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27. Wenjun Melody
- Shang mode:2 standard tuning (5 6 1 2 3 5 6) played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 )
文君操 1
Wenjun Cao
Seduction at the east wall 3    
There are two famous sets of lyrics connected to the seduction of Wenjun by Sima Xiangru: the anonymous ones used here ("There is a beautiful lady....") and those attributed to Sima Xiangru himself ("The phoenix has returned home...."; see in
1525). The present melody sets the former lyrics, and there are also several more settings of them to be found in later qin handbooks.4 As for the seduction itself, it is one of China's best known love stories, also found in other media, opera in particular.5

This story can be found in Shi Ji 117, the biography of the famous poet Sima Xiangru (179-113 BCE), from Chengdu in modern Sichuan province. It concerns the then-impoverished poet and Zhuo Wenjun (or Wen Jun), the widowed daughter of Zhuo Wangsun, a wealthy man of Linqiong, a town south of Chengdu.6 One day during a social event in the wealthy man's home Xiangru played the qin, expressing himself through this playing7 not to mention the lyrics). Hearing this from the next room, Wenjun fell in love. The two eloped, living for a while in poverty at Sima Xiangru's home in Chengdu, but then returning to Qionglai, where Wenjun felt their relatives might help support them. They then opened a wineshop in Qionglai and ran that until her father finally forgave them and gave them money. They then bought a mansion in Chengdu and lived there until Sima Xiangru was summoned to the capital, Chang'an, where they lived the rest of their lives.8 The Shi Ji account seems to suggest they lived happily ever after.9

The earliest surviving version of a melody on this theme is the one here in Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539). Although it has the title Wenjun Cao, later songs with these lyrics, always attributed to Sima Xiangru, are generally called Feng Qiu Huang (A Male Phoenix Searches for his Mate). Completely unrelated musically is the Feng Qiu Huang found in Xilutang Qintong (1525), which is in 10 sections, two with lyrics also attributed to Sima Xiangru.10

The next Feng Qiu Huang, in 1585, has a new melody but the same structure and almost the same lyrics as the one published in 1539. Both are different from the version played today in the Mei'an School, which can be traced to one first surviving in Yang Lun's Taigu Yiyin (<1609), where it has the title Wenjun Cao.

The lyrics accompanying the present melody, translated below, can be heard in the opera Story of the Western Wing, by Yuan dynasty dramatist Wang Shifu.11 Here Scholar Zhang uses them to seduce Yingying (see illustration above and comments on Xi Xiang Ji). This story can be traced back to Yingying Zhuan, a Tang dynasty short story by Yuan Zhen (799-831),12 where it is Yingying playing the qin. She at one stage mentions the Sima Xiangru story, but there are no song lyrics or even mention of a seduction song. A close approximation of the lyrics used here seems to survive first from the earliest known complete zhugongdiao,13 called Xixiang Ji Zhugongdiao, dating from the 12th century. Although these lyrics are also attributed to Sima Xiangru, I don't know of any earlier occurrence than this.

Original preface


Music and Lyrics
Two sections (untitled). The lyrics are as follows
14 (see transcriptions, hear recordings 看五線譜、聽錄音)

There is a beautiful woman, ah;
(I) saw her (and can) not forget (her).
(If the) whole day (I) don't see (her), ah;
thinking of her leads to madness.
(I'm like the) male phoenix flying, soaring and roaming, ah;
(over) four seas searching for (my) female phoenix.
(But) unfortunately (that) beautiful woman, ah,
(is) not at this eastern wall;

Taking up the qin as a substitute for words, ah;
(I) intend to unburden myself of ("write") these true feelings.
On what day (will I) see (your) acceptance (of a betrothal), ah;
(and) relieve my restless anxiety?
A willing word (will bring) union (with one of her) virtue, ah;
hand in hand to each other (we'd be ) joined.
(But since we are ) not able to go flying (i.e., get married), ah;
(it) cases me this depression (and) ruination.

Coda (in harmonics; these lyrics are not in the original poem15)
I think that in life people are seldom together, often apart.

