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087. Jade Tree in a Breeze
- yu mode, standard tuning:2 5 6 1 2 3 5 6
Yu Shu Lin Feng  

The earliest known reference to "Jade Tree in a Breeze" comes from a poem by Du Fu called Song of Eight Drinking Immortals. The fourth of his immortals, Cui Zongzhi, is described as "A young genius of great beauty....His features are pure white, like a jade tree caught in a breeze". Apparently the expression "jade tree in a breeze", as well as "jade tree" by itself, continued to be used as references to a handsome scholar. However, the earliest versions of this piece have no commentary, the later ones with commentary do not make this connection, and modern introductions also skip this allusion, saying the melody concerns a beautiful tree swaying in a breeze.4

Here in the 1525 handbook the lack of commentary with this melody combined with the piece's brevity (three sections) suggest that it was treated as a prelude to the longer piece that follows it, Wu Ye Ti, thus sharing the same commentary, which is somewhat different from that in 1425. The possible connection between these two melody titles is not made clear nor is it immediately obvious. One might speculate, perhaps, that it suggest that Liu Yiqing, who is connected to the Wu Ye Ti story, was considered a handsome young man but who had to listen to the wind to hear if it brought news of his fate in troubling times.5

On the other hand, no other handbook connects Yushu Lin Feng with Wu Ye Ti. Instead, several later handbooks attribute it to Cao Zijian (Cao Zhi; 192 - 232 CE). Here one again can only speculate that perhaps Cao Zhi mentioned this expression in one of his writings - he did mention Yu Shu in several.6

As for the musical connections of the various versions of the melody with this title, the present handbook (Xilutang Qintong, 1525) has the earliest surviving one, but it does not appear again until 1660. These two versions and the third (1677), though all related, are quite different from each other, but from 1677 until the last one in an imperial era handbook (1876), all seven or eight available versions are quite closely related, if not copied from each other.7

Original preface

3 Sections, none titled (timings are based on
my recording 聽錄音)9

00.00   1.
00.56   2.
01.43   3.
02.49         harmonic coda
03.05         melody ends

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Jade Tree in a Breeze (玉樹臨風 Yushu Lin Feng)
21296.742 and 4/514 have 玉樹 , with entries there having various combination with yushu but none mentioning Yushu Lin Feng or giving any musical references. However, 21296.742 gives as its second definition, "喻人之風采高潔也 refers to the elegant demeanor and great nobility of someone". The second reference is to the Shishuo Xinyu (Mather 14/3), attributed to Liu Yiqing. The third uses 玉樹臨風 in a quote from Du Fu, where it is used to describe 崔宗之 Cui Zongzhi. This is apparently its earliest recorded use, but by extension yushu apparently continued to be used to refer to "a young man's talents as well as his physical appearance".

2. Yu mode (羽調 yu diao)
For more on yu mode (standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 ) see Shenpin Yu Yi as well as Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

4. Interpretations
As with poetry, varying possibilities of meaning enrich the our experience of the music - as well as providing challenges to the person trying to track them down.

5. Connection to Wu Ye Ti
As the references above shows, Shishuo Xinyu uses the expression "jade tree" to refer to handsome and talented young men. If 劉義慶 Liu Yiqing himself had a reputation as a handsome and upright person, then the Wu Ye Ti story could be seen as suggesting he could have been listening to the nearby winds for hints about his future. However, this connection is rather tenuous, and it is also possible that originally Yushu Lin Feng and Wu Ye Ti were not connected. Xilutang Qintong liked its longer melodies to have preludes, and so it probably at times borrowed independent melodies to serve this purpose.

6. Connection with Cao Zhi (192 - 232 CE)
See, for example, the first phrase of his poem Difficult Thoughts (苦息行 Ku Xi Xing):


Another poem mentioning yushu is 仙人篇 Xianren Pian. Neither poem has a strong connection to the apparent theme of Yu Shu Lin Feng, nor have I yet found a connection between Cao Zhi and Wu Ye Ti.

