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34. Apricot Tree Forum
Or is it Ginkgo Tree Forum? 2
- Shang mode:3 standard tuning 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
杏壇 1
杏:杏仁、銀杏 ?
Xing Tan
At QufuNew version 4        
Zha Fuxi's Guide includes Xing Tan together with three melodies called Xing Tan Yin (Intonation on the Apricot or Gingko Tree Forum). The melody title Xing Tan Yin can also be found in some Song dynasty melody lists. However, tablature for the melody as found in Xilutang Qintong survives only here.5

Confucius (551-479) spent a number of years traveling around as he offered his services to various local lords. Many of his disciples accompanied him, and an account in Zhuangzi suggests that as he traveled he liked to find a small grove in which he could teach them from under a tree: a xingtan.6 The suggestion seems to be that back in Qufu he had a more permanent xingtan. The qin handbook Shilin Guangji, attributed to Chen Yuanjing of the southern Song dynasty, has an illustration of this (sort of) place.7

This illustration, like others on this theme, shows Confucius playing the qin in the open air under a tree. Today in the center front courtyard of the Temple of Confucius is a Pavilion of the Apricot Tree Forum (or Gingko Tree Forum).8 General guides do not give the age or history of this structure. They do say that Duke Ai of Lu, the year after the death of Confucius, built a temple in his honor in front of the place where he had taught. Since then that temple has been rebuilt a number of times.9

Although the most famous Apricot Tree Forum now is the one where Confucius taught, in the past it apparently could also refer more generally to any similar public forum where people expressed their opinions. Qin Chuang Zaji, a collection of essays in Yangchuntang Qinpu (1611), quotes a story that suggests this latter meaning. In this account, Confucius criticizes a famous minister of Lu, General Zangwen Zhong,10 and this apparently inspires him to sing a song. The story's source is said to be another Ming collection called the Shantang Sikao,11

In the 21st year of the rule of Duke Ai of Lu, Confucius went out of the East Gate of Lu and ascended the steps of an old Apricot Tree (or Gingko Tree) Forum. Looking around at his disciples he said, This was the very forum where Minister Zangwen Zhong of Lu made a solemn oath. Observing things and thinking of the man, (Confucius) told someone to bring him a qin, then sang a song with lyrics that went, Summer goes, winter arrives, spring turns to autumn;
Stars and sun set in the west, water flows east.
Generals who fought on horseback: where are they now?
Wild grass covers the flowers, filling the earth with gloom.

The melody Xing Tan pairs these lyrics with the tablature for Section 10, but they can be found in a number of other qin settings as well. These include the beginners' melodies Ya Sheng Cao (1511) and Caoman Yin (1585), as well as two of the later melodies called Xing Tan Yin.12

Zha Fuxi has written that because these lyrics are often found in Ming dynasty handbooks, people have drawn the false conclusion that they are very ancient. He goes on to say teachers should remind their students that these lyrics were actually created by the common people.13

The preface to Xing Tan in Xilutang Qintong attributes the melody to Wang Tong (583-616),14 a famous classicist who during the Sui dynasty (589 - 618) proposed 12 "plans to secure tranquillity in the empire". When these were not accepted, he retired to He Fen, the area between the Fen and Yellow rivers, about 150 km. northeast of Chang An, there teaching thousands of students. After his death his disciples canonized him "Wen Zhongzi".

Original Preface15

Wen Zhongzi taught at He Fen, submerging his virtue where it was not broadcast. He described the ideas which Confucius had taught in the Apricot (or Gingko) Tree Forum, putting them into a qin song.

11 Sections, untitled
16 (timings follow my recording)

00.00   1.
00.15   2.
00.33   3.
00.57   4.
01.11   5.
01.47   6. The sound of reading17
02.25   7.
02.37   8.
03.10   9.
03.35 10. (lyrics; translated above)
03.58 11.
04.25       Closing harmonics
04.37       End

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Apricot/Gingko Tree Forum (杏壇 Xing Tan) references
14820.46 杏壇 xingtan makes no reference to any melody. It begins by saying, "壇名 name of a pavilion" (see below regarding "xing"). Although the most famous xingtan is the one preserved at the Confucian Temple in Qufu, the entry here suggests a broader usage: the story it quotes from the 漁父 Yu Fu chapter of Zhuangzi refers to a different xingtan. It comes from the beginning of the chapter:

When Confucius was traveling through the Ziwei forest (28231.30: name of a dark forest) he sat and rested on a xingtan. As the students studied from books Confucius sang a song as he played the qin....

