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Afterword to the Emaciated Immortal's Shen Qi Mi Pu 神奇秘譜後記

by Zha Fuxi, from Shen Qi Mi Pu, Music Publishing Society,
People's Music Research Institute, Beijing, 1956, Folio III

Music for the guqin is our country's oldest, and has been loved by many people for over 2,000 years. Historical records prove that it emerged at the latest during the Zhou dynasty, and became rather widespread during the Han, Wei and Six Dynasties. Coming to the Tang dynasty, in accord with the general cultural expansion, it advanced and attained its [own] system and development. In particular, it had its own specialized music tablature; and this achieved its form as a fixed system which, by the Song dynasty, had already for the large part finalized its structure. This is the simplified guqin tablature which has been commonly used by qin players for over 700 years.

Historical materials also can prove that for over 1,000 years there was a component in which qin players continuously absorbed the popular music of each period and thereby enriched their own creations. And because it had its special qin tablature, this allows us today to have over 2,800 guqin pieces, preserved in over 70 recently discovered specialized qin manuscripts.

Under the call of the Communist Party and the People's Government requiring development of the wonderful tradition of people's arts, the arrangement and exploration of guqin have improved daily. But over the last 100 years, (because of?) the small number of guqin players, guqin tablature has daily become fewer, even though since the Tang dynasty, as seen in the records of guqin handbooks, there have been more than several hundred. But in 1855 Zhu Fengjie of Pucheng, in his famous Yuguzhai Qinpu, calculated that at that time in the hands of all qin players everywhere there were only 36 old qin books with tablature. Several of the latest qin tablatures recorded in Mingshi Yiwenzhi (Ming History, Arts Chronicle) -- including this volume, the Emaciated Immortal's Shen Qi Mi Pu -- were already not to be found. The Ethnic Music Research Institute of the Central Music Academy selected this volume of qin tablature and has made photolithographic copies for publication. This not only has p rimary basic significance in the work of developing the tradition of ethnic music, it is also a tremendous help to the qin experts who are vigorously exploring guqin compositions.

Among the 70-odd guqin handbooks, our publishing first the Emaciated Immortal's Shen Qi Mi Pu was based on the following grounds:

  1. This qin handbook, with 62 [sic; there are 49 titled pieces and 15 or 16 short preludes] qin compositions altogether, has relatively abundant materials.
  2. The still surviving qin tablatures from the Tang, Song and Yuan dynasties are only seen in other sorts of documents, not specialized (qin) collections. But this qin handbook is such a specialized collection, and it is a collection already completed in the early Ming dynasty (1425 AD). Among the 70-odd surviving special qin handbooks it is the oldest.
  3. According to the preface of the compiler, Zhu Quan, the 62 pieces he had engraved were written down in accordance with conclusions made from observing what several qin teachers of that time taught his 'qin students'; it is very possible that [the music] was arranged as a result of undergoing collective research on those several qin teachers. Most other qin handbooks narrowly emphasize 'one school, one style', so this is the most tangible virtue of this handbook.
  4. The handbook divides the qin pieces into two types, Taigu Shenpin (Most Ancient Spiritual Pieces) and Xiawai Shenpin (Spiritual Pieces from Beyond the Rosy Haze). From historical materials concerning the guqin we know that during the Southern Song dynasty there was a Zixia Qinpai (Rosy Haze Qin School) which according to my own opinion for the most part consists of qin pieces. We also know that 'Beyond the Rosy Haze' refers to qin pieces created from [music] common among the people at the end of the Song dynasty which had been incorporated by people in the Rosy Haze School. This clearly explains that the 46 pieces [sic.: 33 titled pieces and 15 modal introductions] included in the section 'Spiritual Pieces from Beyond the Rosy Haze' were tablatures common among the people which had not been moved [changed?] during the Song dynasty. As for the 16 pieces [15 titled + 2 modal introductions] among the 'Most Ancient Spiritual Pieces', based on historical materials and the style of finger techniques [used] we have already discovered that several pre-date the Southern Song, some being qin pieces originating in the Tang dynasty. This provides us with an outline of the historical development of guqin melodies; and it allows us to be able, in general accordance with historical development, to seek the original vitality and style of these qin melodies.
  5. Among the rather large number of qin handbooks at the beginning of the Qing dynasty we can easily find qin pieces which have the same titles as [ those in Shen Qi Mi Pu]. No matter whether in theme or melodic structure, all come, some more, some less, from this source. Today all guqin specialists have at hand several early Qing dynasty qin handbooks. If more of them could also have this Shen Qi Mi Pu to consult, in the matter of fixing the origins of the qin pieces they are exploring, they could attain not inconsiderable assistance.
The above reasons for printing this qin handbook are its good points. These are very valuable and important to bring forward.

