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Introduction to Zheyin Shizi Qinpu
Qin Handbook of Music of the Zhe(jiang School) Elucidated through Lyrics

The second major surviving handbook, Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (hereafter Zheyin) has been attributed to Zhu Quan's grandson and heir, Zhu Dianpei2 (1418-91). The surviving copy, now apparently lost but fortunately first reproduced in Qinqu Jicheng, has two folios. The book originally had 34 pieces and eight modal preludes; all have lyrics (SQMP had none). 19 or 20 of the pieces (one is missing) and all surviving modal preludes (one is missing) are identical with the versions in SQMP. Of the 14 additional melodies, five are different versions of SQMP pieces, nine are new titles.

In contrast to SQMP, very little has been published concerning Zheyin or Zhu Dianpei: I have found only the brief introduction Zha Fuxi wrote in Cunjian Guqin Qupu Jilan;3 his slightly different and longer version in Volume I of the first edition of Qinqu Jicheng; and a verbatim reproduction of the latter in Volume I of the Qinqu Jicheng new series. Zha makes reference to the official Ming History, which mentions Zhu Dianpei in its biography of Princes of Ning.

Furthermore, the only other reconstruction I can find of any of the 14 additional melodies found therein is the one by Wang Di of Yangguan Sandie;4 it does not include the tablature and there is no recording. The recording and corresponding transcriptions from Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (published with the title Music Beyond Sound) include all it pieces with new music (except the fragmentary Qiao Ge). Hopefully it will be of some interest to the qin world and those interested in ancient music.

According to the prefaces by Zha Fuxi the only known surviving copy of Zheyin was found in the ancient Tian Yi Ge,5 book collection belonging to the Fan family in Ningbo, east of Hangzhou. The Tian Yi Ge Book Catalogue mistakenly calls it the Emaciated Immortal's Shen Qi Mi Pu (Zhu Quan called himself Qu Xian, the Emaciated Immortal), perhaps because of the great number of identical melodies.

Zhu Dianpei: "Xi Xian":6 the compiler of Zheyin Shizi Qinpu?

In 1448 Zhu Dianpei (1418 - 1491) succeeded his grandfather Zhu Quan as prince of Nanchang. Zhu Quan, 17th son of the founder of the Ming dynasty and the first prince of Ning, had been originally enfeoffed at Daning,7 north of the Great Wall, but in 1403 was effectively banished to Nanchang, where he participated in numerous artistic and scientific endeavors until his death in 1448. His first son Zhu Panshi8 died in 1437, so Panshi's first son Zhu Dianpei became heir apparent then, in 1448, succeeded with the title Peaceful Prince.9 Zhu Dianpei died in 1491. The official Ming History says he was an accomplished writer, author of a one-volume Poetry Criticism.10 The only other information it has about him concerns accusations made by his younger brother in 1456; Zhu Dianpei was found guilty, but pardoned.

Because the first folio of Zheyin Shizi Qinpu is missing the first four pages, we have no title page or preface, so there remain a number of mysteries about this handbook. The main one is: who was the Xi Xian (Beyond-Sounds Immortal) who wrote prefaces and presumably compiled the collection? How reliable are the assertions that Xi Xian was another name for Zhu Dianpei?

The second folio, after giving the title, "Zheyin Shizi Qinpu, Final Folio", says "Edited and interpreted by Antiquarian Gong Jing of the Banze district of Nanchang, a Confucian devotee."11 Nanchang, now capital city of Jiangxi province in central China, is the city where Zhu Quan and his royal descendants lived. The only biographical information available about Gong Jing is a comment in Chongxiu Zhenchuan Qinpu (1585; see below) that he assisted Xi Xian.

All of the pieces in Zheyin Shizi Qinpu have introductions beginning "Xi Xian (the 'Beyond Sounds Immortal') says". This Xi Xian refers to Zhu Quan as his "royal ancestor",12 and it is mainly because of this and the added lyrics that Chinese sources say Xi Xian was Zhu Dianpei, grandson of Zhu Quan, and his successor in Nanchang.

One other source of information about Zheyin is the Chongxiu Zhenchuan Qinpu (hereafter CXZCQP), published in 1585 by Yang Biaozheng of Yongan, in the Yanping district of central Fujian province. CXZCQP has 105 pieces, all also having lyrics. Although the lyrics are almost exactly the same for the 37 pieces in Zheyin also found in CXZCQP, the music is all quite different. Neither book mentions the source of its lyrics. The melodies in the latter book seem more clearly intended for singing.

