T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
FXXP / ToC / He Wu Dongtian / Guqin and Orchids Listen to my recording 聽錄音 / 首頁
73. Fragrant Orchids
- Yu mode,2 standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6
佩蘭 1
Pei Lan 3

Pei Lan is one of the most commonly seen pieces in early handbooks, found in 13 handbooks before 1644, and in a total of 41 from 1525 to 1893.4 The version I have learned is the second, published in 1539.5

Several aspects of this melody are puzzling, including its late but then common attribution to the famous 13th century qin player Mao Minzhong, its varying versions and associated stories, and its modality.

The earliest handbook to attribute Pei Lan to Mao Minzhong is the eighth one to contain the piece, Yuwu Qinpu (1589). By this time there were two stories connected with the melody. One concerns someone called Xulingzi (Clear Thinker6) playing the qin in the mountains. The other tells a Confucian parable that suggests that if you are always with good people you yourself become a better person.7 More stories were added later, in particular one connecting the melody to Qu Yuan, but the attribution to Mao Minzhong is not connected to any of the particular stories used to introduce the theme of the piece.

Xilutang Qintong (1525) and several other handbooks preface Pei Lan with a melody called He Wu Dongtian (Cranes Dance in the Grotto-Heaven). The connection is not explicit, but the mention of dancing cranes makes it seem quite natural. Some commentary with He Wu Dongtian says the melody may go back to the famous Song dynasty collection Zixia Dong Pu (now lost).8 This is particularly interesting in light of the occasional attributions of Pei Lan to Mao Minzhong.

The afterword to Pei Lan in Xilutang Qintong is also the one to tell the story of Xulingzi. As the version in Fengxuan Xuanpin has no preface, the commentary from Xilutang Qintong is provided for it below. So far I have not been able to trace the source of this story.

Xilutang Qintong (1525) is also the only version of Pei Lan to have section titles. These titles clearly connect to the same story, mentioning specific places in the Songshan range, such as Shaoshi peak,9 and also mentioning an immortal connected to Songshan, (Master) Fuqiu.10. The section titles are given below, arranged to show their connection to the music of the Fengxuan Xuanpin version.

Other early handbooks, beginning with Taiyin Chuanxi (1552-61), introduce the piece by quoting a brief parable from Kongzi Jiayu (Confucius' Household Sayings), which compared good people with fragrant plants.11

Living together with virtuous people is like going into a hall of fragrant plants; for a while you do not notice the fragrance, but it gradually has an influence on you. The room may be far away but your body is always near, so you can garland yourself (with the fragrant plants) and thus not lose (the good influence). A garland of orchids can supply the body with this influence, and it is not necessary to go into the room (?).

Qinyuan Xinchuan Quanbian (1670), which also attributes the piece to Mao, is the only handbook to connect the story with the line in Qu Yuan's Li Sao that says he "took autumn orchids to make a garland". Here Pei Lan might be translated Pendant Orchids, or Garland of Orchids.12

This latter story is of particular interest because the modality of the earliest versions of Pei Lan suggest a possible connection to the qiliang mode used by melodies associated with the ancient state of Chu.13 Although included within the standard yu mode, the modality is different from other early surviving versions of pieces in this mode. In this context it should be noted that the afterword for the version in Xilutang Qintong refers to a melody in qingyu, a mode also associated with Chu.14 Specifics of the modality of the Pei Lan in Fengxuan Xuanpin are discussed in a footnote.15

The complex modality of this Pei Lan is perhaps one reason for the many differences in various early tablatures for the piece. A somewhat new tradition begins with the version in Songxian Guan Qinpu (1614), the handbook of Yan Cheng, founder of the Yushan qin school. Earlier versions all began with a pluck on the open fifth string, but this new version begins on the open seventh; it also seems to have fewer non-pentatonic tones. The preface to Pei Lan in the Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722) says there there are two prevailing versions, the Shu (i.e., Changshu, home of the Yushan school), which begins with the open seventh string, and the Jin, which begins on the open fifth string. Jin may imply northern, as it was the name of the northern kingdom opposing the Southern Song.16

Two other early melodies concerning orchids are You Lan (Secluded Orchid), surviving in both a 7th century handcopy and in later handbooks; and Yi Lan (Flourishing Orchid), first surviving in Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425). The theme of the latter concerns Confucius comparing himself to a lonely orchid flourishing alone in a field. The former may also have the same theme, or it may be more generally comparing rare beauty and virtue with what is more commonly found in society.

