T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
TGYY ToC   /   Trace? listen 聽   /   首頁
07. Wen Wang Melody
- Standard tuning:2 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 played as 4 5 7b 1 2 4 5
Wen Wang Cao 1
According to the
Shi Ji and other sources, Wen Wang (Civil King; referred to in the lyrics as "Chang"4) laid the groundwork for defeating the corrupt Shang government but died before the struggle was completed; in 1122 BCE his two sons Wu Wang (Martial King) and Zhou Gong (Duke of Zhou) completed this task, thereby establishing the Zhou dynasty. This song commemorates the pending victory of Wen Wang. The source of the music is not known;5 the source of the lyrics is also unknown, but they seem to be very ancient.6

The introduction in Taigu Yiyin follows quite closely the commentary for the Wen Wang Cao in the Qin Melody Lyrics section of the Yuefu Shiji,7 the main difference being that a reference to there being phoenixes bearing letters (which is also in the lyrics) is changed in the Taigu Yiyin preface to there being unicorns in the suburbs (jiaosou) and phoenixes nesting in the eaves (a ge). Later commentary on the YFSJ text also suggests that some sources have attributed the melody to Wu Wang instead of Wen Wang.

As for the lyrics, which are also from Yuefu Shiji, they include what seem to be references to divination and or astronomy/astrology.8 This can be seen in the mention of the Five Shen ("spirits", but here "planets"),9 the use of the word lian ("link"),10 and the mention of Fang ("Chamber": the name of a constellation).11 It might also be noted here that according to some traditions Wen Wang was an author of the Yi Jing, but there is no obvious connection to that here.12

This short melody and its lyrics survive in the qin repertoire only in Taigu Yiyin (1511 and 1515).13 There may be a slight melodic connection to #9 Wen Wang Qu, which is set to poems 236-8 of the Shi Jing, and to Wen Wang Si Shun, which is usually called Si Shun, though it is sometimes called Wen Wang Cao or Wen Wang Qu in later handbooks, but this is probably coincidental.

Original preface14

According to the old Qin Cao,

Zhou (Xin, the last Shang ruler) was a man without Dao, so all the world's noble people submitted to Wen Wang's change (to good government). At that time unicorns were seen in the suburbs and phoenixes nested in the eaves. Wen Wang thought the great disorders were about to be controlled, (and so) created this piece. It was (then) made into an instrumental song.

Xie Xiyi's Qin Lun15 says,

Wen Wang Cao was created by Wen Wang."  
Music and Lyrics: One section16
A largely syllabic setting, following the structure of the YFSJ lyrics ([4+4] x 6):
(Timings follow my recording , which includes #8 Keshang Cao)

Yì yì áo xiáng, bǐ fèng huáng xī.
Wings flapping as it soars,
    this phoenix, ah,

Xián shū lái yí, yǐ huì Chāng xī.
With letter in mouth arrives on a ceremonial visit,17
    in order to meet with Chang (i.e., me), ah.

Zhān tiān àn tú, Yīn jiāng wáng xī.
It looks as though Heaven has made plans,
    and the Yin (Shang) dynasty is about to perish, ah.

Cāng cāng zhī tiān, shǐ yǒu méng xī.
The long range (plans of) Heaven
    are beginning to have sprouts, ah.

Wǔ shén lián jīng, hé móu fáng xī.
The Five Planets have linked their essences,
    jointly to deliberate within the Fang asterism.

Xìng wǒ zhī yè, wàng yáng lái xī.
(These) cause the flourishing of our great enterprise,
    so I gaze far off18 at their coming.

The recording now continues with Overcoming Shang Melody (剋商操 Keshang Cao). Here, as well as in Yuefu Shiji, its lyrics come immediately after those of Wen Wang Cao.

00.58 上告皇天兮,可以行乎。
Shàng gào huáng tiān xī, kě yǐ xíng hū.
Having announced this up to high heaven,
        can one begin?
01.18 (end)

The Keshang Cao lyrics are attributed to Wen Wang's son, Wu Wang, who actually defeated Shang on his father's behalf. The extreme brevity of these lyrics provides a temptation to put them together with Wen Wang Cao.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Wen Wang Melody (文王操 Wen Wang Cao
13766.36 says it is a qin melody with lyrics from the Yue Fu. It then quotes the YFSJ preface and lyrics.

2. Tuning and mode: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 played as 4 5 7b 1 2 4 5
This interpretation of the relative pitches, somewhat speculative as Taigu Yiyin does not group melodies by tuning or mode and this melody occurs only here, suggests that the closest modal connections of Wen Wang Cao are to several melodies said to be in zhi mode (see Shenpin Zhi Yi, in particular this paragraph). This interpretation has four of the six phrases (including the last one) end on the note 1 (gong/do), with the other two phrases ending on 5 (zhi/sol). Thus the primary tonal center is the note 1 and the secondary tonal center is 5 (zhi/sol). The primary tonal center is also the equivalent note to the open 4th string (called zhi). There are three non-pentatonic notes, each played once: 4 (彼), 7b (翱) and 7 (神). Overall the note count is do:20, re:6, mi:6, fa:1, sol:14, la:2, ti flat:1, ti:1.

4. 昌 "Chang" was the actual name of Wen Wang.

5. Source of the music
Other than the fact that the music was never published until 2500 years later, there are a number of differing melodies all with the same attribution.

