Biography of Zhu Quan
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Zhu Quan (1378 - 1448)
The "Emaciated Immortal"
朱權 1
With Yao Pinwen at Zhu Quan gravesite west of Nanchang2  
Zhu Quan was the first of many Ming dynasty princes to be known for his activities on the qin.3 Most notable about Zhu Quan, though, is the wide range of his interests and in many cases his great knowledge of them. In this regard over 50 book titles have been attributed to him,4 some of them considered to be of great signficance. Thus, while to the guqin player he is the person most responsible for the preservation of early guqin music, to the opera lover his most important book is the one on Yuan drama,5 while to the tea lover his most important book is his Tea Manual.6

Zhu Quan was the 17th son of Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming dynasty.7 His mother, a minor concubine surnamed Yang, was the daughter of one Zhu Yuanzhang's generals. Her family came from Nanchang, where Zhu Quan was prince from 1403 until his death in 1448.

As a child in the then-capital, Nanjing, Zhu Quan is reported to have showed the best academic potential among all the brothers. He was diligent, especially interested in classics and history, but also with a strong inclination towards Daoism. He was handsome and much favored by his father

At age 15 he went to Daning, north of the Great Wall, as prince of an area important for defense against possible attacks from Mongols. From here he supported the struggle of his elder half-brother the prince of Yan (now Beijing), Zhu Di. Thus when Zhu Di won the struggle to become emperor in 1402, Zhu Quan had hopes of becoming prince of a major center such as Suzhou or Hangzhou (i.e., Nanjing? see Map 5. Estates of the Ming Princes8), so he felt betrayed when Zhu Di offered him instead a choice of minor towns in Fujian, Hubei or Shandong, or Chongqing in Sichuan. Zhu Quan then counter-proposed Nanchang, presumably because this was his wife's native area.

In March of 1403 Zhu Quan proceeded by boat up the Yangzi river and across Poyang Lake to Nanchang. In one of his later books9 he describes hearing musicians on this trip, including Jiang Kangzhi, a "wonderful singer", who later entered Zhu Quan's court in Nanchang as one of the "qin workers" he later mentions in his Preface to Shen Qi Mi Pu.

All the historical accounts mention Zhu Quan's precarious position in Nanchang, where he always had to be careful not to offend the emperor. In this he was more successful than some of his brothers, perhaps because he was able to follow up on his wide range of interests, from arts and science to religion and philosophy.

He published widely on the subjects that interested him. According to Jonker, "altogether some fifty titles of works ascribed to him (including his lyrical dramas) are known.... (but) only ten works of his have received a wider circulation by their inclusion in congshu or being reprinted in modern editions." Many of his writings are well covered in both the Jonker and Yao biographies. Some of these are listed in the Qin Bibliography. Of particular note are the two that concern the qin:

  1. Shen Qi Mi Pu
    The earliest surviving collection of qin melodies
  2. Taigu Yiyin (1413 edition)
    This collection of qin materials doesn't survive, but some of the essays and other comments Zhu Quan wrote for it are included in a later edition.

Yao adds very interesting details on Zhu, showing him to have been a devoted husband and father. (Some details to be added)

Because of his political uncertainty he spent much of his later life at a country home by the hills across the Gan river, which flows up the west side of Nanchang. This was apparently near his tomb, which still remains. The tomb consists of several rooms in the side of a hill, with two pillars about 100 meters away, guarding a path to the entrance. Nearby is a small village where everyone has the surname Zhu.

The site is shown on local Nanchang maps, but visitors are extremely rare. A new entrance is built over the old one and the contents of the grave (which included a qin or qin fragments) have been removed to the provincial museum.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 朱權 Zhu Quan (1378 – 1448; Wiki)
Zhu Quan (14779.924: 16th son of the founder of the Ming dynasty) was enfeoffed as 寧王 Prince of Ning, also called 寧獻王 Ningxian prince, His main 號 nickname was 臞仙 Quxian (Qu Xian, the Emaciated Immortal; other translations include Slender Hermit, Gaunt Transcendent, etc.). Other nicknames included Master of the Vessel of Emptiness (涵虛子 Hanxuzi) and Mister Cinnabar Mound (丹丘先生 Danqiu Xiansheng; note that Qianqingtang Shumu lists a 丹丘子琴譜二卷 Danqiuzi Qinpu, 2 folios, commenting only that does not know the 撰子 compiler). The Zhu Quan Wikipedia pages in English and Chinese are both rather short. For more on Zhu Quan and the qin see Shen Qi Mi Pu. (QSCB has a chapter about him 中文) in connection with the melody Autumn Geese.

