:] Dang, means "represents". So "dang san qian" means one coin can take the place of three.*

Method of Operating (the Zhuizi)

(If done on) a cloudy and rainy day with no dust around, (when the silk is) wet and not easily breakable, (but the weather is) about to clear up (cai qing), then the sound (and/or appearance of the strings) will be clear

[Explanation:] These three sentences (only concern?) methods (used) on a rainy day.

[Main text:] The first five (times you?) combine this silk, do it on a rainy day. According to the number of strands (i.e., different for each string) make them all into four (? see above) equal strips, and with a length of eight "zhang" (8 x 141" = 1128" = 94' -- see above). If you wrapped (zuo, lit., rub palms together) (the strands) to the left, then you should combine (ho/gan) the (strips) to the right. The tighter these are twisted the better. (The original length of eight zhang) becomes (a string) about six zhang in length (70.5').

[Explanation:] (Each of these strings) can be made into 10 strings (tiao). Each string is thus six chi (.6 x 141 inches = 7 feet) in length. According to the province, this is five chi (not six).

[Main text:] Wrap this (string) around the tube.

[Explanation:] Each tube should have no more than six zhang of string wrapped around it. If there is more, then the entire string won't get completely boiled.

[Main text:] If you make the strings in fall, their color will be clear and their sound will be pure.

[Explanation:] Fall is the time of cassia flowers (gui hua); when there is a slight drizzle, make the strings.

[Main text:] If the strings are made in spring, their color will be muddy and the sound will be slow (?). By the beginning of the third lunar month (when the spring is almost over) one can make strings, but the result will still not be as good as if you make them in the autumn.

[Yin Shi:] ....is pronounced "zuo", while ... (usually "ho") is pronounced "gan", with entering tone; its pronunciation below is the same.

Method of Boiling (the Strings)

[Main text:] On a bright and clear day use a new pan made of earthenware.

[Explanation:] You can also use a new iron pot. This can be about eight cun high and about two cun wide. The bottom must be flat, resembling the modern iron cooking pot called an "ao". This can contain eight tubes.23

[Main text:] Pour running fresh water (chang liu shui) so that it is two cun higher than the top of the tubes.

[Explanation:] If the water is too deep the strings will be too soft, and if the water is too shallow then the strings will be too hard.

[Main text:] Use an alternating high and low fire to boil the strings. Stop when the wheat (see ingredients below) is smashed (well-done?).

[Explanation:] The (wrapping) gauze can easily be over-boiled, so it should be taken out first.

[Main text:] If the strings are too "raw" then they will have a wooden sound, and soon they will have no sound at all. If they are cooked too long, then the sound will not be clear and the strings will break easily. At these times according to your own ideas make calculations (i.e., learn by doing). Take them out and dunk them in cold water, taking them out quickly. Quickly stretch them out to dry.

[Yin Shi:] The "high and low fire" was already used in making lacquer. The character " " (usually "du") is pronounced "tuo" (calculate); "stretch" means to wrap around the two hands and then stretch out. ... (also "pu") is pronounced "peng", with entering tone. ... (sometimes "qian") is pronounced "gan". "Peng gan" means to dry out in the sun.

Using Potions (when Boiling) Translation at left from 用藥 line 5  

[Main text:] (1). Five liang of "clear fish glue"

[Explanation:] First boil until tender, then strain through floss silk.24

[Main text:] (2). A handful of wheat ( )

[Explanation:] Select and wash it until clean.

[Main text:] (3). Half a liang of "gem wax" (ying la )

[Explanation:] (Use) good stuff

[Main text:] (4). Half a liang of "white qi-grass".

[Explanation:] Make it into strips. (?)

[Main text:] (5). One liang of "white mulberry bark" ( )

[Explanation:] Scrape off, wash and trim to about one cun in length.

[Main text:] (6). Ten "heavenly gates of winter" (tian men dong)

[Explanation:] Cut them up.

[Main text:] Take these potions and put them together in an earthenware pan. This amount can be used to boil ten sets.

Method for Wrapping Gauze 25

[Main text:] First wrap gauze (shazi) on a cart-device chezi

[Explanation:] The chezi is made of jujube wood. The "bed" (i.e., lower frame) of the chezi should be a horizontal board, which ???should be loosened so as to make heavy???double-layer???. Use a strip of bamboo to bend (the board around) and affix thus: you want the chezi to rotate so the gauze will remain tight.

