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46. Melody of Longshuo -- Northern Deserts 龍朔操 1
- Huangzhong mode:2 1 3 5 6 1 2 3
Old name Zhaojun Yuan (Zhaojun's Lament)
昭君出塞圖 Zhaojun entering the desert 3     

From the Tang through the Ming dynasties there survive a number of qin melody titles connected to the story of Wang Zhaojun.4 Such titles include but are not limited to such alternate titles of the present melody as Zhaojun Yuan and Zhaojun Chu Sai. The present title, Longshuo Cao, seems to survive first from here in Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425), but according to Xu Jian's Outline History the melody is still related to the much older titles. On the other hand, versions of the present melody, though very commonly found in Ming dynasty handbooks, are not to be found in handbooks after 1618. Instead, in 1689, they were replaced by a completely new melody using standard tuning. At least 10 Qing dynasty handbooks include a version of this new melody, often called Dragon Soaring Melody (Longxiang Cao) but also using the older titles. The fact that these are often incorrectly said to be related to the earlier melody may suggest that the 1425 Longshuo Cao might also have been a recent creation.

The melody concerns a very famous Chinese story, one of several which tell of women forced to live among the Central Asian nomads.5 Of the present story Zhu Quan gives only the bare bones.6 Wang Zhaojun was the most beautiful of several hundred women selected by minister and court painter Mao Yanshou for the seraglio of Emperor Han Yuan Di (r. 48 - 32 BC). However, the emperor had so many concubines he never saw many of them in person, only portraits by Mao Yanshou. Because she refused to bribe Mao he disfigured her portrait and Zhaojun was sent to live in the Cold Palace, where she never met the sovereign. Eventually, however, she was selected as wife by a Central Asian Xiongnu prince. Only then did the Emperor see her and learn the truth. He fell immediately in love and had Mao executed, but it he couldn't cancel the marriage as he needed the alliance with the Xiongnu. Like Cai Wenji, who two centuries later was married to a Turkic prince (see Xiao Hujia and Da Hujia), Zhaojun raised a family on the steppes; but unlike Wenji, who eventually returned to China, Zhaojun died in the foreign land.

The popularity of this theme is underscored by the variety of titles under which it appears. For qin melodies these include

  1. Melody of Longshuo (Longshuo Cao, as here)
  2. Zhaojun's Lament (Zhaojun Yuan; see, e.g., in 1511)7
  3. Zhaojun Prelude (Zhaojun Yin) 8
  4. Zhaojun Goes to the Desert (Zhaojun Chu Sai) 9
  5. Mingfei Melody (Mingfei Qu; Mingfei is another name for Zhaojun)10
  6. Dragon Soaring Melody (Longxiang Cao) 11

In addition, there were a number of other earlier (lost) and later qin melodies along this theme.12

The above titles, and more, can also be found connected to melodies on the Zhao Jun theme outside of the qin repertoire. The theme was also popular in drama, again under a number of titles.13

As for versions with lyrics, the one dated <1491 has the same melody as here but newly created lyrics throughout;14 similar lyrics are paired to the version published in 1530. On the other hand, the version dated 1511 has a related melody created to fit completely different lyrics: from the Yuefu Shiji, attributed to seven different people.15 And the version dated 1525 has lyrics for only one section.16

The huangzhong tuning apparently lost favor during the Ming dynasty. In addition, the melody generally avoids using the 1st string, making it rather comparable with ruibin mode. This probably explains why at the end of the 16th century the tuning for Huangyun Qiusai changed to ruibin, though the melody changed little.

Besides my own, there are also recordings by Chen Changlin and Cheng Gongliang of their own reconstructions from SQMP.

Original Preface17

The Emaciated Immortal says,

as for this piece, during the reign of Han Yuandi the Han dynasty was becoming strong. The Khan of the Xiongnu, fearing an attack (from Han), came in person for an audience with the Emperor, saying he would willingly become a son-in-law to help protect the border regions; so the Emperor presented him with Zhaojun. Although Zhaojun was the most beautiful woman (in the palace), she had not yet earned the rank of Han Palace Concubine. So she was betrothed to this nomad who stank of goats and fish. Upon this she hid her face and cried great tears. She restrained her despondency at going north, and endured the shame of fragrant and stinking flowers mixed together, and the lament of water and charcoal in the same stove. Her contemporaries sighed at beauty having such an evil fate. Thus a song for strings was written to give form to the grief.

