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Guqin silk strings are becoming a lost tradition
By Dong Liang, translated by Jin Qiuyu (the original is in china.com.cn 1)
董亮寫; 金秋雨翻譯 2

The silk guqin string that nearly faded away over sixty years ago is once again near the edge of extinction.

As of now, there is only one person who can skillfully produce silk guqin strings--Pan Guohui. However, the lack of an apprentice worries him as his retirement nears.

As his retirement approaches, Pan Guohuai has become more and more heavy-hearted, because as the only craftsman in the country who has mastered the craft of producing silk guqin strings, he has yet to find a student who can carry on his work. Yesterday, Mr. Pan Guohui explained to the media his concerns.

The guqin, (ed: one of) the world's oldest plucked instruments, relies on its strings and wooden body to produce its sound. With four millennia of history (sic.), the silk-stringed guqin has been passed down through generations. Sayings such as "cut wutong trees for qin; twine silk for strings" were popular even in the Qin and Han dynasties. During WWII, silk strings went briefly extinct and guqin players could not find them. With the help of Wu Jinglue and Zhuang Jiancheng, a Suzhou string-maker, Fang Yuting (1885-1977), was able to research and redevelop silk strings based on traditional instructions in qin books. In 1961 Pan Guohui apprenticed under Fang Yuting and began to produce silk strings.3 This was interrupted by the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976) and silk strings were not made again until 1978.

It might be said that guqin silk strings are destined to suffer adversities. Pan Guohui, who currently works at Suzhou No.1 National Musical Instruments Factory, is concerned that the craft of making silk strings will be lost after he retires. He wanted to have an apprentice, but at his income level of some 700 yuan per month, few youths would be interested. There is also low demand for silk guqin strings. Only Suzhou produces them and he is the only one who can make them well at his factory. Although his strings are famous throughout the country and abroad, he only sells some 200 sets each year with little profit.

It seems that most lovers of the guqin overseas (ed.: whether Chinese or non-Chinese) appreciate the sounds valued by people of earlier times, so they prefer silk strings, disliking characteristics of metal strings such as their heavy, long-sustain metallic noise, which make it difficult to reveal the guqin's "clear beauteous calm and softly faraway" sounds. However, most players in mainland China use metal strings and the bulk of young musicians are ignorant of silk strings. For this reason, the Wu Sheng (Sounds of the Suzhou area) Research Center for the Study of Qin at the Suzhou School of Technology and Science has allied with qin players in Beijing and Nanjing, ordering 200 sets of silk strings in order to raise awareness in the field, with little result.

Will the traditional silk-string guqin really become extinct? Mr. Pan told the reporter, apprehensive. Guqin has just been submitted to the UN as a Masterpiece of Intangible Heritage. If the craft of making silk guqin strings is lost, can the steel-string guqin accurately represent the perfected culture behind the Chinese qin?

Suzhou Daily News, 30 June 2003

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Original Chinese version from china.com.cn






古琴絲弦可謂命運多舛。現在蘇州民族樂器一廠工作的潘國輝,萬萬沒有料到,師傅苦心挖掘、來之非易的絲弦工藝,在歷經六十餘年的風雨之後,如今到他手裏再次面臨著失傳之險。潘師傅說,他曾打算收徒傳藝,但他現在每月收入700多元,這樣微薄的薪水能讓年輕一代安心學藝嗎?而且,古琴絲弦市場低迷。全國僅蘇州還在維持生產,而蘇州民族樂器一廠惟獨他一人能嫺熟地精製古琴絲弦。雖然出自潘師傅之手的古琴絲弦名揚海外,但每年銷量區區二百來副,利潤微薄。 追



蘇州日報 2003年6月30日

2. Other articles about guqin on china.com.cn are linked at 中國古琴.

3. According to my understanding, within the manufacturing process for silk strings, Pan Guohui's specialty was the final procedure "纏絃 chang xian".

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