[Main text:] Then thread the chezi onto a length of qin string. Tie up this string (e.g., affix one end to a pillar) so that it is tight. Then use the right hand to twirl the string, causing the chezi to rotate by itself (around the string). Moisten the gauze often. Do this from morning until noon, then stop. If the gauze breaks, loosen ???string cause slowly/delay cause a needle/notch to draw out the thread and wrap it/tie up the broken ends together????. After the wrapping is finished, put it out in the sun to dry.


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Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Taiyin Daquanji
Although apparently written down during the Song dynasty, the date of the information is not clear. This is emphasized by the structure of main text followed by explanations (see Structure of the original text). Two examples of this from the present section concern filaments made into strands and wrapping for the lower strings. Thus, under "Big strings" it is stated that there are 12 filaments per strand, then figures are given on the various number of strands per string: was it always like this or did they originally go directly from filament to string, or experiment with the number of filaments per strand (further)? As for the number of lower strings that are wrapped, mention is made that it could be only the lower three or it could be the lower four: was it originally three the later four, or did this go back and forth?

2. Folio 1B: Notes on the translation (see also Silk Strings)
In the 1970s I made a rough translation of this passage on qin strings from the Taigu Yiyin in Qin Fu, pp.33-34, identical to but more clearly printed than the same passage from Taiyin Daquanji in QQJC Vol. I, pp.37-38 (30 Volume edition Vol. I, pp. 47-48). When putting it online I tried to make corrections, but a number of passages still elude me.

In translating this section I referred to Joseph Needham, ed., Science and Civilization in China (SCC), Vol. V. #9 (#32, The Silk Industry, by Dr. Dieter Kuhn, Würzburg). This book includes in its bibliography a 臞仙神隱 Qu Xian Shen Yin, apparently a book by 朱權 Zhu Quan on agriculture.

Reference has also been made to Jim Binkley's translation of the chapter on silk strings in the Yuguzhai Qinpu (1855). Binkley borrowed an abridged handwritten copy of the original from Sun Yü-ch'in, who was my teacher in Taiwan from 1974 to 1976, then later obtained a microfilm of the original from the Library of Congress.

There is further information in Qinshu Daquan (1590), Chapter 7.

When I had discussed this information with Sun Yü-ch'in he said that the methods described here in Taiyin Daquanji were different from the ones with which he was familiar.

After arriving in Taiwan from north China after 1949 Mr. Sun had no qins, so he taught himself how to make them, his most important reference being the Yuguzhai Qinpu. He also studied string-making, though he never actually tried making them himself and certainly did not consider himself a specialist on strings.

Mr. Sun said that at the turn of the century the best strings were being made by a family in Hangzhou. One branch stopped making them around 1911, the other stopped during the Cultural Revolution and so the high quality strings were no longer being made. He had two sets of Hang(zhou) strings, which were very good. However, the fourth string of one of the sets was not a normal Hangzhou string but an ice string (冰絃 bingxian), which was even better. Apparently the more translucent a string the better.

Regarding string measurements (see chart below) Mr. Sun said that each strand today has only nine filaments. "Thick strings" refers to a type used on a big old-fashioned qin such as is no longer in existence. He added that variations in thickness among medium qin strings occur not as a result of variations in the filament count, but because of the variations in thickness of the filament. The highest quality strings are no longer made.

Mr. Sun said that the 5th, 6th and 7th strings wear out the fastest. Regular replacements not being then available, he sometimes removed the wrapping gauze from the 3rd and used its inner part as a 7th string; likewise the 2nd for the 6th and the 1st for the 5th.

3. Explanations by translator
See comments concerning the structure of the original text.

4. Qinshu Daquan (1590), Chapter 7 has essentially the same information under the title 楊祖雲辯絲法 Yang Zuyun's Method of Discerning Silk (QQJC V/146ff). Yang Zuyun edited, wrote and/or compiled Qinyuan Xuzhi, an early version of Taiyin Daquanji.

5. The 柘 zhe tree (cudriana triloba, cudriana tricuspidata) is a thorny tree about 15 feet high whose bark contains a yellow dye. For the yan (厭 over 木) tree neither 4/1352 nor 16126 gives a genus; descriptions include 山桑 mountain mulberry. Both trees are mentioned in Shi Jing #241, verse 2, line 7, translated by Waley as "The wild mulberries, the cudrianas".

