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Li Mian
- Qin Shi #122
李勉 1
琴史 #122 2 
Li Mian describes a Sima Xiangru qin 3    
Li Mian (717 - 788; Wiki), style name Yuanqing, and one of his sons, Li Yue, are the first (earliest) members of the Tang dynasty imperial clan to have entries in Qin Shi (or Qin Shi Bu).4 There are some early emperors, in particular Gaozong5 and Xuanzong,6 who have qin stories or melodies connected to them, but the connections are strong enough to give either of them special entries.

As the chart of Li Mian's relationship to the early Tang emperors shows (below), he was a great-grandson of Li Yuanyi, Prince of Zheng,7 making him a fourth generation descendant of the founder of the Tang dynasty, Li Yuan.8 Li Mian himself became Duke of Qian, in which capacity he served in a number of places under four emperors, Xuanzong, Suzong,9 Daizong10 and Dezong.11

Qinshu Cunmu #49 quotes extensively from a Qin Talk attributed to Li Mian, but apparently lost.12

Qinshu Daquan (1585) quotes him extensively in several places (perhaps drawing on a Ming dynasty work called 太平御覽 Taiping Yulan).13

  1. Folio 5 (V/104ff), a collection of qin illustrations with commentary for each, often quotes from a 李勉琴記 Qin Ji by Li Mian, in particular 虞舜琴 Yu Shun Qin, 仲尼琴 Zhongni Qin, 伯牙琴 Boya Qin, 秦始皇琴 Qinshihuang Qin, 司馬相如琴 Sima Xiangru Qin (illustration is at right), 嵇康琴 Xi Kang Qin, 齊東山琴 Qi Dongshan Qin, 梁千面琴 Liang Qianmian Qin, and 隋白面琴 Sui Baimian Qin. After these, but without images, are also discussed what are said to be his own (百衲 baina) qins (V/124), 響泉 Xiang Quan and 韻磬 Yun Qing. Most of these are also included in Taiyin Daquanji, where it is that they are described as types of baina qin Li Mian himself is said to have made. However, the former book does not mention Li Mian together with any of the illustrations, and neither book has images of the ones specifically ascribed to Li Mian (though see this image of another Xiang Quan qin).

  2. Folio 16, #44 (V.362) has an article about him looking for good materials for making qin. Here he is called 李汧公勉 Li Mian, Duke of Qian. The original passage in Qinshu Daquan is as follows,


    In the aforementioned Taiping Yulan, in a chapter called 琴下 Qin Xia from 樂部十七 Music Section 17, there is the following very similar passage, said to be a quote from "國史補 Guo Shi Bu" (by 李肇 Li Zhao of the Tang dynasty),

    《國史補》又曰:李汧公勉雅好琴。常斫桐,又取漆筩為之,多至數百張,求者與之。有絕代者,一名響泉,一名韻磬,自寶於家。京師又以樊氏、路氏為第一。路氏有房太尉石枕,損之不理。蜀氏斫琴,嘗自品第一。上者以玉,次者以琴瑟,又次以金徽、螺蚌。 Neither passage is yet translated.

Li Mian is also quoted in Qinyuan Yaolu III.

A melody named Jing Guan Yin, quite popular in the Qing dynasty, was sometimes attributed to him. None of the other materials about him seem to mention this melody.14

Li Mian had a nephew named Li Kuangwen, author of a book called Xixia.15 Perhaps this is the book referred to by Van Gulik, when he writes that Li Mian is said to have invented a technique for making artificial fingernails out of bamboo.16 Although these may have become quite popular, they were criticised on the basis that they "rejected the true for the false".

The original biography says,17

(Li Mian, style name Yuanqing, was a descendent of Li Yuanyi, Prince of Zheng....)

He made qin that were widely prized. The chronicles of musicians say that ones named 響泉 Xiang Quan and 韻磬 Yun Qing were loved by 勉 Mian. It was also said of the qins he made, whenever he found new or old 桐 tong wood he would knock on it. The ones with harmonious sound he would cut and put together (to make) the so-called 百衲琴 baina qins (because they were each made from 100 pieces of wood). Xiang Quan and Yun Qing, the first string could be on it for 10 years without breaking. His tools were the very best. If you were not one of those people deeply into qin how could you compare this? Only people like Xi Kang and Dai Kui can do so. Later, 張茂樞 Zhang Maoqu (d. 906; Bio/1281) obtained these two qins....

(Much more)...

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Li Mian 李勉 references (Wiki)
14819.877 [2]; Bio/911. Style name 元卿 Yuanqing; 汧公 Duke of Qian.