7. Tracing Yushu Linfeng (see tracing chart)
Zha Guide 20/189/-- lists only the nine dated entries in the chart below. As mentioned above, all are related musically, with the first three all quite different but the rest all closely related to #3, even 1836 with its six sections. The added handbook, 古岡遺譜 Gugang Yipu, belonging to the Lingnan School, is of uncertain origin.

One further comment on the relationship of the versions in these handbooks concerns the use of the technique 索鈴 suo ling, which appears at the beginning of the third phrase of Section 3 of the earliest version (1525). In all later versions this passage is altered but still related enough that one can see that suoling has been replaced by 輪 lun and perhaps several other notes. The suo ling link is to an early description (I/67-8) that says it is 一輪而遍及之 a lun that goes everywhere (? is repeated ?). Unfortunately, this lack of precision in the description makes it difficult to interpret the significance of this change.

8. Preface
For other prefaces see tracing chart.

9. Timings
The above was recorded on 21 February 2015.

My first recording, 20 February 2015, was about 30 seconds faster (listen 聽錄音). The timings for that recording are as follows:

00.00   1.
00.44   2.
01.24   3.
02.22         harmonic coda
02.37         melody ends

Comments welcome.

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Appendix: Chart Tracing 玉樹臨風 Yushu Lin Feng
Further comment
above; based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide 20/189/--

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1. 西麓堂琴統
      (1525; III/171)
3 sections, untitled; yu mode; no commentary: prelude to Wu Ye Ti
My recording
  2. 愧庵琴譜
      (1660; XI/66)
3; yu mode; no commentary; hard to read the print;
Related to 1525 but divides S2 & S3 differently and music often quite different
  3. 松風閣琴譜
      (1677/82; XII/337)
4; yu; "曹子建譜 tablature of Cao Zijian", but no other commentary; again related to 1525, with similarities throughout, but sections all divided differently and melody often very different  
  4. 松風閣琴瑟譜
      (1677?; XII/444)
4; yu; "曹子建譜 tablature of Cao Zijian"; music almost = previous; no se, only qin;
Has afterword that says,"其曲雖小,音美蒼涼,如對幽人觀泉玩月之致。程昔云題。"
  5. 琴譜析微
      (1692; XIII/120)
4; yu mode; almost same as 1677; commentary says 曹植 Cao Zhi, loving music, made this in his pleasure ("魏曹子建嗜音律,此其賞心作也。一鼓三嘆之餘,恍有清風從玉樹中來。陳之玉樹後庭,對此益增靡曼。")
  6. 臥雲樓琴譜
      (1722; XV/98)
4; yu mode; identical to 1692 (same printing plates?)
  7. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/433)
4; yu mode; almost identical to 1692 but no commentary; this version has been reconstructed and recorded by Jin Wei, whose own commentary connects its theme to that of 曹植落神賦 Cao Zhi's Luo Shen Fu (which does not mention "玉樹").
  8. 悟雪山房琴譜
      (1836; XXII/371)
6+coda (收音); zhonglüjun yuyin; no commentary but as in 1525 it precedes Wu Ye Ti; the music is very similar to 4 section versions but it divides their S1 and S2 in two, so their S3 & S4 are very much like S5 and S6 here except that S6 changes the music in the area around the doublestops. S4 has comment, "跌宕收東(朿?束?柬?)前截".
    . 古岡遺譜
      (????; not in QQJC)
A recording by 嶺南派區軍虹 Ou Junhong of Lingnan School says it comes from Gugang Yipu, following the tradition of 楊新倫 Yang Xinlun. I have not seen the Gugang Yipu tablature, but the music on this recording is much closer to the music of 1802 etc. than it is to earlier versions such as 1525. This suggests that the recording follows a later tradition rather than recalling an earlier one.
  9. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/303)
 "from 1802", otherwise no commentary.

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