But this qin handbook is actually an old book edited in the historical conditions of 500 years ago and, as with other old books, we must to the best of our ability [also] bring up its many flaws, especially concerning the ruling class anti-people attitude of the editor, Zhu Quan (1378 - 1448). Zhu Quan was an emperor's son who had grasped for military power. His biography (Ming Shi, Ming Shu) we can see that he was a 'Frontier Prince' whose ideology was particularly filled with diminishing the people and oppressing the people.

Zhu Quan had several dubious and arbitrary ideals as well as reactionary antiquarian thoughts which were reflected in the preface to this book and in his commentary on several of the qin pieces he selected. For example, he said the guqin provided 'the music used by sages...to control the government, and the object used by princely men to cultivate (themselves)' [Preface, line 8; Zha does not use quotation marks; see also self-cultivation]. He wants 'teachers, when they accept students, to select this [sort of] person' [ibid. line 16] and not allow [it to be played by] 'common fellows, the street-peddler class, base types like singsong girls and actors, vulgar uncivilized barbarians' [ibid. line 10] [lest it] 'destroy this spiritual object' [ibid. line 12; here Zha adds 'Preface, line 16,' seemingly to cover all above quotes]. This very clearly opposes the influences of folk music and foreign music, and supports the reactionary antiquarian viewpoint of the music of the ruling class. He [also] accepts that it is good for each qin player to have his own style but, starting from subjective idealism, he propagates the false dictum that 'in their ambitions the (various) men of distinction (who played qin pieces), each revealed his own natural disposition differently,' [ibid. lines 31-32] [and this] 'became manifest in far-reaching interests..., thereby bringing pleasure to one's own ambitions' [ibid. lines 35-36].

And if he very honestly, diligently and conscientiously spent 12 years of effort organizing a collective effort to write down these qin tablatures, he also not only didn't know he was having the effect of preserving traditional culture, and was also unwilling honestly to say he was devoted only to scholarly writing, and was inclined to brag that in order to 'return to antiquity' he thought 'it would be of some slight help in returning to the customs of the ancient period' [ibid. lines 43/4]. These obviously are the flaws of this handbook.

We have only approached the preface in terms of pointing out the anti-people viewpoint permeating Zhu Quan; the most important idea is still, with the desire to use the shortcomings of the preface as an example, to invite the readers always to notice and criticize the explanations of each qin piece [Zhu Quan] personally edited. The explanations of the qin pieces are the historical basis displaying the contents of the qin pieces. These are written out in a very old especially recorded traditional manner (like Qin Cao by Cai Yong of the Han dynasty, Yuefu Guti Yaojie by Wu Jing of the Tang dynasty, and other sorts of books); special importance lies in attaching importance to realism in art [and] the traditional present. In this qin handbook Zhu Quan not only, based on his point of view, wrote a number of explanations of qin pieces, (the explanations which in front have 'The Emaciated Immortal says' perhaps all underwent his editing); moreover, he also changed titles of several qin pieces (ibid. line 38 [-41]). Because of this we sincerely suggest to the readers, concerning the themes and titles of these qin tablatures [that], if they have doubtful interpretations, it is best to go to the specialized records of early periods to search for materials to consider. For example, for Dunshi Cao one can consult Jishan Cao in Qin Cao; for Guangling San one can consult Nie Zheng Zi Han Wang Qu.

This qin handbook also has some technical problems. It is convenient for us to bring them up here.

  1. The handbook's finger techniques include several which still have their original form from before the Song dynasty and don't have any explanation. But Taiyin Daquanji, another book compiled and printed by Zhu Quan, as well as other collections recording old finger techniques compiled by people of the Song dynasty, and also the important commentary by Comrade Yuan Quanyou based on these materials, can remedy this problem.
  2. The layout of the second preface of this qin handbook has a mistake; it involves an omission from the table of contents. Before Shenhua Yin in the table of contents for the final folio there should be added the name of a mode -- shangjiao diao -- and the name of a piece -- Shenpin Shangjiao Yi. Also, shangjiao mode does not use non-standard tuning, and so the four pieces in shangjiao mode [actually there are two pieces and the modal introduction; Chu Ge belongs in qiliang diao] should be put at the end of the middle folio, so then it would be in accord with the overall structure.

Because this is a reproduction, and we want to preserve its genuineness, we could not change this, and so we mention it here.

Zha Fuxi
19 April 1955

Return to the Shen Qi Mi Pu index or to the Guqin ToC.