Return to the annotated handbook list or to the Guqin ToC.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 文君操 Wenjun Cao
13766.164 文君 Wen Jun has several people with this name, including Wen Wang as well as 卓文君 Zhuo Wenjun herself; .165 文君新寡 Wenjun Newly Widowed and .166 文君當壚 Wenjun in a Wine Shop give references from the biography of Sima Xiangru in Shi Ji. Seng's list, most ancient section, includes a 文君弄 Wenjun Nong. For surviving qin versions see the chart below.

2. Shang mode (商調 shang diao)
For further information on shang mode see Shenpin Shang Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature. (Further information on the recordings has been moved.)

3. Illustration
This illustration of the famous seduction scene from 西廂記 Xi Xiang Ji is from 張國標 Zhang Guobiao, ed., 徽派版畫藝術 Art of Woodcut of the Huizhou School, 安徽省美術出版社 Anhui Publishing House, 1995, p.117 ("西廂五本:崔鶯鶯夜聽琴")

4. Settings of "There is a beautiful woman" (有美人兮 You mei ren xi)
Zha Fuxi's Guide has two entries, 15/161/353 (文君操 Wenjun Cao) and 22/196/- (鳳求凰 Feng Qiu Huang); the latter includes only the lengthy melody published in 1525 (which uses the other lyrics). The former has the short melodies, all of which use the present lyrics, though sometimes also with variations, particularly in the various codas. After the present version, called Wenjun Cao, they are all called Feng Qiu Huang. There are more details in the Appendix

5. Opera renditions of Sima Xiangru's seduction of Zhuo Wenjun
In addition to the use of these lyrics for the opera Xixiang Ji, there are operas that tell the story directly, including one called Feng Qiu Huang. LXS discusses at least two:

  1. Zhuo Wenjun, attributed to Zhu Quan (LX/160)
  2. Feng Qiu Huang, a Ming chuanqi attributed to 陳玉蟾 Chen Yuchan (LXS/354).

Online one can find modern renditions of this story, using various titles. For example, as of February 2012 YouTube has several scenes from what is said to be a Yueju Opera called Sima Xiangru and Zhuo Wenjun. This scene opens with Sima Xiangru (in Yueju all actors are female) "playing" a qin at a party; the actual music is guzheng with ensemble. Later one can see Wenjun pretending to play the same qin. A subtitle says, "Blood sisters are lovers on stage", but, based the summary with the DVD version from which the YouTube clips were apparently made, this is a minor sub-plot.

6. 臨邛 Linqiong
About 50 km southwest of Chengdu, it is today called 邛崍 Qionglai (see more details).

7. Expressing oneself on the qin: 琴心 Qin xin
The Shi Ji story says Sima Xiangru "以琴心挑之 used the qin to express his emotions," with no mention of lyrics. See more in a footnote to his biography page.

8. Shi Ji adds to the story as given here that when Zhuo Wangsun reconciled with his daughter he gave the couple 100 servants, 1,000,000 in cash plus everything he had already given her for her previous dowry; they then set up very comfortably at a mansion in Chengdu. Later Sima Xiangru was called to Chang An, where he became a palace attendant. His Shi Ji biography also tells of his writing the fu Sir Fantasy, which it includes; his assisting the emperor on matters relating to Shu and Ba (including indigenous nationalities in Sichuan); being dismissed after accusations of accepting bribes, then later reinstated; stuttering and having diabetes; admonishing the emperor on his hunting practices; writing a fu called The Mighty One (included); after after death leaving behind a manuscript dealing with imperial sacrices (also included).

9. YFSJ p.599 has a White Hair Intonation (白頭吟 Baitou Yin). The story behind it is that when Wenjun's hair was turning gray Sima Xiangru was going to leave Wenjun for a younger woman, but he changed his mind after Wenjun wrote Baitou Yin reminding him of the pledges they had made to each other.

10. The other lyrics for Sima Xiangru's love song
The lyrics of that version can be found in 樂府詩集 Yuefu Shiji, 琴曲歌詞 Qin Song Lyrics, p.881. They begin (see complete),

Feng xi, Feng xi, gui gu xiang, aoyou sihai qiu qi huang...
This male phoenix has returned to his old home, after roaming the four seas looking for a mate...."
In contrast, the lyrics found here can quite likely be traced only to Song dynasty publications; I haven't seen anything which gives a reasonable expectation of finding an earlier source.