The 釋文 commentary then says a xingtan was a "澤中高處 raised place in a marshy area". A "tan" can be an altar, forum or raised plot of land (ABC), and "forum" appropriately suggests a meeting place for discussion. In a broad sense Xing Tan thus seems to have referred to any place for public forums.

2. Xing Tan: Apricot Tree Forum, Almond Tree Forum, or Ginkgo Tree Forum?
By itself "杏 xing" may refer to the tree fruit rather than the tree itself, but here the reference seems more likely to the tree: The tree or trees under which Confucius is said to have taught are said to have been "xing" trees. There are three main understandings of what this tree might have been. The following analysis suggests "apricot tree forum" to be the most reasonable translation.

  1. Apricot tree (杏樹 xingshu); the fruit is 杏子 xingzi
    Although xing by itself can refer either to the tree, the fruit, or its flowers, it can also refer to the almond. Wikipedia says the apricot "was first cultivated in China about 3000 BC. Apricot kernels are sometimes called "bitter almonds" or "apricot almonds".
  2. Almond tree (specific Chinese name not clear; the almond itself is called 杏仁 xingren)
    4/774 says xingren is 杏核中之仁 the kernel (seed) inside a xinghe (xing nut). Wikipedia says the almond is originally from Iran. It is not clear when it was introduced into China, but this and its similarity to the apricot makes "apricot tree" a more likely choice for the tree associated with Confucius.
  3. Ginkgo tree (銀杏樹 yinxing shu, "silver apricot tree", generally known in English by its Japanese name, also written gingko)
    The ginkgo has long been associated with Confucius, suggesting that Ginkgo Forum might well be the best translation for this melody; the medicinal uses of the ginkgo nut (銀杏核) also add to its appeal. However, 11/1277, which says alternate names are 白果樹 baiguo, 公孫樹 gongsun and 鴨腳樹 yanjiao trees, gives no references before the Song dynasty; and although 41252.44 has 本草 Ben Cao (14757.120), an ancient title as its earliest reference, the book's contents seem to have survived only in later editions: specifically, the refence to 銀杏 yinxing seems to date from the Song dynasty. The lack of earlier references thus suggests "apricot forum" to be the best translation. The association of Confucius with the ginkgo tree seems to be particularly strong in Japan and Korea. In Japanese 銀 can be pronounced "gin" and 杏 can be pronounced "kyo", but as yet I have not seen the spelling "ginkyo". Wikipedia calls "gingko" a misspelling, presumably because it leads to the pronunciation of the first syllable as "ging" instead of "gin"; Korean pronunciation is "unhaeng".

3. Shang Mode 商調
Standard tuning is usually considered as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6. For further information on shang mode see Shenpin Shang Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

4. See illustrations

5. Tracing Xing Tan
Zha Fuxi's index 19/181/371 has the title Xing Tan in 1525 and Xing Tan Yin in three later handbooks:

1525 (11 sections; section 10 has the lyrics)
1585 (one section, same lyrics)
1618 (two versions; one has two sections, each with the same lyrics but with the second adding 則索離愁 at the end; the other is for one string qin but with the same lyrics)
1670 (one section; similar melody but no lyrics: the commentary says that they were rather trivial, combining phrases from various other sources)

6. Confucius' teaching place
The Zhuangzi reference (Chapter 31 漁父 The Fisherman) is discussed further above.

7. Shilin Guangji illustration
On page 4 of the original. Reproduced in Qinqu Jicheng, vol. I, p.11. There are no lyrics.

8. Xing Tan Ge 杏壇閣 (Apricot [or Ginkgo] Tree Forum Pavilion)
See the illustration. A "ge" is a chamber or pavilion.

9. 魯哀公 Duke Ai of Lu (Bio.2342) ruled for 27 years (494 - 467)

10. 魯將臧文仲 General Zangwen Zhong of Lu: 藏孫辰 Zangsun Chen (d. 617 BCE)
Zangsun Chen (commonly romanized Zang Sunchen, but 30755.30 and Bio/2455 say Zangsun is a double surname) is perhaps better known by his posthumous title, Zangwen Zhong (commonly romanized Zang Wenzhong, but 30755.2 says Zangwen was used as a surname by his descendents). A statesman of Lu, he is both praised and criticized in classical sources. These sources include:

None of these references mentions the above lyrics or Confucius singing about Zangwen Zhong.