Original Preface
None in Fengxuan Xuanpin so, as mentioned
above, the commentary used here is from Xilutang Qintong:17

During the Warring States Period, a certain Clear Thinker, while wandering in the Songshan mountain range (now in Henan province), met an immortal playing the qin below a stone window. Cranes danced in the courtyard, the fragrance of orchids filled the room. He was invited into a conversation, and in this way received a melody in the qingyu mode, called Fragrant Orchids.  
16 sections, untitled; the 14 section titles below are arranged according to the music in the 14 sections of Xilutang Qintong:

00.00   1. Looking for a hidden isle on the Luo River (in Henan) (XLTQT 1)
00.37   2. Picking herbs on Songshan (in Henan) (XLTQT 2)
01.41   3. Clouds unfold at Shaoshi (an eastern peak of the Songshan range) (XLTQT 3)
02.22   4. Resting ones' feet on a great rocky cliff (XLTQT 4)
02.56   5. Heavenly crane at the jade bridge (XLTQT 5)
03.36   6. In the footsteps of (Master) Fuqiu (XLTQT 6)
04.13   7. An Elysian field where jade grows (XLTQT 7)
04.43   8. Azure dragon and blue-green phoenix (XLTQT 8, first half)
05.12   9. Azure dragon and blue-green phoenix (continued) (XLTQT 8, second half)
05.30   (Ascending) cloud steps to an unexpected meeting (XLTQT 9, first half)
05.44 10. (Ascending) cloud steps to an unexpected meeting (continued) (XLTQT 9, second half)
06.15 11. Qin melody by a stone window (XLTQT 10)
07.08 12. Orchid fragrance by the Jade River (XLTQT 11, first half)
07.35 13. Orchid fragrance by the Jade River (continued) (XLTQT 11, second half)
07.55 14. Cooked in the Daoist's golden alchemical container (XLTQT 12)
08.27 15. Spirit infatuated by strange countryside (XLTQT 13)
08.54 16. Turn one's head to look at the misty landscape (XLTQT 14)
09.39   (Closing harmonics)  
09.50   (End)  

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Pei Lan references
佩蘭 peilan: fragrant orchids, pendant orchids (an alternative translation of the title);

  1. 草以為飾以喻身懷美質也。 Plant used as an ornament so as to illustrate a body longing for beauty;
    (Tao Yuanming, Rhapsody on ?? ); Although ___ .
  2. 香草之名,薰蕙草 xunhuicao, name of a fragrant plant (no Latin name given)

1/1343: 佩系蘭草。以蘭草為佩飾,表示志趣高潔 Wear linked orchids. Use orchids as a garland to show lofty and pure aims.
  1. 楚辭,離騷,Chu Ci, Li Sao (line 9), 紉秋蘭以為佩 Took autumn orchids to make a garland
  2. 唐,韓愈,孟郊《遣興聯句》 Han Yu (768-824) and Meng Jiao (751-814), Banish Cares Linked-Verse, 郎鑒諒不遠,佩蘭永芬芳。 A clear mirror brings things close, the orchid garland is forever fragrant (?).

2. Yu mode (羽調) yudiao)
For further information on yu mode see Shenpin Yu Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Image
Not yet selected

4. Tracing Pei Lan
See Zha's Guide, 17/170/367. I reconstructed the 1539 version based on erroneous information that it was the earliest published edition; the earliest is actually the one in Xilutang Qintong (1525; III/179).

5. I generally learn the earliest version of any particular melody, but in 2013 I learned that Xilutang Qintong must have been published in 1525, not in 1549 (details).

6. 虛靈子 Xulingzi (Xu Lingzi)
33515 虛 Xu says that it can be a surname. However, as yet I have not found any historical references that suggest this could be the name of an historical person. The closest I have found is a story about a meeting and conversation between 劉伯溫 Liu Bowen (Liu Ji, 1311 - 1375) and someone called Xulingzi, aka 鐵冠道人 Tieguan Daoren, said to have taken place at 華山 Huashan. 虛靈子 Xulingzi is not in the dictionaries I have seen. 33515.349 虛靈 Xuling says, "虛、不渧也。靈、敏覺也。狀心之辭謂明德靈妙也。 Xu means not stagnant; ling means sudden realization; an expression saying that a heart has almost impossibly high virtue." It then refers to 33515.359 虛靈不昧 xuling bumei (not hidden; not confused), which quotes 大學章句 Zhu Xi's commentary on the Great Learning. 8/835 #1 says "指心靈 refers to xinling (heart, soul, spirit, mind; psyche; clever)", then gives a quote that also mentions xuling bumei. 8/835 #2 adds "空靈 open mind", the first reference being to a book by 張世南 Zhang Shinan of the Song dynasty (giving a quote). 子 zi can mean sage, or just anyone.