11. Story of the Western Wing
西廂記 Xixiang Ji, by 王實甫 Wang Shifu. For the passage in which Student Zhang plays qin and sings these lyrics see page 272 of the translation by West and Idema, The Moon and the Zither, University of California Press, 1991.

12. 鶯鶯傳 Yingying Zhuan, by 元稹 Yuan Zhen.

13. 諸宮調 zhugong diao, a type of narrative tale

14. Lyrics of 文君操 Wenjun Cao
The original lyrics of this poem, attributed to Sima Xiangru, are as follows:

有美人兮    見之不忘。



15. Such lyrics can also be found in the lyrics of other melodies. See see appendix below for variations within the present lyrics.

Chart Tracing 文君操 Wenjun Cao / 鳳求凰 Feng Qiu Huang

Only the first is called Wenjun Cao; all have lyrics unless otherwise indicated

    Chinese Title
    (date; location)
Commentary, including:
# of sections; L=lyrics?, mode (see also Zha guide 15/161/353 and 22/196/--)
1. 風宣玄品
    (1539; II/149)
Wenjun Cao (only one with this title; rest all called Feng Qiu Huang); this melody only here (transcription and recordings)
1; both verses but undivided (有美人兮,見之不忘...) + coda (想人生會少離多); shang (1245612)
2. 西麓堂琴統
    (1525; III/264)
Feng Qiu Huang (all the rest also use this title); this melody only here (recording available);
10 (3 & 8 L); 4561235; it is the only melody using the lyrics
3. 重脩真傳琴譜
    (1585; IV/471)
1; both verses as 1539 but no coda; 張 becomes 將; 微 becomes 衷; omit 得 (new melody)
yu mode; 5612356; versions of this melody occur in 1596 and 1618 as well as 1844, 1828 and 1884
4. 文會堂琴譜
    (1596; VI/203)
almost same as 1585
5. 真傳正宗琴譜
    (1589/1609; VII/115)
1; both verses as 1585 + new coda ("琴挑鳳得凰,題橋志氣昂,千古性名揚"); another new melody;
zhi yin (5612356); versions of this melody also in 1802, (other zhi yin?) and 1931
6. 陽春堂琴譜
    (1611; VII/465)

identical to 1589-1609

7. 理性元雅
    (1618; VIII/254)
1; both verses; no coda;
yu mode; related to 1585
8. 臣卉堂琴譜
    (1663; XI/136)
1; both verses; no coda; another new melody;
yu mode
9. 一峰園琴譜
    (1709; XIII/512)
1; both verses; no coda; another new melody;
mode not indicated; called 文鳳求凰
10. 自遠堂琴譜
    (1802; XVII/526)
1; both verses plus coda all run together; zhi mode;
Music, lyrics and coda all like 1589-1609
11. 峰抱樓琴譜
    (1825; XX/331)
1; zhi mode; like 1589-1609 but without lyrics;
12. 琴學軔端
    (1828; XX/457)
3; lyrics of standard two verses plus the new coda of 1589); very hard to read;
called 文鳳求凰 Wen Feng Qiu Huang but diff. from 1709
13. 張鞠田琴譜
    (1844; XXIII/261)
1; both verses but not coda; jiao diao, zhi yin; includes gongche pu
Related to 1585, but first section ends at "四海求鳳凰" (i.e., where harmonics end)
14. 希韶閣琴譜
    (1878; XXVI/xxx)
?; lyrics?; zhi yin;
It was in the continuation volume which seems to be missing (see ToC XXVI/276)
15. 雙琴書屋琴譜集成
    (1884; XXVII/276)
1; both verses but ends "...使我悲傷"; no coda;
Melody seems related to 1585
16. 琴學初津
    (1894; XXVIII/262)
1; both verses plus the new coda of 1589-1609; shang yin;
Says from 1802 but "corrected"
17. 梅庵琴譜
    (1931; XXIX/204)
1; both verses; no coda and 1 2 3 5 6 1 2, but still melodically related to <1609 (open 3rd string played only once)
A transcription by Li Xiangting in GQQJ Vol. 1 #2 has the basic melody but completely different fingering.
18. 研易習琴齋琴譜
    (1961; III,#3)
1; both verses; like 1931