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124. Discussing the Dao at Kongtong Mountain 1
- Dalü mode:2 1 2 3 5 6 1 2
Kongtong Wen Dao
- See also Dalü Yi and Kongtong Yin The Yellow Emperor comes to ask
Guangchengzi about the Dao3
In the book Zhuangzi
4 the Yellow Emperor goes to Kongtong Mountain to ask Guangchengzi5 about using the Supreme Dao to rule the country. Guangchengzi, who is said to have lived for 1200 years, turns him away. The Yellow Emperor then goes and lives in a grass hut for three months. When he returns to Guangchengzi he asks about nurturing himself and living a long life. Guangchengzi then gives him a lecture about the Dao, thus influencing all the great sages. This story became a popular theme in Ming and Qing paintings.6

"Kongtong" by itself could refer to an imagined place in the sky, but there are also several elevated places in China that were once called "Kongtong Shan (Kongtong Mountain). The only one to be found on modern maps is the one near Pingliang in Gansu province, northwest China. There is an old Daoist center here, and claims are made that this is the "first mountain in Daoism". Claims are also made, with some early documentation, that this is where the meeting between the Yellow Emperor and Guangchengzi took place.

However, an earlier claim may be for a Kongtong in Henan province. This may also be the place intended by this melody, as the first section is called "Halt the carriage at Juci." Juci was the name of a mountain somewhere between the eastern end of the Songshan range and the modern Xinzheng (30 km south of Zhengzhou).7 Near Xinzheng is a place claiming to have been the Yellow Emperor's birthplace,8 and near where Juci would have been is a spot called the Palace of the Yellow Emperor.9

The afterword in Xilutang Qintong does not mention Guangchengzi or any of the specifics of his lecture, and the Zhuangzi story does not mention meeting on grass mats or any of the details found the Xilutang Qintong section titles. In addition to the famous philosophers Laozi, Zhuangzi and Liezi, there is also mention of two otherwise ordinary people famous for their search for immortality, Anqi Sheng10 and Xianmen Gao.11

The title does not survive in any other handbooks.12


The study of life began with Xuanyuan (the Yellow Emperor) followed by Boyang (Laozi), Qiyuan (Zhuangzi), Yukou (Liezi) and all the (other) great philosophers who passed it on to later generations. The benefits of the Dao were opposed, and after the Wailing Bow (marking the ascension of the Yellow Emperor to Heaven) this all ended. This melody re-creates a profound mystery, the awesome meeting on grass mats at Kongtong, graceful beyond this ordinary world. How could that be like Anqi (Sheng) and Xianmen (Gao).

Music: Ten Sections14
Timings follow my recording 聽錄音 (preceded by Dalü Yi and Kongtong Yin)

00.00   1. Halt the carriage at Juci
00.51   2. Unexpected meeting at Kongtong
01.25   3. Alone knocking on the Entrance to the Way 15
02.00   4. Totally involved in Daoist mysteries
02.40   5. Gold and cinnabar transmuted nine times (to make an elixir of immortality16)
03.33   6. Nurturing Universal Peace (comment at end: "an jie" 17)
04.18   7. Yin and Yang exchange their impurities
04.59   8. Within a small thing the greatest spirit
05.35   9. Riding the wind in boundless space
06.03 10. Soaring in the Purple Clarity
06.37       harmonics
06.56       end

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a
separate page)

1. Discussing the Dao at Kongtong Mountain (崆峒問道 Kongtong Wen Dao)
As this list of references shows, there are or have been a number of mountains and one island called Kongtong, but the one in 平涼 Pingliang county of Gansu province seems to be the one most popularly acclaimed as the place for the meeting of 廣成子 Guangchengzi and the Yellow Emperor. On the mountain today there remains a Daoist center with a long history - its location helped it survive the Cultural Revolution with minimal damage - and signs concerning Guangchengzi and the Yellow Emperor. However, it should be noted that none of the early references actually identifies the location of the story, so it is difficult to say which place had the earliest association. (The Xilutang Qintong afterword to Shen You Liuhe also mentions this story.)

A. 8334.1 崆峒 Kongtong:
  1. Mountain name
    1. "Zhuangzi calls it 空同; the place where the Yellow Emperor discussed the Dao with Guangchengzi; in southwest Linru county (臨汝縣) of Henan province; also, written 空峒" (compare Juci, below). A quote is then given from Zai You section of Zhuangzi (see below).
    2. In Jiangxi; quote from 郡國志; no apparent connection.
    3. In Gansu, 酒泉 Jiuquan county (with a quote attributed to Sima Qian saying this is where the Yellow Emperor discussed the Dao).
    4. In Gansu, 岷 Min county; no apparent connection.
    5. In Gansu, 平涼 Pingliang County (quotes Chaper 1 of 史記 Shi Ji, which simply lists it with other place names: see GSR I/52).
    6. In Sichuan; no apparent connection.
  2. Island name; there is one in Shandong.
  3. Nickname of someone in the Qing dynasty.

B. 25994.150 空峒 Kongtong ("also: 空桐, 空同"), mountain name:

  1. Gansu (平涼縣 Pingliang county); no classical references.
  2. Henan (臨汝縣 Linru county; "also 空同"); references to 史記五帝記贊 Shi Ji and 列子湯問 Liezi.