The most extensive published English language accounts of Zhu Quan seem to be

The major modern Chinese language sources for Zhu Quan are by Yao Pinwen Zhu Quan grave (Yao Pinwen appendix)    

  1. 姚品文 Yao Pinwen, 朱權研究 Zhu Quan Yanjiu (Study of Zhu Quan). Nanchang: Jiangxi Gaoxiao Chubanshe (Jiangxi Upper School Publishing Company), 1993.
  2. 姚品文 Yao Pinwen, 寧王朱權 Ningwang Zhu Quan (Prince of Ning Zhu Quan). 藝術與人文科學出版社 Yishu yu Renwen Kexue Chubanshe, 2002.

The former, a 276-page biography published in only 1,000 copies, is an excellent study. The latter, with 411-pages, is a revised and expanded edition, also an essential work, but only 700 copies were printed; Prof. Yao, an emeritus professor of Chinese literature at Jiangxi Normal University in Nanchang, added on pp. 2 and 195-7 of the latter a photo and commentary on our 1999 trip to Zhu Quan's grave. Her books also append punctuated versions of the major classical sources, including Zhu Quan's biography in Ming History (translation). Yishu yu Renwen Kexue Chubanshe (Arts and Humanities Publishing Company?) is apparently located in 西雅圖 Seattle, but the given address, 3128 NE 217th St., Seattle, WA 98125, seems to have a mistake in the numbers.

Original sources include Zhu Quan's Ming Biography and his biography in (國朝)獻征錄 (Guochao) Xianzheng Lu by 焦竤 Jiao Hong (1541-1622). Xianzheng Lu is an important collection of biographies from earlier in the Ming dynasty.

2. Images Impression 
The photo at top and the one with Yao Pinwen above were taken on December 25, 1999 at the Zhu Quan gravesite west of Nanchang, Jiangxi province. The photo at top was amongst those later used as a basis for the oil painting Wild Geese over the Grave of Zhu Quan, shown at right as a thumbnail. The painting, by Edgar Francisko Jimenez, is used here as an illustration for the melody Qiu Hong, sometimes attributed to Zhu Quan. For other images said to be Zhu Quan see also the Zhu Quan Image with the Ming Biography of Zhu Quan and the photograph below of the statue showing him brewing tea.

3. Ming royal houses and the qin
A several Ming emperors plus at least six princes, one widow and three eunuchs have been particularly noted for their qin connections, as follows.

Qin Shi Xu (in particular #s 56-60 here) has entries for the following five Ming emperors:

In addition, at least six Ming dynasty princes, a widow and three imperial eunuchs have been associated with specific qin handbooks, as follows:

All but Zhu Dianpei are mentioned in the work on princely publications by Jerome Kerlouegan, outlined
below (but also see a possible addition?).

A Widow:

Three eunuchs:
Quite a number of eunuchs published handbooks and were also otherwise well-known for their guqin accomplishments. Presumably they were all supported by princes or emperors, but details are not yet clear. Three prominent ones were:


Jerome Kerlouegan, "Printing for Prestige? Publishing and Publications by Ming Princes", East Asian Publishing and Society, 2011
   - in four parts; as of 2022 these were all available through
This work mentions handbooks by four of the five princes mentioned above; presumably Zhu Dianpei's is not mentioned because it was a hand-copy. Overall this work can be outlined as follows:

  1. (Part 1). Introduction (39-73)
    1. General overview
        p.51 discusses work of Zhu Changfang; in particular his assistance from courtesans
        p.69 mentions role of courtiers.
        p.72 mentions Zhu Dianpei's daughter, Princess of Anfu, printing a book of poetry.
  2. Part 2 (105-144)
    2. Princes and literati
  3. Part 3 (3-75)
    3. What Did Princes Publish? A Tentative Typology of Princely Publications. 3
    On p.26 he mentions a monk who said in that said princes took pride in the qin in 1554 details
    4. Technical Aspects: Princely Publications as Material Objects. 37
    5. For Whom, and Why, Did Princes Publish Books? 44
    6. The Place of Ming Princely Publications in the Late Imperial Book World. 56
                Concluding remarks. 63
  4. Part 4: Appendices
    Includes a
    map of 32 principalities; the numbers on the map refer to the principalities: Shen (#5: Lu'an [Shanxi]), Ning (#7: Nanchang [Jiangxi]), Hui (#26: Junzhou [禹州 Yuzhou, Henan]), Lu (#28: Weihui [Henan]), Heng (#31; Qingzhou/Gaotang [Shandong]); also Chong (#29: 汝寧 Runing [Henan]).