6. Source of the lyrics
In his Astrology and Cosmology in Early China [Cambridge, 2013], p.208, Prof. David W. Pankenier of Lehigh University quoted lyrics clearly related to the Yuefu Shiji lyrics of the Wen Wang Cao in Taigu Yiyin, as follows:

Consider once again this particularly striking account of King Wen’s receipt of the Mandate from Huan Tan’s (d. 28 CE) "New Discourses":

Afterward there was a Phoenix in the suburbs that grasped a "Writing" in its beak. King Wen said, "The Yin [Shang] Lord does not act according to the Way, [he] tyrannizes and disorders all under Heaven. The August Mandate has already shifted, [he] will not persist for long." Thereupon King Wen composed the “Song of the Phoenix,” which goes,

The Phoenix soars [down] on spreading wings;
Clasping a "Writing" it comes gamboling, thereby to command Chang [King Wen].
I gazed up at Heaven and examined the Diagram;
Yin [Shang] is about to expire [it portended].
Great Heaven is azure, azure;
First there [sc. in the heavens] was a presage [lit. "sprouting"].
The linked essences of the Five Spirits [the planets in Han usage] met in lodge Chamber [Sco] to deliberate.

Although this was composed after the planetary massing had already been reassigned to lunar mansion Chamber, there is no mistaking the identities of the Five Spirits. The elemental phase associated with Zhou was first changed from Fire to Wood at the end of the Western Han Dynasty, hence it is only from the apocrypha of mid-Han date on that the location of the Zhou planetary omenbegan to be reported as Chamber. (太平御覽 Taiping Yulan 84.5b)

The original Xin Lun text (from Chinese Wiki) is as follows:

其後,有鳳凰銜書于郊。文王曰:「殷帝無道,虐亂天下,皇命已移,不得複久。」乃作《鳳凰》之歌曰: <「翼翼翔翔,鸞皇兮。

There is further on qin related writings by Huan Tan below.

7. Yuefu Shiji commentary
YFSJ, p.830, quotes Xie Zhuang and others, as follows:

古樂苑 adds: 「玉海」作:「文王,鳳凰歌。」

古樂苑 Gu Le Yuan is a Ming dynasty work by 梅鼎 Mei Ding, in 58 folios.

8. Divination/astrology references
As yet I do not completely understand the significance of these references, but there is some related commentary in David W. Pankenier, The Cosmo-Political Background of Heaven's Mandate, Early China 20 (1995), pp. 121-176 (currently available online). On pp.124 & 129 it says,

"The account of the event in the Bamboo Annals 今本竹書紀念, recorded under the reign of Di Xin 帝辛 of Shang and his rival King Wen 文王 of Zhou a few years before the Zhou overthrow of the Shang dynasty, currently reads wu xing ju yu fang, you da chi wu ji yu Zhou she 五星聚于房 有大赤烏集于周社, "the five planets gathered in Room; a great scarlet crow alighted on the Zhou altar to the soil."

Prof. Pankenier, who provided further assistance with this passage, discusses in this article how related astronomical observations were considered significant to the success of Wen Wang. He also pointed out an interpretation via musical notes attributed to the music master Ling Zhoujiu.

9. Five Spirits (五神 Wu Shen)
There are other associations as well, such as the five elements and five elements. "Planets" (or "stars") seems most likely here because of the comments in a footnote above.

10. lian (link)
Prof. David W. Pankenier writes the following (personal correspondence): "The 連 of 連精 is an allusion to 連珠 which is short for 日月如合璧,五星如連珠, in reference to such epoch-making conjunctions of planets."

11. Fang (Chamber): name of an asterism
Instead of a zodiac, with 12 constellations on the apparent path of the sun across the sky, the traditional Chinese system had 28 asterisms following the apparent path of the moon. On the fourth day the moon aligned with the asterism 房 Fang (Chamber); it consists of four stars within the constellation that the Western system calls Scorpio.

12. Yi Jing connection
Not yet studied.

13. Tracing Wen Wang Cao
The present melody seems to occur only here. Three relevant entries in Zha Fuxi's Guide have been examined:

These have not been completely studied, but the present lyrics also occur only in 1585 and 1802, and the melodies there are different.

14. Preface to Wen Wang Cao (1511)
The original text is,


Regarding the "old" Qin Cao", the Yuefu Shiji text did not say "old", and the source of the first part of this commentary is unclear. Could it have been the Qin Cao not by Cai Yong but the one attributed to Huan Tan (QSCM, #10)? His 琴道篇 Qin Dao Pian (中文) is said to have included an introduction to Wen Wang Cao, and his 續成琴道 Xu Cheng Qin Dao (QSCM, #11) as well as his Xin Lun had numerous other qin-related references.

15. 謝希逸琴論 Qin Lun of Xie Xiyi
Entry #20 in Zhou Qinyun's Qinshu Cunmu (1914) quotes its contents extensively. Xie Xiyi is Xie Zhuang (421-466).

16. Original lyrics
The Chinese lyrics without translation are as follows:


The setting is 1 note per syllable except that the characters 天 tian, 殷 Yin and 將 jiang each have two notes.

17. Ceremonial visit
In Taigu Yiyin the character is yi (儀 , ceremony); in Yuefu Shiji it is you (遊 wander).

18. yang as "distant")
This yang usually means "ram", but here 羊 seems to be short for 洋, 佯 or 陽, and thus "望羊 wang yang" means "gaze into the distance".

Return to the top or to the Taigu Yiyin ToC