C. 25994.54 空同 Kongtong:

  1. 童蒙也,與倥侗同 "childish ignorance, same as unenlightened"
  2. 山名 mountain name, same as 空峒 and 崆峒; only example is the one in 平涼 Pingliang district of Gansu province, adding the Zhuangzi reference.
  3. 複姓 double surname
  4. 戴勝極下之地, with quote from 淮南子氾論訓 (CTP 氾論訓 12 and Major et. al., Boundless Discourses 13.9, where it is part of a list of names for non-Sinitic places)
  5. 崆峒之省也 Province of Kongtong

In sum, these references allow for Kongtong to be either in Henan or in a non-Han area.

2. Mode
From standard tuning lower 3rd string: Note that none of the Kongtong references mentions music.

3. Image
This image is from an illustrated Ming dynasty Liexian Quanzhuan, which developed out of the Han dynasty 列賢傳 Liexian Zhuan.

4. Guangchengzi in Zhuangzi (China Text Project 在宥/3)
Outer chapters, 在宥 Zai You, Sec. 3.


The translation by James Legge is attached there. Other translations include Clyde Waltham: Letting be and exercising forbearance (XI/4, p.132); and James R. Ware: Preserve and accept (Chapter 11, 29-43).

A similar story is told in the 神仙傳 Shenxian Zhuan. The original text there is as follows:


Translated in Robert Ford Campany, To Live as Long as Heaven and Earth.

5. 廣成子 Guangchengzi (Master of Broad Perfection)
9693.67: 上古仙人,隱居崆峒山石室中 An immortal from ancient times who lived as a recluse in a stone room on Kongtong Mountain. References include (9693.67 and Bio/43 mention only the first two):

As yet I have not yet found any other stories mentioning Guangchengzi.

6. See Stephen Little, Taoism and the Arts of China, Art Institute of Chicago, 2000. p.177. Little translates Guangchengzi as Master of Vast Attainment and Kongtong Shan as Emptiness and Identity (空同) Mountain.

7. 具茨 Juci
1500.26 具茨 Juci quotes Zhuangzi (Section 24, Xu Wugui 25) telling of the Yellow Emperor's meeting on Mount Juci with 大隗 Da Wei (5960.1444 神名 name of a deity, mentioning only the Zhuangzi story; name of a mountain in Henan). They locate both Juci and Dawei mountains in 密縣 Mi county. Modern maps show a 新密 New Mi County between 登封 Dengfeng (a common base for exploring the Songshan mountain range) and Zhengzhou. Mizhou includes a Dawei district. However, I have found neither a Kongtong nor a Juci in either modern or historical maps of this region. My local map of Gansu identifies the Kongtong Mountain near 平涼 Pingliang as "the first mountain of Daoism." However, it seems at least as likely that in the 16th century, or whenever this melody was created, the place in mind would have been the Kongtong in Henan.

8. 軒轅黃帝故里 Xuanyuan Huangdi Guli. It is discussed in local guidebooks, but there doesn't seem to be anything here. (走進河南, pp.47/8 gives some background and mentions Juci Mountain.)

9. 軒轅皇帝宮 Xuanyuan Huangdi Gong. A local guidebook writes, "It is traditionally said that the Yellow Emperor Xuanyuan built a palace here and then 研創八陣圖 began his study of military tactics." (走進河南, p.48.)

10. 安期生 Anqi Sheng
Legendary immortal said to have lived on an island of immortals; sought by emperors. See: Giles; Berkowitz, Patterns of Disengagement, p.80n.

11. 羨門高 Xianmen Gao
29141.5/2 羨門 Xianmen: an immortal of old, given name 子高 Zigao. An ancient song list says he wrote 鳳歸林 Feng Gui Lin (Phoenixes Return to the Forest). 47631.248 has only Feng Gui, but it has a quote, "Last year the 鶯 oriole went out through the valley; this year the phoenix returned to the forest."

12. Occurrences of 崆峒引 Kongtong Yin and 崆峒問道 Kongtong Wen Dao
According to Zha Fuxi's index these two titles occur as follows:

13. 崆峒問道:解題 (1525) (English)
The original text is:

性命之學,肇自軒轅氏,下迨伯陽、漆園、禦寇諸子,以迄後世,為道益舛,號弓之後,蕩然無幾。 此曲造詣玄奧,儼乎接席崆峒,飄飄為塵外之極。豈亦安期、羨門之流哉?

The fact that Guangchengzi is not mentioned perhaps this is simply commentary that assumed everyone was already famiiar with the background story.

14. 崆峒問道,小標題 (English)
一,稅駕具茨; 二,崆峒邂逅; 三,獨扣玄關; 四,深參道玅; 五,金丹九轉; 六,葆合太和; 七,坎离交垢; 八,刀圭至神; 九,馭風寥廓;十,翱翔紫清。

15. Entrance to the Way (玄關 Xuan Guan)
21288.358 gives three definitions: name of a mountain in ancient times; doorway to one's home; Buddhist term for the gateway to the proper path (入道之關門); 2/325 has latter two, though calling it the 法門 gateway to enlightenment. Buddhist and Daoist concepts were often thus mixed.

16. Gold and cinnabar transmuted nine times (金丹九轉 jindan jiuzhuan)
41049.80 金丹 says jindan is an elixir made by Daoist immortals so that they don't get old or die. 173.682 九轉金丹 jiuzhuan jindan lists the nine transmutations as outlined in 抱朴子,金丹 Gold and Cinnabar, by Baopuzi, a nickname for Ge Hong (葛洪 283 - 343).

17. An jie 暗接
"Connect to the next section" ("the secret is welcomed" ?)

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