T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
SQMP ToC   /   Moon Atop a Plum Tree and the related Plum Blossoms 首頁
19. Three Repetitions of "Plum Blossoms" 梅花三弄 1
- Also called Plum Blossom Prelude and Plum Prelude 2
- Gong mode, standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 3
Meihua Sannong
Also: Meihua Yin and Yufei Yin
After the plum blossoms come the plums4    
Meihua Sannong is one of the most popular of all qin melodies, surviving in at least 50 handbooks from here in Shen Qi Mi Pu (SQMP, 1425) to one published in 1961.5 It is also one of the three melodies in SQMP to have survived in a recognizable form (i.e., not by dapu) into the modern repertoire (the others being #6 Liu Shui and #53 Xiao Xiang Shui Yun). The beginning of the SQMP version is quite similar to that of the modern version, but the second half is quite different.6

Zhe Quan's preface in SQMP says that the melody was originally created for flute during the 4th century, then "later" adapted for qin. Most modern commentary seems to accept this account at face value.7 However, it should be noted that Zhu Quan did not place this melody in Folio One, reserved for the most ancient pieces. And as the account here will suggest there is no actual evidence to support claims that any version of the SQMP melody of this title had a source earlier than the Song dynasty.

As for plums (mei), there are references at least as early as the Book of Songs (Shi Jing, image at right);8 and the earliest reference to plum blossoms (meihua) given in classical dictionaries seems to be from the Jin dynasty or shortly after.9 However, these do not mention music at all, and the word "meihua" does not occur in any surviving music title lists until the Song dynasty.10

The earliest source for a story connecting the Meihua melody to Huan Yi11 and Wang Ziyou,12 both famous 4th century literati, apparently the Shishuo Xinyu.13 a fifth century collection of stories giving much insight into behavior of the times. According to legend, Huan was the best-known musician of his day, while Wang (original name Wang Huizhi) was well known as a recluse. The purpose of the story is to show how such illustrious people could meet each other in a natural way, not requiring the formal introductions common in those days. The earliest versions of the story related here do not actually mention "meihua", or any other melody title, only "sannong" (three playings); and Wang Ziyou is said to have been on a boat.

Melodies of this name are found in the repertoire of many instruments, not just the qin and flute. Two poems by Li Bai mention Mei Hua as a flute melody. Some later qin handbooks say that Huan Yi created the melody for flute and/or that Yan Shigu14 adapted it for the qin. Yan Shigu was a well-known 7th century scholar not otherwise associated with qin, though he wrote about music. However, these attibutions should be seen merely as poetic evocations of how a melody came into the qin repertoire. Perhaps Huan Yi was the first person to popularize a flute melody about plum blossoms, but it is an obvious anachronistic error to think Huan Yi "composed" the original melody; likewise one could imagine that it must have been someone like Yan who arranged this and/or some similar melodies for qin, but there is absolutely no supporting evidence that he actually ever did so.

Because the qin melody has survived since 1425 with recognizable features, one can theorize that the basic meihua melodic motifs are retained from considerably earlier sources. However, once again there is no direct evidence either to support or disprove this.

In addition, although to my knowledge Meihua melodies on other instruments now tend to be related to the qin melodies, it is not possible to say for certain this has always been the case. Today there are many traditional melodies for other instruments that are completely different musically from melodies of the same title for the qin. The fact that this does not seem to be the case with Meihua may again support arguments for the antiquity of the basic Meihua motifs, but at present such argument is still largely speculative.

The plum tree and plum blossom have great significance in Chinese culture, to the literati in particular, and Van Gulik's Lore has an extensive section on this. The plum tree and its blossoms and fruit symbolize strength and longevity; but it also represents creative power, fertility and female beauty. Paintings often show the scholar and his qin near one or more plum trees, or a vase with plum blossoms on his qin table. The only tree comparable in its signficance is the pine, but in the qin repertoire the pine seems to have been much less popular.15

One of Zhu Quan's Palace Poems,16 originally published in 1408, mentions Meihua:

The tall, courtly trees clumped together create a deep shade,
A cool evening with light talk, sitting by a pillar.
For no particular reason emotions rise up, and with it anxious thoughts,
Play until the tune Plum Blossom, and moonlight fills the qin.

The lyrics accompanying the version in Taigu Yiyin are quite interesting, but I have not yet been able to find out the name of the author.

As for the alternate title Yufei Yin, Yufei is a popular word for plum. Plums (like plum blossoms) represent female beauty, fertility and sex; Yufei was also a general nickname for imperial concubines, Yang Guifei in particular. However, there is no evidence to indicate this was a connotation of the alternate title.