With regard to this, in a preface to CXZCQP one Liu Yu13 wrote,

In the past Xi Xian, our prince of Jiangfan,14 helped by Antiquarian Gong, at that time edited Taiyin Shizi.15 However, from the way they wrote it seems that they were obscuring things. Now, though, (Yang Biaozheng) of Yongan has bestowed (CXZCQP) on later generations, clarifying all the secrets....

CXZCQP also, in a section called Listing of Sages (with connections to the qin), mentions the names Zhu Quan, Xi Xian and Antiquarian Gong. It adds that Xi Xian wrote the melodies Siqi Xing16 and Jixu Yin17 (neither is in any known handbooks), and that Antiquarian Gong wrote Xi Xian Cao,18 Tanshi Cao19 and Wangdao Song20 (also not in any known handbooks). These people are also mentioned in some later similar lists.

My own inclination from this is to suspect that Taiyin Shizi was the complete work, perhaps better made, perhaps only hand-copied, and the Zheyin which has survived is a badly done copy of the second half of Taiyin Shizi. However, I know of no way at present to corroborate such a conjecture.

As for CXZCQP "clarifying all the secrets", I find its music even more problematic than Zheyin. Perhaps this mainly shows I am unfamiliar with its style. However, I know of no published recordings of music reconstructed from CXZCQP.


See the Sample Page of Zheyin Shizi Qinpu either in the original handbook or in my collection of transcriptions, Music Beyond Sound, the Book, in order to get a better idea of the errors which are to be found in this book.

If Xi Xian, a prince, compiled the book, why is it that Zheyin is so badly printed and contains so many errors? "Errors" can be of two basic kinds - hidden and obvious. Since the finger positions and movements were generally describing how a particular person played a melody, the transcriber, or copyist, might get that wrong, but the results could still be playable, so the mistake is hidden. Or if a piece is being copied from an old book into a new one there is again a chance for both hidden errors (or re-interpretations, or corrections) as well as obvious ones - where what is written is unplayable. For example, if the tablature says to slide up from the 8th to the 9th position there must be a mistake, because from 8th to 9th is down, not up.

SQMP has very few such obvious mistakes, Zheyin has many. SQMP has virtually no unclear characters/figures; Zheyin has many. On this basis one can surmise that Zheyin also has more hidden errors. However, one must also keep in mind the possibility that the SQMP texts originally had an equal number of errors and that in some cases Zhu Quan (or someone else) made corrections based on misinterpreting the original player's intentions, making the work represent the later performer rather than the earlier.

Sources of the music

Zhu Quan wrote that he collected the music in SQMP from various sources; most are thought to be Song dynasty or earlier. What are the sources of the additional music in Zheyin and, being published later, do these represent a later tradition?

There are enough similar characteristics within these additional pieces to suggest they represent a particular style. This is also very similar to much of the SQMP style, but to me they also feel slightly different, though I cannot say why. Could it be my own style changing, or the fact that tablature unclarity or errors required me to do more guesswork? Or could the pieces represent some later evolution, such as early Ming developments of the famous Zhe school in relatively remote Nanchang?21 Is this why later versions of pieces first surviving in Zheyin can always be more closely affiliated to versions in other handbooks than to the ones in Zheyin?

On the other hand, one might also speculate that, of course, Zhu Quan and his group collected more pieces, including alternate versions, than were eventually published in SQMP. Perhaps this is the source of the Zheyin additions, omitted from the earlier book because of the mistakes in the tablature or even a rejection of the style.

The title of Zheyin would seem to indicate the music is representative of the music of the Zhe school of qin play. This style, which flourished during a period dating at least from the late Song to early Ming dynasties (12th to 15th centuries AD), is similar enough to that of many SQMP melodies that one might assume the pieces in both handbooks come from the same school.

On the other hand, the Zhe school is said to have emphasized fluidity of melodies, as opposed to the Jiang school, which emphasized lyrics, saying qin music should always be accompanied by song. It is somewhat odd, then, that this Zhe-school handbook has lyrics. Perhaps the person who named the collection wanted to show that lyrics could be applied to music of the Zhe school as well.

It might also be mentioned that Zhu Quan, before being sent to Nanchang, had requested transfer to Suzhou or nearby Hangzhou in Zhejiang province. There may be a connection between his interest in that area and his handbook including music from there. There should be some significance to the fact that Zheyin was compiled in Nanchang over 50 years later but its music seems to come from an apparently similar source as that of SQMP.