6. "原蚕(蠶)二蚕也。 Basic silkworm silk is the same as second silkworm silk". Second silkworm silk apparently is silk obtained from silkworms after they have already spun one cocoon; this latter product is considered poor for making silk cloth, but apparently was valued in the making of silk strings.

7. 白色柘絲為上,原蚕此之。 23191 白 has no 白色; 23191.440 白柘 seems unrelated (bai zhe is another name for 棫 [yu] a kind of oak tree). It is thus not clear from this whether 白色柘絲 simply means "white color zhe silk".

8. 非二絲則擇其生繰者 . 28573 繰 sao: "crimson silk" or "reel silk from cocoons"; sheng sao 22165.xxx. So instead of "raw crimson silk" perhaps it suggests "self-made silk".

9. "鹽藏繭者不堪用 Salt-stored cocoons: not worthy of use". 鹽藏 48554.162: "鹽漬以藏之也 salt-soaked to hide/hoard it". Elsewhere there is apparently comment about not using leaves from trees grown in saline soil.

10. 常滋 chang zi (9138.xx; 3/741xx); perhaps the implication is cheaper but stronger?

11. Thicknesses of silk strings for qin (strands and gauges)
The following sections in Taiyin Daquanji discuss four types of qin string (thick, medium, thin and fine). However, much of the information given here is either incomplete, inconsistent or both.

Some problems with the Taiyin Daquanji data on qin strings:

  1. This section discusses relative string sizes only in terms of the number of strands used to make them. However, silk filaments can vary considerably from silkworm to silkworm. Perhaps related to this, my teacher Sun Yü-ch'in said that each strand should have 9 filaments, whereas Yuguzhai Qinpu and Taiyin Daquanji both say there should be 12 filaments per strand.
  2. No clear distinction is made between the twisted strands and the strands used for wrapping the lower strings, with details of the wrapping strands being particularly unclear. Related to this, today the lower four strings are wrapped, but evidence here seems largely based on an assumption that only the first three strings were wrapped. This may suggest either that originally only the first three were wrapped, or that in early times both methods existed side by side. (See under gagaku for the possibility that strings survive from the Tang dynasty.)
  3. The strand numbers do not always seem to add up. For example, data given here for thick strings have the first string with 240 strands, the second 206, the third 172, and the fourth the same as the second. The passage goes on to say, "From the first to the fifth string each succeeding string has 34 strands fewer than the preceding one" and "(thick strings) use the sixth string as the core". Given that they consider only the first three strings to be wrapped, for all this to be correct the core, instead of the 138 strands given in this section, would have have 68 strands (thus the third big string figures would be 172 + 68, which = 206 + 34).
  4. These figures also seem to be at odds with the figures under "wrapping gauze" that it consists of seven, six or five strands.
  5. The figures given here concerning the number of strands per string are at variance with what is in the 19th century Yuguzhai Qinpu and with what can be observed in surviving qin strings.

Here is a chart summarizing the calculations of the Sun Yü-ch'in, Yuguzhai Qinpu (YGZ), and Taiyin Daquanji (TYDQJ):

Silk string measurements by strands
  Mr. Sun
(9 fil. each)
YGZ 加重
YGZ 太古
YGZ 中清
1st 126 162 130 108 240 + 138 160 + 100 each one each one
2nd 108 144 115 96 206 + 138 140 + 100 20 fewer 20 fewer
3rd 90 126 100 84 (81?) 172 + 138 120 + 100 than than
4th 81 108 86 72 206 160 medium thin
5th 72 96 77 64 172 140    
6th 63 84 67 56 (54?) 138 120    
7th 54 72 58 48 104 100    

As yet I have not seen calculations of the number of filaments or strands in modern qin strings. The following chart concerns relative thickness, giving possible gauges in mm, based on the ranges available for strings today. To make this chart (expanded in 2012 to include some new "thickest" strings) I used a micrometer to measure good strings made ca. 1980, ordinary strings from the mid 1990s, and some excellent new ones first made available in early 2000 in two gauges, then in 2004 produced in three different gauges (trial version, February 2004) using the brand name Taigu. The three gauges for Taigu strings, called "加重 jiazhong", "太古 taigu" and "中清 zhongqing" respectively, resemble most closely the gauges of the "thick", "standard" and "medium" strings in the chart below. However, it should be noted that no actual sets have these precise measurements: the figures below are averaged from measuring all the above. In addition, any particular string (particularly a wrapped one) tends to be uneven, its gauge varying by as much as .05mm depending on place of measurement. Today strings 1 to 4 are always wrapped; this process is also called "overspinning".