There are numerous modern recordings available of Meihua Sannong, perhaps the earliest being the one made by Zha Fuxi at the Library of Congress. However, I know of none other than my own that follows the tablature as found in Shen Qi Mi Pu.

Original Preface17

The Emaciated Immortal, following Qin Chronicles,18 says:

as for this piece, in former days Huan I and Wang Ziyou (Jin dynasty, 4th C. AD) had heard of each other but never become acquainted. One day they met on the road, put down their umbrellas, got off their carts and had a discussion. Wang Ziyou said, "I have heard you are quite good at the di (flute)." Huan Yi took out his di and played the tune Meihua Sannong. Later someone arranged these three repetitions for the qin.

Ten sections
19 (timings are from my recording)

(00.00) 01. Evening moon over mountains and streams 20
(00.51) 02. First nong: Calling the moon; the sound penetrates the great mist
(01.26) 03. Second nong: Threading clouds; sounds penetrate the clouds
(01.59) 04. The green bird calls to the soul (of Chang E; "actually, the sound of reading"21)
(02.41) 05. Third nong: River crossing;22 from across the river comes a (long) sigh
(03.00) 06. Sounds from a jade xiao (end-blown flute)
(03.53) 07. Cool breezes tap against jade (almost the same as Section 4)
(04.21) 08. Sounds from an iron di (flute)
(04.39) 09. Plum blossoms blown by the wind
(05.14) 10. Wanting to finish this but unable to.
(05.52) --- harmonics
(06.04) --- End of modal prelude

Return to the top

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Three Repetitions of "Plum Blossoms" (梅花三弄 Meihua Sannong)
Translation of this title is problematic. "Meihua" could be either singular or plural; "nong" literally means "playing". As can be seen in the section titles of the 1425 version, the "playings" of the meihua melody occur in the second, third and fifth sections. There is no information at all on whether this specific meihua melody by itself ever had an existence separate from the overall composition. The common translation "Three Variations on Plum Blossoms" suggests that each time this melody occurs it is different, but in fact, at least in this earliest version, they are all musically identical except for register (therefore the tablature for each must be a bit different). In addition "variations" might suggest that the material between each of the repetitions is or contains some variation on the meihua melody, but this does not seem to be the case.

Regarding early references to music:
15223.78 梅花三弄 "national melody, same as Sanluo (10.1491 三落 no further info); also called Sanliuban (10.186x 三六板])."
More under 15223.77 to .114, but none mentions the story related here. See also next footnote and Xu Jian, QSCB, Chapter 3.B. (pp.37-9).

2. Other names
Underneath the title Shen Qi Mi Pu has: "又名梅花引、玉妃吟 Also called Meihua Yin and Yufei Yin":

Meihua Yin 梅花引
15223.80 詞牌名,本笛曲 Name of a cipai; originally a di flute song.

Yufei Yin
ZWDCD has only 21296.122 玉妃 Yufei, giving three meanings:

1. "jade wife"; nickname of Yang Guifei, famous concubine of the emperor Tang Ming Huang. 15489.78 楊太真,貴妃 doesn't make any connection and anyway she lived after the story related here;
2. plum;
3. stream in Sichuan.

Note that some handbooks write 玉妃 Yufei (literally: jade wife) as 王妃 Wangfei (literally: king's wife). "Jade wife" ("plum") was apparently also a general word for imperial wife or concubine. Rita Yi (see note in the appendix) points out that a poem Meihua Shi by Su Dongpo mentions Yunü (jade woman, with perhaps the same meaning as yufei) as a loyal concubine of the emperor Dong Hun of Qi (? no characters and 1122-265 BC!).

As for 王妃吟 Wangfei Yin, 21295.436 is only wangfei, defined either as "imperial wife" or as Wang Fei, a Tang dynasty singer and dancer given by 穆宗 Muzong (r. 821-5) to 武宗 Wuzong (r.841-7); when Wuzong died she hanged herself. If "Wang Fei" is not a copy error, then the former seems more likely here, with "imperial wife" referring to Yang Guifei (making it the same as Yufei). It might be added, though, that 宣宗 Xuanzong (r. 847-60) named the Wang Fei mentioned here 賢妃 Xian Fei (Virtuous Wife), presumably because of her suicide.

3. Gong mode (宮調 gong diao)
For further information on gong mode see Shenpin Gong Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

4. After the plum blossoms come the plums
This woodblock print, accompanying the Shi Jing reference below, is from the Revised illustrations of Plants and Animals in the Mao [edition of the Book of] Poems (details)

5. Tracing Meihua Sannong
Zha's Guide 4/37/50. Details are in the appendix below. In spite of its supposed antiquity, this title is generally missing from the early qin melody lists. For example, on the lists here it seems to be only on the one in Taiyin Daquanji (but compare Yu Mei Sannong).