How complete is the surviving edition of Zheyin Shizi Qinpu?

As mentioned above, the only known copy of Zheyin had two folios. The first folio had 66 (double) pages, but is missing 1 to 4 and 15 to 21. The last folio has pages 67 to 143, but ends during a piece. It contains 32 named pieces (four fragmentary) and eight modal preludes.22

Revising this figure to 34 pieces and eight modal preludes is based on filling in what was most likely in these missing pages. Pages 1 to 4 almost certainly included the two missing pieces from SQMP in the jiao mode (Jiao Yi and Lingxu Yin, as well as the first part of Liezi Yufeng) -- the space is exactly right, assuming these pieces had the same length as they did in SQMP. The space available in the missing pages 15 to 21 is also such as to support an assumption that it included only the latter part of Tiantai Yin and the first part of Qiao Ge.

All these pieces in jiao, zhi, yu and shangjiao modes use standard tuning; those in ruibin, guxian, huangzhong and qiliang modes use various non-standard tunings. In addition to the surviving (jiao is missing) modal preludes, all 16 pieces using non-standard tunings which are also in SQMP have tablature identical to that in SQMP. Of the nine using standard tuning which are also in SQMP, five are quite different (one is fragmentary); one is missing; and the other three are identical to SQMP (including the opening, fragmentary piece, and the two in shangjiao mode, which for some reason both SQMP and Zheyin place, almost hidden, amongst pieces having non-standard tuning).

This imbalance of melodies in the surviving Zheyin Shizi Qinpu makes one ask: might it originally have had another folio with more pieces? Why does it have no pieces using gong, shang, man gong, man shang or man jiao modes? These five modes contain 28 of the 64 pieces in SQMP and could naturally have come at the beginning of Zheyin. A recovered first folio might then logically have included:

Probably for this reason Zha Fuxi (1958) questions whether the surviving first folio of Zheyin is in fact the middle folio. Yet Zheyin's two folios are numbered consecutively beginning on page one of the first folio.

Another way to try to determine whether certain melodies might originally have been included in the original Zheyin Shizi Qinpu comes through pairing the lyrics of a later melody with the fingering that the version in Shen Qi Mi Pu provides. Almost all qin melodies with lyrics use a standard pairing method, assigning one character for each right hand and certain left hand strokes (this formula might be compared to the formula for writing ci lyrics: both can be done without knowing the actual melody). Examination shows that the lyrics of several pieces in Chongxiu Zhenchuan Qinpu (CXZCQP; particulary in Folio 9) can be applied to the music of several further pieces in SQMP, in spite of the actual music being very different.23 With some pieces it is difficult to test this assertion. For example, the lyrics from the Dunshi Cao in CXZCQP can be made to fit the notes of the SQMP version; it is a bit tricky, but perhaps no more so than with some of the other Folio I pieces, with their rather complex tablature.

The potential pairing of lyrics with the music in SQMP is done by comparing the number of "word spaces" (right hand and certain left hand strokes) in a section of a SQMP piece with the number of characters that make up the lyrics in the same section of a CXZCQP piece. In reality this is not quite so straightforward as it may sound. For example, one has to decide whether to ignore the filler characters in the lyrics (e.g. "na" ["that"], "ni'na" ["you'that"] or "de'na" [of'that]), and then not count in the tablature the left hand stroke techniques like duiqi, which are usually paired with these meaningless syllables; or to try strictly to match them. The tablature itself is not always strict about this, so there is some leeway.

Besides Dunshi Cao, other pieces to examine in this regard include Zhao Yin, Huo Lin, Guanghan You, and Wang Ji. It will be observed, for example, that according to the principles described in the previous paragraph the comparison is as follows for Section 1 of Guanghan You:

CXZCQP: 109 characters, phrased as follows: 4,4. 5,5. 3,3,3+8,4,6. 6,6. 7,4. 6,6. 3,8. 4,6. 8.

SQMP: 109 "word spaces", phrased as follows: 4, 4, 7, 9, 10, 10, 9, 4, 13, 11, 3, 13, 4, 4, 4

With regard to the differences in phrasing it should be added that of the pieces in SQMP Folio 1 none originally had punctuation (in the second edition punctuation was added for six melodies, but this presumably was speculative). This, plus the above-mentioned fact that the 37 pieces that are in both Zheyin and CXZCQP have the same lyrics, might be considered further evidence that there was once a more complete edition of Zheyin which included at least these particular pieces.