Zangwen Zhong's mother, Zangxun Mu, has a biography in Lienü Zhuan. It includes the comment, 琴之合,甚思之。

11. Shantang Sikao account 山堂肆考 (China Knowledge)
The Shantang Sikao (8043.514; 228 folios; late Ming) was compiled by 彭大翼 Peng Dayi of Yangzhou (Bio.2243; Ming 諸生 zhusheng; no dates). The same basic account of Confucius singing these lyrics is told in the text accompanying an illustration from the life of Confucius. The account translated above, as copied in 陽春堂琴經,琴窗雜記,山堂肆考 Yangchuntang Qin Jing, Qinchuang Zaji, crediting Shantang Sikao (Qinqu Jicheng, Vol. VII/328), is as follows:


The next two footnotes have further details on these lyrics.

12. Other occurences of the Xing Tan lyrics
These lyrics can be found within at least three qin titles:

  1. Ya Sheng Cao (1511; Section 7)
  2. Xing Tan (1525; several versions)
  3. Caoman Yin (1585 version)

The 1511 and 1585 versions are both within what are considered beginners' melodies; all three are melodically unrelated.

13. Early refences related to the Xing Tan lyrics (compare Shantang Sikao)
暑往 14375.xxx; 737998.98 寒來 mentions 寒來暑往, making reference to the 易經,繫辭下 latter part of the Xici commentary (aka Great Treatise II) on the Yi Jing, which says, 寒往則暑來,暑往則寒來,寒暑相推,而歲成焉 (CTP: "The cold goes and the heat comes; the heat goes and the cold comes; - it is by this mutual succession of the cold and heat that the year is completed." No mention of 春 spring or 秋 autumn.

Zha Fuxi's comment that the lyrics were created by the common people must be seen within the polical context of that time: although they may well have some folk connections and/or uses, the source really is unknown. His comments are in his Collected Writings, p.209. Within the qin repertoire I have not yet found a source earlier than Ya Sheng Cao (1511; Section 7), as mentioned in the previous footnote. The frustration of searching for this online perhaps underscore's Zha's statement. Here are some online references I did find:

  1. A number of websites say it comes from 秦王符堅墓碑詩 A Poem Inscribed on the Grave of a Prince of Qin, but none seems at all concerned with any details, and as yet I have not found any information as to what this actually refers (秦王 25578.16ff has nothing; 王符 21295.1216 man of Latter Han, seems unrelated; 符堅 26581.xxx).

  2. Chapter Three of Water Margin (水滸傳 Shui Hu Zhuan; Wiki, first published in the 16th c.) begins with an expanded version:


  3. Part or all (unclear) from《馬陵道》楔子 Ma Ling Dao (4550.493, a Yuan dynasty opera).

A more careful search will certainly turn up more early references, perhaps some as early as the Song dynasty.

14. Attribution of Xing Tan to Wang Tong
More details on 王通 Wang Tong (文中子 Wen Zhongzi) can be found in his Qin Shi biography, #112. My own speculation has been that perhaps somehow his own school got associated with the words "Xing Tan" because Wang Tong taught the Confucian classics there. However, Prof. Ding Xiang Warner, a Wong Tong expert writes (personal communication 11/2015),

In my examination of the received text of the Zhongzhuo 中說 (and I just combed through it again after receiving your query, just to be double sure), I have not found any usage of the term 杏壇 as the toponym for the site of Wang Tong's "school" or any reference to a melody that he composed by this title. Nor have I found such reference in any of the surviving writings of Wang Ji 王績 (Wang Tong's recluse-poet brother) that bear on Wang Tong's life. Whenever the site of Wang Tong's "school" is mentioned, it is either referred to by the term 講堂 (lit., The Lecture Hall) or 白牛溪 (White Ox Creek), where Wang Tong took up his residence "during the time of disturbance" (i.e., the final years of the Sui just before its complete collapse).

This suggests that the association of Xing Tan with Wang Tong comes from a later time.

15. Original Chinese text
西麓堂琴統 (1525),杏壇﹕後序﹕


16.   Original Chinese section titles
西麓堂琴統 (1525),杏壇﹕十一段 (聽我的錄音

00.00   1.
00.15   2.
00.33   3.
00.57   4.
01.11   5.
01.47   6. 讀書聲 (請看梅花三弄第四段讀書引讀書吟
02.25   7.
02.37   8.
03.10   9.
03.35 10. (歌詞〔看上面〕﹕ 『暑往寒來,春復秋。夕陽西下,水東流。將軍戰馬,今何在?野草閑花,滿地愁。』)
03.58 11.
04.25       Closing harmonics
04.37       End

17. The sound of reading books
讀書聲 Du shu sheng: compare Meihua Sannong, Section 4 and see footnote.

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