7. See footnote below.

8. 紫霞洞譜 Zixia Dong Pu

9. Shaoshi Peak 少室 or 少室山 Shaoshi Mountain is one of the main peaks in the Songshan range. A net search gives numerous references.

10. 浮丘 Fuqiu ("Drifting Mound") refers to 浮丘公 Master Fuqiu. The preface to the melody Yao Tian Sheng He suggests he was a teacher of Wangzi Qiao. I have not found the name Fuqiu connected to a specific place in the Songshan Range, but there is a Fuqiu Peak in the Huangshan range.

11. Pei Lan: connecting fragrant plants and good people
31398.96 芝蘭之室 A Room of Zhi and Lan Plants﹕(孔子家語,六本 Kongzi Jiayu Volume Six) quotes the opening sentence of the story. The introduction as found in Taiyin Chuanxi (1561), given below, begins with the same sentence so the whole introduction is presumably from the same source:


12. Li Sao reference
See Li Sao, line 12, and the Complete Illustrations of Li Sao (footnote 2), p.5. The orginal commentary in 1670 is as follows,


13. Based on my transcription of the version in Xilutang Qintong, the modality there is either more complex or there are more errors in the original tablature. A more complex modality might suggest an older version; more errors might suggest an earlier attempt to change a melody from one tuning to another.

14. 清羽之調 Qingyu zhi Diao
Xilutang Qintong actually has a Qingyu Modal Prelude (清羽意 Qingyu Yi). The tuning (raised 5th string) is the same as ruibin; and as with many ruibin melodies, the theme is connected to the ancient state of Chu.

15. Modality of Pei Lan (see also the related Mode Table)
All early handbooks group Pei Lan with yu mode melodies. The yu mode uses standard tuning considered as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 (sol la do re mi sol la. The main tonal center (main note) is the open second string, i.e., 6 (yu). The secondary tonal center is one fifth above it, at 3 (mi), and the third above 6 is 1 (gong), this interval being a flatted third. So if 6 is treated as the note A, this makes the yu mode rather similar to the Western A minor mode. Also, in the yu mode it is not uncommon for 1 (C) sometimes to be raised a half-tone (to C#), the result being somewhat comparable to changing the mode from A minor to A major, also not uncommon in Western music. Pei Lan generally shares the characteristics of other yu mode melodies. However, at least in this earliest surviving version of 1539 (top), Pei Lan more often than not sharpens the C. In addition, F is also commonly played as F sharp (F# / 4#). This means the mode can be said to have more the general feeling of a Western major scale, with occasional changes to minor, rather than being predominantly minor with occasional changes to major.

Because of this, perhaps one can say that in this way the yu mode here is similar to melodies in the shang mode and zhi mode. Most shang and zhi mode pieces from that time commonly use a whole-tones third, but then sometimes flatten the third.

Melodies in shang and zhi modes treat the first string as gong (1 = do), making the tuning of the seven strings 1 2 4 5 6 1 2. Because of the way Pei Lan treats the third, as described above, it is tempting to try to consider the first string as 1 (C) in writing out a transcription. Since the main note of Pei Lan would still be the note played on the open second string, now this note would be considered as 2 (re) and the secondary note would be 6 (la). The only early mode which has this characteristic is the qiliang mode. Qiliang tuning raises the second and fifth strings, giving 2 4 5 6 1 2 3; the main notes is 2, secondard is 6. The two Shen Qi Mi Pu Folio III melodies in the qiliang mode concern Qu Yuan. Although the earliest handbook to connect Pei Lan to Qu Yuan was not published until 1670, there is a temptation to wonder whether this connection of him with Pei Lan is actually quite older. This then brings up the possibility that the earliest versions of Pei Lan might have used qiliang tuning, but that this was changed to standard tuning some time before 1525. In this scenario Zhu Quan perhaps did not include the piece, in spite of the possible Mao Minzhong connection, because of some confusion about the tuning.

16. Changshu
Mount Yu (虞山 Yushan) is in 常熟 Changshu, home of 嚴澂 Yan Cheng; the official dates of the northern 金 Jin dynasty are 1115-1260. Jin may suggest north, but I don't know of a 金派 Jin School of qin play.

17. The original of the preface in Xilutang Qintong is:


One word for immortals was 羽人 yu ren (feather man), so called because they wore feather capes. Perhaps it is significant that Pei Lan was grouped with standard yu ("feather") mode pieces. As discussed below, the mode as used here has some distinctive characteristics.

18. Chinese for these 14 titles is:


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