Once again, this perhaps supports the argument that someone acquired part of a good quality handbook from the court (or if the original was only a manuscript, perhaps it was not such good quality) and had it printed himself, but was not capable of editing or proof-reading it properly (the printers would not have understood the qin tablature). If so, this could explain the missing pieces which should have begun the book.

Are they qin'ge (qin songs)?

If the Zhe school emphasized fluidity of melodies, as opposed to the Jiang school, which emphasized lyrics, why does this supposedly Zhe-school handbook have lyrics? Does the pairing of melody and lyrics suggest or even allow singing them?

Perhaps at one time some people believed that the melodies with lyrics, because they were simpler, must have been older. There is insufficient evidence in general to support such a belief, and the example of the complex music of Zheyin having lyrics might also seem to refute it - unless the lyrics were added for philosophical reasons rather than to make actual qin song.

CXZCQP is said to be representative of the Jiang school, which encouraged qin songs, and it is clear that most of its lyrics were intended to be sung. The pieces in Zheyin, in spite of their largely identical lyrics, do not so clearly have this intention. The following transcriptions of music for the same two phrases of lyrics from each of these handbooks show the difference clearly.

Unfortunately, little has been written about how actually to sing the lyrics that can be found in qin handbooks. One can assume that octave leaps would be evened out in the voice. There is no indication of whether the lyrics are to be repeated when the melody is repeated, as it is in the second line of the first example below.

Opening of Xiao Hujia in Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (1491; punctuation is from SQMP tablature)

Opening of Xiao Hujia in Chongxiu Zhenchuan Zhengzong Qinpu (1585; punctuation follows the lyrics)

The differences in style are easy to see: Zheyin melodies, being the same as those in the purely instrumental SQMP, have less clearly vocal style; CXZCQP pieces have less left hand ornamentation, something more common with qin melodies that are more clearly songs. Since nothing is written about how to sing either one, the only way to get an answer to such questions is probably to reconstruct large sections of the repertoire, try to sing them, and see to what this leads.

In Zheyin the above pairing of the lyrics and music leaves the impression that either the compiler wrote the lyrics himself but didn't know the music very well, or he had some pre-existing lyrics he was trying to fit to the music but couldn't quite do it. The pairing in CXZCQP of the same lyrics to a related melody music does fit: has its music been changed to fit the lyrics of Zheyin? Or does CXZCQP represent an older sung version, and the compiler of Zheyin was trying to fit those lyrics to the music of the Zhe school?

Another early handbook said to represent a lyrical style is Taigu Yiyin. In 1976 Dr. Dale Olsen, then at Chinese University of Hong Kong, performed in Hong Kong his own reconstructions of several pieces from Taigu Yiyin. As of now, I know of no commercial recordings from this first collection. The same is true of both CXZCQP and, except for my recording, Zheyin.

Since, except as just noted, none of these pieces had been played for centuries (though a few of the Zheyin pieces also found in SQMP have been reconstructed recently from that book), in Zheyin it cannot be said that the relationship between lyrics and music in old qin handbooks has been properly studied. In Zheyin much of the rhythm of the lyrics does seem to fit the rhythm of the music. However, this does not necessarily mean the music was intended to be sung. They could have been used as a mnemonic device, either studied while learning the piece, or sung by the performer to himself when playing.

Music Beyond Sound

Concerning the "Xi Xian" of the introductions, the translation "Beyond-Sounds Immortal" and the title Music Beyond Sound are based on a reference in Laozi, Chapter 11, which says of the Tao24:

"One looks but is unable to see it, so it is called 'formless'; one listens but is unable to hear it, so it is called 'soundless' (xi); one grasps but is unable to hold it, so it is called 'intangible'. These three, being unresolvable, are mixed together as one."

"Soundless" here implies beyond normal hearing.25

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Zheyin Shizi Qinpu 浙音釋字琴譜
This handbook is included in Vol. 1 of both the old (Beijing, 1962) and new (Shanghai, 1981; pp.187-252) series of 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng. The first folio had (double) pages 1 to 66, but is missing 1 to 4 and 5 to 21. The last folio has pages 67 to 143, but ends during a piece. In Qinqu Jicheng (New Series) the missing pages are indicated on pages 187, 192 and 252. The second folio (卷 juan) begins on page 214. For speculation about the missing parts see "How complete is the surviving edition of Zheyin?" below.