There are references from this work in various places on this website.

4. Zhu Quan's Writings
Jonker wrote that, of Zhu Quan's "altogether some fifty titles", only 10 "have received a wider circulation by their inclusion in congshu or by being reprinted in modern editions." He then describes them in the following order:

  1. 太和正音譜 Taihe Zhengyin Pu
    Concerns northern lyrical drama (雜劇 zaju) including short lyrical pieces (散曲 sanqu); see further
  2. 冲漠子獨步大羅天 Chongmo Zi Dubu Daluotian
    A zaju "about the attainment of immortality by the recluse Zhongmo Zi (probably Zhu himself)"
  3. 卓文君私奔相如 Zhuo Wenjun Siben Xiangru
    Elopement of Sima Xiangru and Zhuo Wenjun
  4. 神奇秘譜 Shen Qi Mi Pu
    It "has survived in Ming edition...."
  5. 瞿仙神隱,四卷 Quxian Shenyin (Spiritual Reclusion of the Immaciated Immortal, 4 folios)
    On a variety of topics including sericulture and tea cultivating; a brief section on qin
  6. 焚香七要 Fen Xiang Qiyao
    On burning incense
  7. 地理正言 Dili Zhengyin
    On geomancy
  8. 天皇至道太清玉册 Tianhuang Zhidao Taiqing Yuce
    On Daoism
  9. 賡和中峯詩韻 Genghe Zhongfeng Shiyun
    A collection of his poems
  10. 宮詞 Gong Ci
    Another collection of his poems

Jonker also mentions a southern lyrical drama (傳奇 Chuanqi) named 荊釵紀 Jingchai Ji (Tale of the Thorn Hairpin) that is now sometimes attributed to Zhu Quan, plus "an illustrated record of 168 foreign countries and places entitled Yiyu Tuzhi 異域圖志, completed around 1430 but not printed until 1489, reprinted 1609."

Jonker does not mention Zhu Quan's Cha Pu.

5. Zhu Quan and Opera
According to D.R. Jonker (1976, i.e., before the modern re-interest in tea; his Romanization is here changed).

In all probability his most important work and the best known is Taihe zhengyin pu 太和正音譜, 2 ch., which treats of the Northern lyrical drama (zaju 雜劇), including short lyrical pieces (sanqu 散曲). The first chapter contains, inter alia, a list of titles of 678 lyrical dramas by authors belonging to the Yuan period and the beginning of the Ming period. The last part of the first chapter and the whole of the second chapter are taken up by qupu 曲譜 (a tune book) of the Northern drama, the first one of its kind; 335 qupai 曲牌 (lyrical melodies), arranged according to twelve basic tunes (gongdiao 宮調), each exemplified by a fragment of an existing drama; the tone of each character is carefully indicated. This qupu is by far the most important section of the book. The work was completed in 1398 and printed soon after...."

Yao Pinwen (see above) has written an annotated edition of Zhu Quan's major work on opera. Her 太和正音譜箋評 Taihe Zhengyinpu Jianping was published in 2010 by Zhonghua Shuju.

6. Zhu Quan and tea (see also Qin and Tea) Zhu Quan at the Wuyi Mountain Tea Theme Park (enlarge)   
According to the Wikipedia entry (2010), Zhu Quan's "most famous book was 茶譜 Cha Pu, Tea Manual of 1440". The present website discusses this work further on a separate page.

The image at right, a statue of Zhu Quan at the 中華武夷茶博園 China Wuyi Tea Park, opened in 2009, is in a way a reflection of the exploding interest in tea in China has led to increased awareness of Zhu Quan (see Qin and Tea). The image, cropped from one linked to the Zhu Quan Wikipedia page, is also referred to as the 武夷山茶博園朱權塑像 Zhu Quan Statue at Wuyi Mountain Tea Theme Park, near Wuyishan town in western Fujian province. For further information see also 中文, blog photos (towards end), etc. A closeup of the image allows reading the inscription behind him. Is the tea boy to Zhu Quan's right holding a kujiejun?

7. 朱元璋 Zhu Yuanzhang (1328-1398)
Ruled as 洪武帝 the Hongwu Emperor from 1368 to his death. See Wiki

8. Map 5. Estates of the Ming Princes
From The Cambridge History of China, Volume 7, The Ming Dynasty, p.121. This statement seems to suggest Zhu Quan was originally offered only a region within an "estate". I do not fully understand how that system worked.

9. Boat trip to Nanchang
See in Zhu's preface. Yao's text seems to suggest this was in a later edition of 太和正音譜 Taihe Zhengyin Pu?

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