Sample modern silk string gauges (mm)
  thickest thick standard medium thin
1st 1.88 1.75 1.64 1.52 1.40
2nd 1.78 1.60 1.49 1.38 1.27
3rd 1.60 1.45 1.35 1.24 1.14
4th 1.40 1.30 1.20 1.10 1.00
5th 1.20 1.15 1.10 1.00 0.90
6th 1.10 1.03 1.02 0.90 0.80
7th 1.00 0.90 0.85 0.80 0.75

12. Big (i.e., thick) Qin Strings (大琴絃)
See chart. The original explanation is "一繭一絲蠶吐也。以十二絲爲綸者,十二絲也。過此則粗才及則細。" Strand (綸 lun); cocoon (繭 jian); silk filament (絲 si); silkworn (蠶 can).

13. Core (胎 tai, lit. "womb")
See the figures +138 and +100 from columns "TYDQJ (big)" and "TYDQJ (medium)" in the chart above.

14. Statistics involving the "core" (see also "Problems to consider")
As mentioned in the previous footnote (for Thick Strings), the text states that in addition to the core the first three or four strings have a wrapping. However, the statements that for thick strings this core should be the sixth string and that for middle sized strings this should be the seventh string lead to some complications in the statistics as given.

In addition, note that the "explanation" of each string having 20 strands less than the previous will only add up if the 4th to 7th have as many strands as noted here, and the core for the 1st to 3rd strings had 60 each (e.g., a "Fine" 7th Qin String -- see below).

15. See previous comments about the inconsistency of the calculations.

16. Medium (in thickness) Qin Strings (中琴絃)
See chart.

17. Small (i.e., thin) Qin Strings (小琴絃)
See chart.

18. Fine (i.e., very thin) Qin Strings (細琴絃)
See chart.

19. Wrapping Gauze (纏紗/纒紗 Chan Sha)
Strings with this wrapping gauze (or "mesh") could also be called "wrapped strings" (纏絃 chanxian), "wrapped silk strings" (纏絲絃 chansixian) or just 纏 alone. This section might more logically have been followed by the section called Method for Wrapping Gauze (纏紗法 chansha fa).

20. This last sentence in the original is: 別用一管子卷之,不得與絃同管。 Note that the tube used to keep the strings separate and tight while they are being boiled is also called a guanzi.

21. One zhang = 10 chi = 100 cun = officially 141 inches according to Matthews dictionary, but this varies with time and place. By this reckoning 5 x 4 cun = 7" x 5.6".

22. 墜子 zhuizi literally means "earrings". The illustration at right shows Mr. Sun's idea of what one might look like.

As for the devices for storing the string, or twisting it, or stretching it, Mr. Sun had never heard of the fore-mentioned "tube", or the device for twisting strings, mentioned under Method for Wrapping Gauze, below.

To make strings, first the filaments (si) must be twisted to make strands (lun), then the lun must be twisted to make strings (xian). The zhuizi seems to be for the latter, but it is not completely clear to me.

23. Pan or pot size
Here footnote 26 by Tong Kin-Woon says,

"The Chu volume incorrectly says 'about two chi wide'. The Yuguzhai Qinpu (1855) says 'Four cun in diameter'." However, eight cun high = .08 x 141 = 11.3", so two chi (.2 x 141" = 28") makes more sense for the width than 2.8". Note that the tubes measure five cun high and four cun broad (7" x 5.6"). Eight tubes in a round pot would require a pot width of at least three tubes: 5.6" x 3 = 16.8"; open space thus makes a pot diameter of 28" quite reasonable.

24. Clear fish glue (明亮魚膠 mingliang yujiao)
One liang = ??? . Sun Yuqin said this kind of oil, no longer available, came from the stomach of a fish)
25. Method for Wrapping Gauze (纏法 Chan Fa)
"Wrapping gauze" might also be translated as "method for making the mesh". This section might more logically have been placed together with the one called
wrapping gauze.

The cart-device (車子 chezi: upper figure at right) seems to be the "cart-bed" (車床 che chuang) shown in Figure 1 of the passage on silk strings in Yuguzhai Qinpu. Instead of this device, Mr. Sun said he had wanted to use bicycle wheels to twist the strings, with fixed distances.
Below that is an illustration of string making on a grander scale. It is apparently from Tianwenge Qinpu (1876). It has been reproduced on page 65 of Cecilia Lindquist, Qin (in Swedish).

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