Eight sections

(00.00) 1. Feeling despondent at having to depart from her lord,
                rubbing her heart and sighing deeply;
(00.49) 2. Hiding tears at having to leave the palace,
                and travel far from the Han Imperial City;
(01.31) 3. Married for friendly alliance with ugly nomads,
                and thus protecting the Han Imperial House;
(02.24) 4. At leaving, tears fall from her eyes,
                and no words can describe the grief;
(03.23) 5. Traveling a distance of 10,000 li,
                the atmosphere is layered in darkness;
(04.06) 6. At night the nomad reed pipe (is heard),
                bringing insurmountable grief;
(05.04) 7. Ming Fei (a nickname) sobs in agony,
                while all the nomads sing. (Music same as 2, but "slow").
(05.49) 8. Every day facing the smell of fish and goats,
                her sadness fills the border regions.
-- play the harmonics of this mode

-- Piece ends

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Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Longshuo Cao references
49812.295 has only 龍朔 ([dragon] north). Likewise 12/1477 says only "見龍荒朔漠 see long huang shuo mo", which in turn (12/1472) says only, "北方塞外荒漠之地,亦指在這些地方的少數民族國家 northern wastelands beyond the borders, and also the minority groups that live there." Longshuo was also a reign period (661-663) during Tang Gaozong.

Xu Jian's Outline History, Chapter 5, Part 2/2 (pp. 64-69) traces this and related titles such as 昭君怨 Zhaojun Yuan. For 龍翔操 Longxiang Cao see below.

2. Huangzhong Mode (黃鐘調 Huangzhong Diao)
For Huangzhong or Wuyi mode, slacken 1st, tighten 5th strings each a half step. For more details on this mode see Shenpin Wuyi Yi. For more on modes in general see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Qiu Ying: Zhaojun entering the desert 仇英﹕昭君出塞圖
I found this image on several websites, but have not been able to find out where the original is. Another interesting depiction of this scene is 明妃出塞圖 Lady Mingfei Leaving the Country (excerpt), attributed to "宮素然 Gong Suran" (perhaps a female Daoist of the Jin dynasty, 1115 - 1234), in the 日本大阪市立美術館 Osaka Municipal Museum of Art.

4. Tracing Wang Zhaojun melodies (see Appendix)
Zha's Guide separately lists Longshuo Cao (7/73/113) and Zhaojun Chu Sai (16/167/365). but it combines Longxiang Cao with Longshuo Cao, though it is actually a separate melody with a separate tuning. The Appendix below has further details, including some concerning related early titles, but it should be emphasized that there is no direct evidence linking the surviving melodies with any of the corresponding melody titles from the Song dynasty and earlier. See another footnote below for pre-Ming listings. To sum up: qin melodies on this theme are very ancient, probably pre-Tang dynasty, and versions of the present melody survive under various titles in at least 17 handbooks from 1425 to 1618. A different melody using some of these titles but most commonly a different one, Long Xiang Cao, then survives in at least 11 handbooks from 1689 to 1910. The various titles are discussed in the footnotes below.

5. Chinese women amongst the nomads
Those featured in qin melodies, in addition to Wang Zhaojun, include Cai Wenji (abducted). Another, with no such connection, was Li Xijun.

Li Xijun (劉細君 ~123 - 101 BCE), also known as 細君公主 Princess Xijun and 烏孫公主 Princess of Wusun, from a disgraced branch of the Han royal family, was married in 105 BCE to the King of Wusun, a Central Asian country allied to the Chinese against the Xiongnu. She hated her life amongst the nomads and died there after only four or five years. The History of the Han Dynasty (Han Shu) credits here with a poem lamenting her fate:


My family married me off -- other side of heaven,
Entrusting my welfare to a foreign country -- the King of Wusun.
The yurt my residence -- the felt my wall,
Meat my food -- fermented milk my drink.
Living here, constantly longing for my native soil -- a broken heart.
Would that I change into a yellow heron -- homeward bound.

Translation by Jennifer W. Jay from her entry in Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Women.

6. Wang Zhaojun story
Zhaojun is sometimes also separated into Zhao Jun. Her original name was Wang Qiang 王牆, also written 王檣 and 王嬙. Other characters in the story include the painter 毛延壽 Mao Yanshou and her Xiongnu prince husband, 呼韓邪 Hu Hanxie. A listing of sources for more information on the story and history behind it can be found in the Wikipedia entry.

7. Zhaojun Yuan 昭君怨
14172.41 昭君怨; 古樂府名;琴曲歌辭名;詞牌名

8. Zhaojun Yin 昭君引

9. Zhaojun Chu Sai 昭君出塞
14172.39 昭君出塞,劇曲名,明陳與郊撰 opera name, by (Ming) Chen Yujiao

10. Mingfei Qu 明妃曲
14124.147-9 明妃曲;樂府名;if 明妃怨,樂府,琴曲歌辭名。

11. Dragon Soaring Melody (龍翔操 Longxiang Cao; trace; QSCB)
49812.393 only 龍翔 Longxiang (dragon soaring; place name). In handbooks dated 1557, 1585 and 1618, Longxiang Cao was used as the title (or alternate title) of the melody in wuyi tuning originally called Longshuo Cao and Zhaojun Yuan.