Note that some early Japanese handbooks have a melody entitled 梅花 Mei Hua. Apparently new, it has lyrics by Lin Bu and no melodic relationship with the famous meihua melody. See links below.

6. Comparing early versions
Some comparisons of the different versions can be seen in the appendix below.

7. Claims for the Jin Origin of the Mei Hua melody
Xu Jian's Outline History, Wei and Jin (pp. 37-39) discusses Meihua Sannong in his chapter on melodies from this period, but the musical examples he gives are all from an unidentified modern version of the melody. For the source of the Jin dynasty origin claim see above.

8. Early references to mei
15223 mentions references in 說文 Shuo Wen and 爾雅 Erya that say it is the same as 栟 bing; however, it says this is different from the 酸果 "tart fruit" mentioned in 詩,召南,摽有梅 Shi Jing 20 (Waley, Plop Fall the Plums), where a girl suggests gentlemen should court her before all the plums fall. (Image at top).

9. Early references to meihua
4/1044 gives as its earlest reference a Ziye poem from Yuefu Shiji Folio 45 (Chinese edition p.644, 6th poem of 20 on spring said to be 晉宋齊辭 lyrics of Jin, Song and Qi.)

15223.77 gives as its earliest reference 洛陽訪袁拾遣不遇 the poem In Luoyang Going to meet Yuan Shiqian but Not Meeting Him, by 孟浩然 Meng Haoran.

10. Meihua in surviving early melody lists
For example, Meihua Sannong is the first melody mentioned under the gong mode in the Taiyin Daquanji list. Other such melody lists are linked under the page Guqin MelodY Lists.

11. Huan Yi 桓伊
Although a military commander, Huan Yi was also known for his flute playing. 15061.17 says 桓伊,晉,譙國銍人,字叔夏 Huan Yi, from Zhi in Qiao country (north of modern Bengbu, Anhui) during the Jin dynasty, had the style name Shuxia. The entry then relates this story of Huan Yi meeting Wang Ziyou and playing flute, giving Jin History 晉書 as its source (see also next footnote), but it says he played "three melodies 三調, not mentioning Meihua.

Giles, saying Huan was "the most skilled musician of the day", relates not the story here but one in which he played flute and zheng before the Jin emperor Xiao Wu Di, in particular selecting a piece which moved the famous official Xie An, then out of favor, to tears because the lyrics by Cao Zhi expressed the difficulties of an upright official. The source of that story is apparently 續晉陽秋 Xu Jin Yang Qiu (5th c. CE), which wrote,

左將軍桓伊善音樂,孝武飮燕,謝安侍坐,帝命伊吹笛。伊神色無忤,旣吹一弄,乃放笛云:『臣有一奴,善吹笛;且相便中,請進之。」帝賞其放率,聽召奴。奴既至,吹笛,伊撫箏而歌怨詩,因以諫也。 Translated in Mather (Chapter 23/49) together with the account below.

12. Wang Ziyou
This is 21295.1950: 王徽之,字子猷 Wang Huizhi, style name Ziyou; from 會稽 Kuaiji (Shaoxing?). The entry relates the story that led to the expression "both friend and qin have died".

13. 世說新語 Shishuo Xinyu
A work attributed to 劉義慶 Liu Yiqing (404-444; see also under Wu Ye Ti), it also has a story about Wang Ziyou (previous). Its account of the meeting between Huan Yi and Wang Yiyou is as follows:


Translated in Mather (Chapter 23/49).

14. 顏師古 Yan Shigu (581 - 645).
Rita I's M.A. thesis says she could find no connection between Yan Shigu and either qin or Meihua. However, although 44545.111 顏師古 makes no mention of them, Yan Shigu did write some studies of music. A grandson of 顏之推 Yan Zhitui, Yan Shigu was a well-known scholar official. He is discussed in Xu Jian, Chapter 3.B. (p.37). His explanation of hui is quoted elsewhere. He wrote a fu poem called 聖德頌 Sheng De Song. It has no apparent connection to either the qin melody 聖德頌 Sheng De Song or the one called 盛德頌 Sheng De Song.

15. Pine as theme (see also plants and trees)
The earliest surviving melody on the theme of pines is the sort setting of Song of Wind in the Pines (風入松閣 Feng Ru Song Ge). A search of the Zha Guide shows several others, but none seems to have been very widespread.

