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156. Encountering Spirits in an Isolated Mansion
- Wumei mode 2: 4 5 6 1 2 3 5
孤館遇神 1
Gu Guan Yu Shen
  Encountering spirits3        
The theme of this melody is one of the numerous ghost stories involving Xi Kang (223-262), a famous writer who was unable to keep clear of political intrigue and ended up being executed. He is often depicted in paintings playing the qin in the middle of gatherings of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, and he is credited with having written several qin melodies.4 The Xi Kang ghost stories usually involve him meeting ghosts while playing the qin. One of the most famous stories says that he learned part of Guangling San from a ghost (see commentary accompanying the illustration at right) who made Xi Kang promise not to pass it on to anyone else.5

R.H. van Gulik relates two of these ghost stories in his book on qin lore.6 In one a ghost appears in chains while Xi Kang is playing the qin; Xi Kang thinks it must be the ghost of Cai Yong, who died in chains. In the other a figure that looks ten feet tall appears in black while Xi Kang is playing qin; Xi Kang extinguishes his lamp, saying one should not emulate the light coming from a goblin.

Liexian Quanzhuan, a greatly expanded later edition of the Liexian Zhuan, also has a version of the present story.7 Again it tells of eight ghosts, identifying themselves as former Zhou dynasty court musicians, appearing before Xi Kang in a mansion, but in that account the mansion belongs to a man named Wang Botong,8 rather than Wang Bolin.9 In addition, it relates how one of these ghosts then taught Xi Kang part of Guangling San.10 And that re-telling does not include the ghosts later re-appearing to thank Xi Kang in a dream.

The fourth, fifth and sixth sections of the present melody are noteworthy both for their brevity and their attempts to imitate, in succession, strange winds, thunder and lightning, then the sound of shouting at ghosts.

This melody survives only in Xilutang Qintong (1525).11

Original preface12

One night Xi Kang, when playing qin in the isolated mansion of Wang Bolin, saw eight demonic figures crouched under a lantern, so he shouted at them. They answered, "At one time during the Zhou dynasty we were court musicians. We were allowed to commit suicide here, but our corpses have not yet decomposed, so I ask that you move them." The request having been made, (Xi Kang) told Bolin, and they dug up the neglected old bones, giving them a proper burial. (Later that?) night in a dream the eight men gathered around (Xi Kang) and bowed to him, then left. (Xi) Kang marveled at this affair, and so had this piece composed.

Twelve sections13
(Partially titled; timings are from my online recording [聽錄音])

00.00     1. (No title)
00.58     2. Sit up straight (Sit quietly?)
01.50     3. Seeing ghosts
02.16     4. Strange winds
02.20     5. Thunder and lightning
02.25     6. Shouting at the ghosts
02.31     7. The ghosts complain
02.59    (7.a. Responding to the ghosts? 14)
03.27     8. The ghosts depart
03.56     9. A call to heaven 15
04.40   10. Dawn's early light
05.08   11. The rooster crows
05.28   12. Beating a drum 16
06.02         Melody ends (no harmonics)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 孤館遇神 Gu Guan Yu Shen
7111.224 and 4/228 Gu Guan say only that this means a lonely palace; nothing about spirits or qin. 遇神 yu shen 39870.xx.

2. Wumei mode (無媒調 wumei diao)
From standard tuning lower the third and sixth strings. Wumei generally means "no go-between" for a potential marriage. It can also mean there is no one who can give a general recommendation, but it seems something of a stretch to suggest that this tuning was used here to remind us that it is unlikely that there would be a go-between involved when a human meets a ghost.

3. Encountering spirits
A black and white version of this image is discussed by Wang Shixiang in his article on Guangling San. In the foreground spirits are emerging from the ground.

4. For example, Xi Kang is sometimes credited with having written Guangling San and Feng Ru Song Ge.

5. The story related in the Appendix below (not translated) tells of both Xi Kang and Gu Guan Yu Shen.

6. Ghost stories
Van Gulik, in Lore of the Chinese Lute, (in an otherwise wonderful book Van Gulik mistranslates qin as lute rather than the organologically correct "zither"), relates these two stories as #12 and #13 among the 22 qin stories he translates on pp.153-167 from either 青蓮舫琴雅 Qinglianfang Qinya (ca. 1641; see Lore, p.180) or 天聞閣琴譜集成 Tianwenge Qinpu Jicheng (1876); he doesn't identify which is from which, and adds that some stories might be more complete in their original sources.

7. 列仙全傳 Liexian Quanzhuan
Its illustrations include this one of Xi Kang (no ghosts).