Today, however, Longxiang Cao generally refers to a different melody on the Zhaojun theme, still active in the modern repertoire. This latter melody, using shangjiao mode (standard tuning) seems to have been first published in 1689 (XIV/322), where it is called Zhaojun Yuan. After this the old melody in wuyi tuning was no longer published, and in Ziyuantang Qinpu (1802) the new melody was given the title Longxiang Cao. This new melody has appeared in about 10 handbooks since 1689, after 1802 generally called Longxiang Cao, though there is often a note saying "also called Zhaojun Yuan".

In discussing this melody Xu Jian (see QSCB p.163) uses the phrase "龍翔鳳舞 dragons soar and phoenixes dance" to suggest a connection between this melody and the old title 飛龍引 Fei Long Yin; none of the available texts seemt to support this.

There are recordings of Longxiang Cao by Gong Yi, Guan Pinghu, Li Fengyun, Liu Chuhua, Liu Shaochun, Zhang Ziqian and others.

12. Early melody titles on the Wang Zhaojun theme
Melody titles on this theme in the pre-Ming melody lists examined here include:

  1. Ci Han? (辭漢 Travel [far from] Han)
    See Section 2: 遠辭漢闕 and the You Lan melody list, #28
  2. Ming Jun (明君; a Hejian Yage)
    14124.161 Mingjun says name of 21295.852 Wang Zhaojun. Also in Seng, Most Ancient (see below).
    21295.852 Wang Zhaojun says that Tang History mentions the melody Ming Jun
  3. Zhaojun Yuan (Taiyin Daquanji list)
    See above
  4. Zhaojun Yuan (Qinyuan Yaolu list)
    See above
  5. Chusai Yin (出塞吟; Qinyuan Yaolu list)
    1839.xxx, but 1839.229 出塞曲 Chusai Qu mentions 出塞 Chu Sai and 入塞 Ru Sai (see below)
  6. Chu Sai (出塞; Seng Juyue list)
    See previous: 1839.229 出塞曲 refers to 樂府橫吹曲名 Yuefu Hengchui melodies (see Yuefu Shiji, Folio 22, p. 322ff); these do not seem particularly connected to the Wang Zhaojun story
  7. Chu Sai Yin (出塞吟; Seng Juyue list)
    See previous;
  8. Ru Sai (入塞; Seng Juyue list)
    See previous; Yuefu Shiji, Folio 22, p. 322ff also has Ru Sai lyrics with no particular connection to Wang Zhaojun
  9. Zhaojun Yuan (also called 王昭君 Wang Zhaojun; Seng Juyue list)
    For Zhaojun Yuan see above;
    For 王昭君(曲) Wang Zhaojun (Qu), 21295.852/2 Wang Zhaojun says 樂府吟歎曲名 it was the name of a Yuefu lament melodies, also called:
          昭君詞 Zhaojun Ci (14172.xxx) or
          昭君歎 Zhaojun Tan (14172.xxx).
  10. Ming Jun (? compare 屬明君 Shu Mingjun; Seng Juyue list)
    See above; 7994. has no 屬明君; 14124.161 Mingjun mentions nothing about Shu

13. Zhao Jun story outside the qin repertoire
For drama, see for example Han Gong Qiu (or Han Gong Qiu Yuan; 18531.161 漢宮秋[怨]), a Yuan qu apparently on this theme. A play of this title by 馬致遠 Ma Zhiyuan (ca. 1250 - ca. 1323) is translated in Liu Jung-En, Six Yuan Plays, Penguin Classics, 1972.

The title Han Gong Qiu [Yuan] also commonly refers to the story of another palace concubine, Ban Jieyu, who complains of rarely seeing the emperor (see 秋扇吟 Qiushan Yin, a poem and an alternate title of Han Gong Qiu).

14. The <1491 lyrics begin, 含恨出宮闈,撫心傷悲....

15. Yuefu Shiji lyrics for Zhaojun Yuan
The seven sets of lyrics are attributed to:

  1. 王嬙 Wang Zhaojun herself
  2. 梁王叔英妻劉氏 Wang Shuying's wife nee Liu
  3. 陳後王 the last ruler of the Chen dynasty
  4. 白居易 Bai Juyi
  5. 張祐 Zhang You (張祜 Zhang Hu
  6. 梁氏瓊 Liang Shiqiong
  7. 楊凌 Yang Ling.

