Han Gong Qiu
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121. Autumn in the Han Palace
- Wuyi tuning:2   1 3 5 6 1 2 3
漢宮秋 1
Han Gong Qiu    
Han Gong Qiu illustration from Kuian Qinpu 3      
A wuyi mode version of Han Gong Qiu survives only in Xilutang Qintong.
4 In addition, its prelude, Yi Guanshan,5 also occurs only here.

However, the title Han Gong Qiu is also used for an unrelated yu mode melody connected to the same story. Versions of this latter melody, also called Han Gong Qiu Yue (Autumn Moon over the Han Palace), Han Gong Qiu Yuan (Autumn Lament in the Han Palace) and Qiu Shan Yin (Autumn Fan Intonation6), survive in at least 49 handbooks from 1589 to 1946.7

The prefaces for all these are in some way connected with the Ban family,8 Ban Jieyu9 in particular, but there are some confusing details.

Ban Jieyu came from a family already very well known, though not yet as famous as it was to become. By her skillful action she at one time rescued her brother Ban Zhi10 from a charge of treason. Ban Zhi became the father of Ban Biao,11 an historian who in turn was father of Ban Gu12 and Ban Zhao,13 the brother and sister who were responsible for completing the history of the former Han dynasty; Ban Gu's twin brother Ban Chao14 was perhaps China's most famous frontier general.

Gazeteers include Guanshans in Shaanxi and Shandong provinces, but it is also a common allusion to separation from home. The prelude could thus also be translated Homesick.15

The story related in the afterword to the present Han Gong Qiu is a scaled down version of a fairly well-known story about Ban Jieyu, the imperial concubine who at one time was the favorite of the Han emperor Chengdi (r. 51 – 7 BCE).

Ban Jieyu had already proven her moral values by resisting the emperor's attempts to persuade her to ride with him in his chariot, her artistic talents through her ability to recite poems from the Shi Jing, and her generosity by introducing her attendant Li Ping to the emperor. Eventually, however, she lost out to Zhao Feiyan,16 after which great skill was required to survive the jealousy of Zhao and her sister. To do this Ban Jieyu first had to defend herself against accusations that she had cursed the emperor. She then found safety by arranging to serve the empress dowager in her palace.

Ban Jieyu's best poem is often said to be one called Self-Commiseration.17 In it she speaks of her virtue, and her sadness at having been abandoned.

Her poem about an autumn fan is in a Yue Fu style;18 in it Ban Jieyu compares herself to an autumn fan discarded after the summer heat. The expression "autumn fan" came to mean a discarded lover.

Newly cut white silk from Qi,
Clear and pure as frost and snow.
Made into a fan for joyous trysts,
Round as the bright moon.
In and out of my lord's cherished sleeve,
Waved back and forth to make a light breeze.
Often I fear the arrival of the autumn season,
Cool winds overcoming the summer heat.
Discarded into a box,
Affection cut off before fulfillment.

Xilutang Qintong has several melodies with lyrics in only one or two sections. This is not one of them, but these lyrics could be paired to the music of Section 5 (harmonics). This requires departing somewhat from the normal method of pairing one character with each right hand stroke.19

Original preface20

Ban Jieyu of the Han dynasty lost favor and was sent to live (in the outer quarters); this was the regret (like that of) a round fan in an autumn wind. This melody also describes the meaning of her lonely desolation.

Eight sections (untitled; (
see transcription, which begins with #130 Yi Guan Shan; timings follow my recording 聽錄音)

00.00   1.
01.09   2.
01.44   3.
02.52   4.
03.14   5. (harmonics; the poem can be sung here [comment])
04.04   6. (04.17: sound of a fan snapped shut?)
04.40   7.
04.56   8.
05.24         harmonics
05.38         end

During the harmonic passage (from 3.14-4.02 on the recording linked above), one can read or sing these lyrics (i.e., the text of the poem 怨歌行 Yuàn Gē Xíng) together with the pronunciation and translations, as follows:

新   裂   齊   紈   素,   鮮   潔   如   霜   雪。
Xīn liè Qí wán sù,       xiān jié rú shuāng xuě.
Newly cut white silk from Qi, clear and pure as frost and snow.

裁   為   合   歡   扇,   團   團   似   明   月。
Cái wèi hé huān shàn, tuán tuán sì míng yuè.
Made into a fan for joyous trysts, round as the bright moon.

出   入   君   懷   袖,   動   搖   微   風   發。
Chū rù jūn huái xiù,   dòng yáo wéi fēng fā.
In and out of my lord's cherished sleeve, waved back and forth to make a light breeze.

常   恐   秋   節   至,   涼   飆   奪   炎   熱。
Cháng kǒng qiū jié zhì, liáng biāo duó yán rè.
Often I fear the arrival of the autumn season, cool winds overcoming the summer heat.