16. Zhu Quan Palace Poems
宮詞 Gongci; 70 have been collected in 借月山房彙鈔 Jieyueshanfang Huichao. The original poem says: 庭樹園園作翠陰,夜涼清話坐更梁。無端感起閒愁思,彈到梅花月滿琴。

17. Original preface
For the original Chinese text see 梅花三弄.

18. Qin Chronicles (琴傳 Qin Zhuan)
It is not certain that this is actually a book or essay title: it could also mean simply "qin traditon". Zhu Quan's sources are problematic here as elsewhere. The book of this title attributed to Liu Xiang is too early.

19. Music
The original section titles are:

  1. 溪山夜月
  2. 一弄﹕叫月;聲入太霞
  3. 二弄﹕穿雲;聲入雲中
  4. 青鳥啼魂(即讀書聲
  5. 三弄﹕橫江;隔江長嘆聲
  6. 玉蕭聲
  7. 凌風戛玉
  8. 鐵笛聲
  9. 風蕩梅花
  10. 欲罷不能

29. 溪山 mountains and streams
Or a proper name: 溪山 Xi Shan; 18426.xxx, but modern atlases have a Xi Shan (mountain) southwest of Guangzhou.

21. It's the Sound of Reading (即讀書聲 ji Dushu Sheng
For 讀書聲 11/460xxx; however, although 36928.23 - .57 has no entry called dushu sheng, .23 du shu includes 讀書聲 du shu sheng in a quote from 李商隱,雜纂,富貴相 Appearance of Wealth and Nobility, from Miscellaneous Notes by Li Shangyin (813?-858).

Some other mentions of this phrase include:

新得園林種樹法;喜聞子弟讀書聲。 (from a list of common couplets)

Coming to qin, in addition to the mention of du shu sheng here in Meihua Sannnong this phrase is also applied in the melody Xing Tan to its Section 6. There was also apparently once a setting of Da Xue called Du Shu Sheng, and there are also surviving tablatures for melodies called 讀書引 Du Shu Yin (1730, lyrics) and 讀書吟 Du Shu Yin (2: 1556 and a quite different version in 1590). See also the related comment with Du Yi.

Meihua Sannong Section 7 repeats the music of this section, but it has a different title and does not mention the sound of reading. Later versions of Mei Hua which have this phrase include

22. River Crossing (橫江 Heng Jiang)
Hengjiang may also be the name of a river: 15897.30 = 橫江浦 , in Anhui, not far from Huangshan.

Return to the top

Appendix: Chart Tracing Meihua Sannong;
Based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide

In addition, many versions of Meihua Sannong were traced and analyzed in:

Rita Shou-fan I, A Diachronic Study of the Ch'in Composition "Mei Hua San Nung"
M.A. thesis, University of Washington, 1977.
In her thesis Ms I traces Meihua through the surviving handbooks available to her, showing how after 1425 it gradually became more elaborate (largely in its ornamentation). There is some further discussion of this under Changes over time in guqin playing style.