8. 王伯通 Wang Botong
21295xxx; 538.269 gives Botong as nicknames for several people, but none is surnamed Wang. The Liexian Quanzhuan account claims that a ghost predicted Wang would become 太守 governor, then states that in fact he did.

9. 王伯林 Wang Bolin
21295.xxx; I have not found any other mention of the name Wang Bolin, and the 伯林 Bolin mentioned in the Chu Ci poem Tian Wen (see Hawkes, p.1439) is probably unconnected .

10. A ghost teaches Xi Kang Guangling San
Van Gulik, in Hs'i Kang, p. 48, says that this story is in Chapter 4 of 列仙傳 Liexian Zhuan, but clearly he is referring to the Ming dynasty 列仙全傳 Liexian Quanzhuan, where it is part of Xi Kang's entry (23rd enty in Folio IV). Apparently a relatively short version is also in 語林 Yu Lin, and perhaps it is also in one of the later Daoist hagiographies such as the 4th C. 神仙傳 Shenxian Zhuan (84 or 92 more detailed biographies), the 10th c. 續仙傳 Xu Xian Zhuan, or the 16th c. 列仙全傳 Liexian Quanzhuan.

11. Tracing Gu Guan Yu Shen
Zha Guide, 22/196/-- lists it only here. This melody was apparently reconstructed at one time by Yu Shaoze: a recording by (his grandson) Zeng Chengwei says Zeng learned it from Yu, and other recordings (e.g., by Yao Gongbai) seem largely to follow this version.

12. For some reason the punctuated version in Zha Guide, p. 196, changes the characters 八 (8) in the text to 幾 (several).

13. Original Chinese section titles
These are:

  1. (無題)
  2. 端坐
  3. 鬼見
  4. 怪風
  5. 雷電
  6. 喝鬼
  7. 鬼訴
  8. 鬼出
  9. 呼天
  10. 曙景
  11. 雞唱
  12. 擊鼓

14. Section 7, which is the longest in this melody, can easily be divided in two parts. For me the second part, beginning with stopped sounds in a low register, evokes responding to the ghost's request (應鬼?) by digging up the bodies (掘骸?). (Return)

15. 3570.3 呼天 hu tian says that this means calling to heaven with a request. However, the logical sequence of the story suggests that here either it suggests Xi Kang thanking heaven for the ghosts' departure, or it refers to the ghosts (having gone from hell to heaven) thanking Xi Kang in the dream thanking Xi Kang. As I play I prefer the latter imagery. The harmonic passage passes all the way from the top end of the qin to the bottom, reminding me of their all gathering around Xi Kang to bow to him. (Return)

16. Does 擊鼓 beating a drum suggest Xi Kang 神其事 marveling at the affair? (Return)

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

Xi Zhongshan (
Xi Kang) Encounters Spirits in an Isolated Mansion

The text here was copied off the internet, with credit given alternately to 葛洪 Ge Hong (283 - 343) and to the 《竹書紀年》Bamboo Annals. I have not yet studied it carefully.


有嵇康者,師黃老,尚玄學,精於笛,妙於琴,善音律,好仙神。是年嘗游天台,觀東海日出,賞仙山勝景,訪太公故地,瞻仙祖遺蹤,見安期先生石屋尚在,河上公坐痕猶存。至女巫之墓,墓與屋相連,人與鬼同居,乃嘆曰:「陰陽兩界,實一牆之隔耳」。遂夜宿仙台,見月光瀉瀉,清風徐徐,碧波蕩蕩,仙島渺渺,天台巍巍,星漢迢迢。贊曰:「大美不言,真人間仙境也!」 忽聞谷中琴聲幽幽,玄樂綿綿。尋聲覓去,至一茅舍。屏息靜聽,恐亂仙音也。曲終,一清麗女子開門曰:「先生光臨寒捨,不勝榮幸。請入內稍坐」。康喜遇知音,欣然入室。備茶對坐,方知是谷中女巫。雖人鬼殊途,竟一見如故,徹夜長談。或論天地自然生死輪回之法,或證詩詞音律琴棋書畫之妙。談至興濃,康曰「敢問神女所彈何曲?」神巫曰:「情之所至,信手而彈耳,無名之曲」。康請教再三,始授之,今《孤館遇神》是也。神巫曰:「見先生愛琴,吾另有《廣陵散》相贈。此乃天籟之音,曲中丈夫也,不可輕傳」。康問「何人所為?」對曰:「廣陵子是也。昔與聶政山中習琴,形同骨肉也」。康恍然大悟,恭請神女賜之,習至天明方散。