棄   捐   篋   笥   中,   恩   情   中   道   絕。
Qì juān qiè sì zhōng,   ēn qíng zhōng dào jué.
Discarded into a box, affection cut off before fulfillment.

The lyrics have been sung in performance; and although they are not sung on the current recording, the pdf of the transcription has an extra page at the end, in which the lyrics have been added.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Autumn in the Han Palace (漢宮秋 Han Gong Qiu) (QQJC III/216)
18531.154: Yuan opera about Wang Zhaojun; no mention of Ban Jieyu. None of the qin prefaces mentions Zhaojun. There was an opera 班超投筆 Ban Zhao Casts Aside her Pen (see 王沛 Wang Pei, p.340.) (Return)

2. Wuyi diao (無射調)
For wuyi tuning, from standard tuning lower the first and raise the fifth strings a half step each. For more on this mode see Shenpin Wuyi Yi. For more on modes in general, see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature. (Return)

3. Kuian Qinpu illustration (QQJC XI/54)
The melody of the version of Han Gong Qiu accompanying this illustration is the common yu mode melody; it is thus different from that of this 1525 version. However, but this other version still connects to the story of Ban Jieyu alone in her palace. (Return)

4. Zha's Guide 21/192/-- has 32 entries, but only the first uses wuyi tuning (see also the footnote below). (Return)

5. 憶關山 Yi Guanshan. (Return)

6. 秋扇吟 Qiu Shan Yin (Autumn Fan Intonation)
See next and also the fan poem. No connection to Qiuhu Xing. (25505.260 qiu shan #2 says "abandoned woman", giving a number of references to Ban Jieyu).

7. Tracing 漢宮秋 Han Gong Qiu (yu mode)
Zha's Guide has three separate entries for what (except for this, the first) are actually versions of the same melody. In other words, all available entries called Han Gong Qiu Yue (see below) seem related to the yu mode Han Gong Qiu. The first list also includes a 秋扇吟 Qiushan Yin as an alternate title; three are called 漢宮秋怨 Han Gong Qiu Yuan.

21/192/-- 漢宮秋 Han Gong Qiu
32 entries from 1525 to
1876; the first eight are: 1525 (unrelated to all the others)
1589 (yu mode, like all the later ones)
1602 ("亦名秋扇吟 also called Qiushan Yin")

29/227/436 漢宮秋月 Han Gong Qiu Yue
18 entries from 1589 to
1946, all apparently related to the Han Gong Qiu melodies, except the first. The first six are:

1589 (earliest of four with lyrics [昭陽昭陽昭陽殿,嚴鎖深邃宮....], which are unrelated to the Ban Jieyu poem)
1609 (no lyrics but still related to the 1589 version)
1618 (second version with lyrics, similar to 1589)
1691 (third version with lyrics, also similar to 1589)
1722 (fourth version with lyrics, closer to 1589, but lyrics added after the melody: see XIV/510)

38/--/-- 秋怨 Qiu Yuan
One entry (1691)

There is a recording by 丁紀元 Ding Jiyuan of one version of this latter melody; it is based on 顧梅羹 Gu Meigong's interpretation from Wuzhizhai Qinpu. See Art of Qin Music I, Hugo HRP 7136/2. (Return)

8. Ban 班;
The Ban family, which traced its origins to the state of Chu, had become wealthy through an ancestor who moved around the beginning of the Han dynasty to the northern frontier. See John E. Wills, Jr., Portraits in Chinese History, p.90ff.

9. Ban Jieyu 班婕妤 (48-06 BCE; Bio/1827) Ban Jieyu and Emperor Cheng of Han              
Jieyu was a rank meaning something like "favored beauty"; her actual given name is unknown. Some account of her distinguished family is included above. The story of the emperor abandoning her in favor of Zhao Feiyan is well known, though her biography in 列女傳 Lienü Zhuan mentions only her propriety, not her love. The Qing dynasty image at right (from an online version of that book) of her greeting the emperor does not seem intended to highlight her beauty: was it intended to emphasize her propriety?

Yuefu Shiji attributes to her the Song of Resentment (怨歌行 Yuan Ge Xing), also called Lament of the Autumn Fan (秋扇怨 Qiu Shan Yuan), related above in connection to the present melody. There is controversy about this attribution; more certainly attributed to her are two rhapsodies, Rhapsody of Self-Commiseration (自悼賦 Zi Dao Fu) and Rhapsody on Pounding Silk (搗素賦 Dao Su Fu; no apparent connection with Dao Yi). The latter mentions qin twice, once together with se and once in a passage that refers to Boya playing it while Zhong Ziqi listens:


(Not yet translated)

10. Ban Zhi 班稚 (Former Han; Bio/1827)
Ban Zhi, father of Ban Biao, was once accused of treason. He was rescued by his sister, Ban Jieyu. (Return)