Abbreviations: QQJC: 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF: 琴府 Qin Fu; T (Section titles): 小標題; L (Lyrics): 歌詞
                         MHSN: 梅花三弄; MHQ: 梅花曲; MHY: 梅花吟; MH: 梅花; YFY: 玉妃引; WFY: 王妃引
    琴譜 Qin Handbook
  (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further comments
  1.  神奇秘譜
      (1425; I/134)
"also MH, YFY"; Sections 6-10 quite diff from modern version; Section 7 largely repeats 4 but down an octave; Section 8 largely repeats 6 but down an octave;
   .  浙音釋字琴譜
      (<1491; I/xxx)
See 1585
  2. 謝琳太古遺音
      (1511; I/302)
Melody recognizable but changed to fit lyrics, e.g., Meihua motif 1st time is "梅花臨水..." (compare 1585) but diff lyrics on the two repeats seem to change the motif itself (comment).
  3. 西麓堂琴統
      (1525; III/71)
"Also YFY"; more elaborate that 1425; sections diff.
  4. 發明琴譜
      (1530; I/382)
Quite similar to 1425 but less punctuation
  5. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/76)
Quite diff. from 1425
  6. 梧岡琴譜
      (1546; I/401)
"Also MHSN"; rather diff. from 1425
7.a. 琴譜正傳
       (1561; II/406)
7.b. 琴譜正傳
       (1561; II/410)
Same as 1546
  8. 步虛僊琴譜
      (1556; III/xxx)
Similar to 1425, but splits Sec. 2 in two & omits Sec. 9
Folio reprint only
  9. 太音傳習
      (1552-61; IV/37)
"also MHY, YFY"; quite diff. from 1425
10. 太音補遺
      (1557; III/320)
11. 龍湖琴譜
      (1571; 琴府/226)
12. 新刊正文對音捷要
      (1573; ---)
Lyrics related to 1511; same as 1585? (not in QQJC)
13. 五音琴譜
      (1579; IV/201)
14. 重修真傳琴譜
      (1585; IV/311)
"Also WFY"; same as 1573? Meihua motif ("梅花臨水...") begins sections 2, 4 and 7
Lyrics related to 1511 but they don't fit 1425 so probably not in <1491
15. 玉梧琴譜
      (1589; VI/19)
16. 琴書大全
      (1590; V/473)
17. 文會堂琴譜
      (1596; VI/192)
18. 綠綺新聲
      (1597; VII/20)
Meihua theme lyrics: 時聞鐵笛....
(it uses 梅花臨水 at the beginning of Section 6, different music)
19. 藏春塢琴譜
      (1602; VI/319)
"Also WFY"
20.a 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1589; see next)
Only in the QQJC 1609 editon, not its 1589 edition, but perhaps it was in other 1589 editions
20.b 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1609; VII/180)
#4 in Boya Xinfa
21. 琴適
      (1611; VIII/27)
 Like 1597
22. 理性元雅
    (1618; VIII/189; not 277)
VIII/183 melody and lyrics very similar to 1585
QQJC VIII/271 is Meihua 15 Nong; it has lyrics and seems melodically unrelated
24. 樂仙琴譜
      (1623; VIII/381)
23. 太音希聲
      (1625; IX/139)
Meihua theme lyrics begin, 瘦影橫窗....
25. 古音正宗
      (1634; IX/289)
26. 義軒琴經
      (late Ming; IX/401)
27. 琴苑新傳全編
      (1670; XI/331)
"Corrected" from 1425?
28. 誠一堂琴譜
      (1705; XIII/345)
   . 東皋琴譜
    (1709; in XII/203 & /64)
Subtitled (?) 瑤芳引 Yao Fang Yin: unrelated melody set to lyrics by Lin Bu. They are in the Japanese handbooks dated ca. 1676 (QQJC XII/203) and 1709 (1898?; QQJC XII/64).
29. 立雪齋琴譜
      (1730; XVIII/10)
30. 春草堂琴譜
      (1744; XVIII/248)
31. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/320)
32. 太和正音琴譜
      (1812; XIX/11)
33. 裛露軒琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/70)
"From 1705; afterword
34. 虞山李氏琴譜
      (n.d.; XX/29)
35. 琴譜諧聲
      (1820; XX/13)
Includes gongche; afterword
36. 峰抱樓琴譜
      (1825; XX/313)
37. 琴學軔端
      (1828; XX/412)
38. 律話
      (1833; XXI/425)
Includes commentary on 律呂 mode plus annotations
Poem (as lyrics?)
39. 悟雪山房琴譜
      (1836; XXII/315)
40. 一經盧琴學
      (1845; XXII/66)
"From 1802; has afterword
    . 錢壽佔琴譜十操
      (n.d.; XXIV/143)
"羅浮"; completely different 
41. 琴學尊聞
      (1864; XXIV/245)
42. 青箱齋琴譜
      (~1866; XXIV/377)
43. 蕉庵琴譜
      (1868; XXVI/33)
Has commentary
44. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/184
"From 1744"; has 眉批 commentary
45. 希韶閣琴譜
      (1878; XXVI/329)
"Also called YFY"; has afterword
46. 綠綺清韻
      (1884; XXVII/401)
Has afterword
47. 希韶閣琴瑟合譜
      (1890; XXVI/449)
3 sections plus closing section and coda? "tradition of 鐵笛道人 the iron flue Daoist"
48. 枯木禪琴譜
      (1893; XXVIII/45)
Has preface
49. 琴學初津
      (1894; XXVIII/284)
Has two afterwords
50. 鳴盛閣琴譜
      (1899; xxx)
Not in QQJC; has afterword
51. 琴學叢書
      (1910; XXX/222)
also 琴府/968; Has rhythmic indications;
said to come from printed qin and xiao tablature
52. 琴學摘要
      (~1920?; XXIX/150)
53. 山西育才館雅樂講義
Not in QQJC; combined edition with flute part, gongche notation "舞胎仙館原定本"
(compiled by 楊詩百 Yang Shibai)
54. 研易習琴齋琴譜
      (1961/Folio 1)
Has commentary
55. 愔愔室琴譜
      (2000/ p.149)
Has gongche and an afterword
56. 虞山吳氏琴譜
Has staff notation

Return to top, to the Shen Qi Mi Pu ToC or to the Guqin ToC.