These are all set to music in 1511. YFSJ also has other poems on this theme; for example, Folio 29 (pp.424-435) has a 王明君 Wang Mingjun and 王昭君 Wang Zhaojun with lyrics by a number of poets.

16. Zhaojun Yuan in Xilutang Qintong (1525; III/232)
This version is quite similar to that of Shen Qi Mi Pu for the first six sections. However, Section 7, which in SQMP repeats Section 2, is in XLTQT a rather plain new melody in harmonics accompanied by the lyrics below.


After this the closing in XLTQT (the second half of its Section 8, then Section 9) is rather similar to Section 8 of SQMP. This suggests that when playing the SQMP version the song could be inserted between Sections 6 and 7. However, there is not record of this ever having been done.

17. For the original Chinese preface see 龍朔操.

18. For the original Chinese subtitles see 龍朔操.

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Chart Tracing melodies about Wang Zhaojun in the desert

Further details: information based on these entries in Zha Fuxi's Guide:

LSC    龍朔操     Longshuo Cao (7/73/113)
ZZCS 昭君出塞 Zhaojun Chu Sai (16/167/365)
LXC   龍翔操     Longxiang Cao
ZJY    昭君怨     Zhaojun Yuan

  琴譜 Qin Handbook
 (year; QQJC Vol/page)
解說詞 Further information: T (小標題 Section titles); L (歌詞 Lyrics);
             QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu
  1.  神奇秘譜
      (1425; I/159 [here])
Huangzhong Diao (HZD); "old name Zhaojun Yuan"
  2.  浙音釋字琴譜
      (<1491; I/243)
HZD; melody same as 1425 but adds lyrics
  3. 謝琳太古遺音
    (1511; I/298 [more])
HZD; sections are not numbered but the lyrics make the divisions clear (6 + 6 + 1)
  4. 西麓堂琴統
      (1525; III/234)
Yingzhong Diao, = HZD; "also called Mingfei Qu"
  5. 發明琴譜
      (1530; I/363)
HZD; lyrics are a variation on 1491; they begin:
  6. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/352)
  7. 梧岡琴譜
      (1546; I/450)
  8. 琴譜正傳
      (1561; II/466)
Identical to 1546 (see also text)
  9. 步虛僊琴譜
      (1556; #50)
Tuning not indicated; = 1425?
Not in QQJC III: see facsimile
10. 太音傳習
      (1552-61; IV/153)
HZD; ToC lists title as ZJY
11. 太音補遺
      (1557; III/389)
HZD; ToC lists title as Longxiang Cao
12. 新刊正文對音捷要
      (1573; --)
Same as 1585?
13. 重修真傳琴譜
      (1585; IV/489)
HZD; lyrics = 1530
14. 琴書大全
      (1590; V/522)
HZD; see also p.258ff for further commentary
15. 文會堂琴譜
      (1596; VI/264)
Ruibin tuning (changing 1 3 5 6 1 2 3 to 2 3 5 6 1 2 3)
It is still related to the above, generally avoiding the first string
16. 陽春堂琴譜
      (1611; VII/478)
Ruibin: see previous
17. 理性元雅
      (1618; VIII/257)
HZD: rel. to 1425; "also called Longxiang Cao", but Zhaojun story
18. 澄鑒堂琴譜
      (1689; XIV/322)
Completely new melody: standard tuning; 商角音 shangjiao yin;
Today usually called Dragon Soaring Melody (龍翔操 Longxiang Cao)
19. 存古堂琴譜
      (1726; XV/284)
20. 琴香堂琴譜
      (1760; XVII/157)
商角音; quite like modern
21. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/361)
Same as 1689 but name changed and 宮調徵音 gong diao zhi yin
Guan Pinghu recorded this version
22. 鄰鶴齋琴譜
      (1830; XXI/45)
No further info but seems to be standard tuning
23. 行有恒堂錄存琴譜
      (1840; XXIII/194)
Standard tuning
24. 蕉庵琴譜
徵音; "also called ZJY"
Liu Chuhua recording
25. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/323)
" = 1802"
26. 希韶閣琴譜
    (1878; XXVI/xxx)
27. 枯木禪琴譜
      (1893; XXVIII/67)
徵意; "also called ZJY"
28a. 雅齋琴譜叢集
      (? Not in QQJC)
商角音; "based on 青箱齋本 "
28b. 雅齋琴譜叢集
      (? Not in QQJC)
no mode indication; "based on 益州譜"

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