11. Ban Biao 班彪 (3 - 54 CE; Bio/1826)
Ban Biao, with his son Ban Gu (next footnote), was the principal author of 漢書 The History of the (Former) Han, which continued where 司馬遷 Sima Qian's Shi Ji ended, ca. 100 BCE. (Return)

12. Ban Gu 班固 (32 - 92 CE; Bio/1826).
Ban Gu, with his father Ban Biao (previous footnote), was the principal author of 漢書 The History of the (Former) Han. Originally it began where Sima Qian's work ended, but Ban Gu's idea was to make the work into a unified history of the entire former Han. It was thus a model for the later official histories. He was also a poet: his 兩都賦 Two Capitals Rhapsody is translated by Knechtges in Wen Xuan, Vol.1. He also wrote 白虎通 Baihu Tong (or Bohu Tong, Discourses in the White Tiger Hall), "a record...of discussions on the classics and on Confucian themes held at the court of the Han Emperor Zhang (r.75-88 C.E.) in 29 C.E.)." (Sources of Chinese Tradition, I, p.344.)

13. Ban Zhao 班昭 (ca.49 - ca.120; Bio/1826)
Ban Zhao, daughter of Ban Biao, is most famous for her essay Nü Jie (女誡), Lessons for Women (see translation by Nancy Lee Swan in The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Poetry, p.534ff; compare with Cai Yong's Nü Xun). Some of the later prefaces to Han Gong Qiu say Ban Zhao wrote it, not Ban Jieyu.

14. Ban Chao 班超 (32 - 104; Bio/1826; Wiki)
Son of Ban Biao, he led a quiet life until his brother helped him get a good official post. He distinguished himself so well at this that he was sent with 竇固 Dou Gu to western China. Dou Gu then the Emperor himself sent Ban Chao on further, into Central Asia, where he spent 31 years, to great distinction.

There seems to be a reference to Ban Chao in the following line of the song Sheng De Song:

(He) came back alive through Yumen Guan, but did not hope for a fief in Li Quan (Sweet Springs).

According to 《後漢書·班超傳》the biography of Ban Chao in the History of the Latter Han, after he served many years in Central Asia,

He did not dare hope to see again (his basecamp in) Jiu Quan district, but he did hope that while alive he would be able to come back through Yumen Pass."

Yumen Guan was a pass in the Great Wall not far from Dunhuang, now part of Gansu Province. Jiu Quan (40665.125 酒泉) was also in Gansu (see further), but as a base camp inside the Great Wall, it was closer to "civilization". The "Li Quan" (40946.3 醴泉) of Sheng De Song, is almost certainly a copy error. There is one near Xi'an in Shaanxi province (or it can simply mean "Sweet Springs"), but it has no association with Ban Chao, who in fact died in Luoyang.

Thanks again to Yang Shao-Yun for pointing out the likely connection of the lyrics with Ban Chao, as well as the likeliness that is was a copy error (there is a similar error - 骨+修 instead of 骨 - in a later line of the same song.)

15. 關山 Guanshan
This could simply mean "mountain pass" as well as specific places; more under Yi Guanshan as well as Guanshan Yue.

16. 趙飛燕 Zhao Feiyan
Her biography is also in the Lienü Zhuan.

17. Zi Dao Fu (自悼賦)
See David Knechtges, Wen Xuan, I., pp.33 and 505. It is translated in Burton Watson, Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry, p.75. (N.Y., Columbia U, 1984), and Albert O'Hara, The Position of Women in Early China according to Lieh Nü Chuan (Taipei, Mei Ya, 1945).

18. Yuan Ge Xing 怨歌行, attributed to 班婕妤 Ban Jieyu (also called 秋扇怨 Lament of the Autumn Fan)
This poem is in the Yue Fu lyrics section of Wen Xuan (p. 1196) as well as in YFSJ, Folio 13 [p.616]; there are further poems about her on p.626ff. These are not in a qin section but with Xianghe Ge, originally a type of folk song. There are several translations of Yuan Ge Xing, including by Watson, p.77. The original is,

裁為合歡扇,團團似明月。   (for 團團 Wen Xuan says 即圓圓)

For performances of Han Gong Qiu featuring these lyrics during the harmonic passage (from 3.14-4.01 on my recording) see above.

19. Xilutang Qintong melodies with paired lyrics in some sections
See, for example, #34 Xing Tan and #155 Feng Qiu Huang. Regarding the normal pairing method, see under Cipai and Qin Melodies. Although the text of the Ban Jieyu poem is not included with the tablature, the words of the poem are close enough to this pairing method that it seems quite possible an earlier tablature included this, or at least that either the original performer or the transcriber had it in mind. So I often sing the lyrics when I play the melody.

20. 漢宮秋解題 (1525; English)

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