2. 朱奠培 Zhu Dianpei
No separate Ming Shi biography. See further notes above.

3. 存見古琴曲譜輯覽, Beijing, 1958; p. 53

4. 王迪 Wang Di, 琴歌 Qin Ge; Beijing, 1982, pp.2-6. Not in 1989.

5. 天一閣 Heaven First Pavilion. The original library in Ningbo still stands, about half a block northwest of Moon Lake, but the books have been moved.

6. Beyond Sounds Immortal (希仙 Xi Xian)
希仙 9025.23: type of grass and nickname of someone in the Qing dynasty. However, the association of 希 xi with 希聲 xisheng (the most rarified sounds, i.e., beyond-sound sounds) goes back to Laozi and the 道德經 Dao De Jing, where it is written "大音希聲,大象無形 the greatest sounds are the xisheng: most rarified tones; the greatest shapes are those without shape." Although 希仙 Xi Xian is thought to have been a nickname for Zhu Dianpei, this has not been confirmed.

希聲 Xisheng turns up later in the title of another handbook that pairs lyrics to all its music, Taiyin Xisheng (1625).

7. 大寧 Da Ning

8. 朱盤烒 Zhu Panshi

9. 寧靖王 Ningjing Wang

10. 詩評 Shi Ping; I have not been able to locate this work.

11. 龔經 Gong Jing
The original text says, "南昌板澤嵇古生龔經效孔編釋 Edited and interpreted by Antiquarian Gong Jing of the Banze district of Nanchang, a Confucian devotee".
The only further information about 龔經 Gong Jing seems to be in 1585.

12. 祖王 zu wang

13. 劉御 Liu Yu; see in 1585

14. 江藩, another name for the Nanchang region

15. 太音釋字 Transmitting Lyrics with the Great Sounds; this could be an alternative title for Zheyin, or perhaps a similar handbook (they apparently were handcopied, not printed)

16. 思妻行 Thinking of my Wife

17. 亟 (?, has water radical!) 虛吟 ; Extreme Void Intonation

18. 希仙操 Xi Xian's Piece

19. 嘆世操 Sighing about the World

20. 王道頌 Rhapsody on the Kingly Way

21. 浙派 Zhe stands for Zhejiang, a province south of the modern city of Shanghai in central eastern China.

22. Modal Preludes
The eight modal preludes (調意 diao yi) in Zheyin are for the following modes: 徽, 羽, 商角, 蕤濱, 姑洗, 黃鍾, 淒涼 and 慢宮; 宮, 商, 角, 慢商 and 慢角 are missing.

23. Oddity in the pairing
As mentioned, lyrics are paired by the method of one character for each dian, apparently defined as any right hand and certain left hand strokes. Thus, by counting the number of dian in a melody one can determine the number of characters required. For a number of melodies in the 1585 handbook the number of characters for the lyrics in each section seem to correspond very well with the number of dian in the 1425 tablature. In some cases each phrase seems to match as well, but in other cases although the overall number of characters from 1585 is the same as the number of dian in 1425, there seems to be little or no relationship between the phrasing of the 1585 lyrics and the 1425 melody. I do not have an explanation for this phenomenon.

24. 老子,十四﹕視之不見,名曰夷;聽之不聞,名曰希;搏之不得,名曰微。此三者 不可致詰,故混而為一。

25. Music Beyond Sound: Does this mean playing without sound? (compare "nature's melody")
Some people try to connect concepts such as "music beyond sound" with experiences they have had, or heard about, of people playing notes, slides in particular, that are inaudible to the listener, or even to the player, suggesting a connection between this and ideas such as empty space in Chinese painting. I disagree with this. If, whenever I am playing, no sound is coming out I think it is because either I haven't played properly, the instrument is not good enough, or there is too much extraneous sound. To put it another way, I have never met a music passage in the traditional repertoire that, given the right circumstances, could not be played in a way that allowed every written note to be heard. In addition, since when playing qin one can get as much quiet as one wants simply by pausing between notes - and this is indeed an essential part of many melodies - why bother to put in instructions to play something that has no sound?

In addition, while silence is indeed important in qin music, it should be pointed out that it is also important in the music of many other cultures as well, including many forms of Western music.

Return to the Zheyin Shizi Qinpu index or to the Guqin ToC.