2. Qin Shi #122
Although my edition of Qin Shi has Li Mian in the ToC, calling him 李丞相勉 Prime Minister Li Mian, the actual text has only the latter part of his entry, placed under #120 Fang Gong. After 10 characters in that entry there is a gap. The text then skips all of #121 張鎬 Zhang Gao, resuming about a quarter of the way into Li Mian's biography (based on its entry in Qinshu Daquan, Folio 15, #18 (V.326), where it is 14 lines long.

3. Commentary by Li Mian with an Illustration of a Sima Xiangru qin
Scanned from QQJC V/113; one of the images mentioned above.

4. 李世民 Li Shimin, 唐太宗 Tang Taizong emperor (in early Tang chart)
There are only indirect musical references, such as here, when he says that sad songs cannot undermine good government.

5. 李隆基 Li Longji, 唐玄宗 Tang Xuanzong emperor (r. 713 - 756; in early Tang chart)
Also called the 明皇 Minghuang emperor, 李隆基 Li Longji (685 - 762) divided his reign into two periods, 開元 Kai Yuan (712-742) and 天寶 Tian Bao (743-756). The whole reign was noted for its early brilliance and later decadence, as epitomized by his infatuation with his concubine Yang Guifei. In 756, when An Lushan revolted and captured the capital, Chang An, Xuanzong's troops insisted that Yang Guifei be executed. After the An Lushan was defeated Xuanzong went into retirement, dying in 762.

Thus, Hsu Wen-ying, The Ku-ch'in, p.18, says guqin solo playing was neglected by Minghuang and during his reign. Nevertheless, there are a number of references on this site which mention him. These include:

From these references it can be seen that, although there are more Xuanzong qin references than Taizong ones, again they tend to be tangential (concerning stories, not suggestions that he may have played himself).

6. Li Mian within the Tang imperial family
This chart shows the relationship between Li Mian and the Tang emperors through Xuanzong. Links to English names are to English Wikipedia entries, links to the Chinese characters are to Chinese Wikipedia entries.

    Founder   2nd generation   3rd generation   4th generation   5th generation
李淵 Li Yuan (566-635)
  高祖 Gaozu (618-626)
李世民 Li Shimin (599-649)
  太宗 Taizong (626-649)
李治 Li Zhi (628-683)
 高宗 Gaozong (649-683)
Zhongzong, Ruizong
  & Wu Zetian
李隆基 Li Longji (685-762)
  玄宗 Xuanzong (712-756)
李元懿 Li Yuanyi (~620-673), 鄭王 Prince of Zheng
李璿 Li Xuan (<730-774)
  南海公 Duke of Nanhai
李擇言 Li Zeyan
  Duke of Ande
李勉 Li Mian (717-788)
  汧公 Duke of Qian;
                son: 李約 Li Yue

The three successors of Xuanzong are mentioned below.

7. 李元懿 Li Yuanyi
鄭王元懿 , Yuanyi, Prince of Zheng, was the 13th son of 李淵 Li Yuan, founder of the Tang dynasty.

8. 李淵 Li Yuan (565-635; Wiki: Emperor Gaozu)
Founder of the Tang dynasty, Li Yuan ruled as 唐高祖 Tang Emperor Gaozu from 618 to 627, when he abdicated in favor of his son, Li Shimin. I have not yet found any stories connecting Li Yuan to the guqin.

李世民 Li Shimin (598-649; Wiki: Emperor Taizong)
Li Shimin ruled from 626 - 649 as the 唐太宗 Tang Taizong emperor. The reliablity of any stories mentioned on this site connecting him to the qin is uncertain. (Search this site and/or see 18 Scholars Ascend Yingzhou.)

9. 肅宗 Suzong (r. 756-762 [Wiki])
李亭 Li Ting (711 - 762), the third son of Xuanzong. No known qin references (search this site).

10. 代宗 Daizong (r. 762-779 [Wiki])
李豫 Li Yu (727 - 779), the eldest son of Suzong. No known qin references (search this site).

1. 德宗 Dezong (r.779-805 [Wiki])
Li Shi (742-805), the eldest son of Daizong. No known qin references (search this site).

12. Qin Talk, 1 folio (琴說一卷 Qin Shuo)
See Qinshu Cunmu, Entry 49 (Folio II, p. 13).

13. 太平御覽 Taiping Yulan (Wiki: Imperial Readings of the Taiping Era)
This encyclopedic work was compiled on imperial order at the beginning of the Song dynasty. The online version on the China Text Project site has 1000 chapters in 55 sections; the music section is in 22 chapters (563 to 584), of which its chapters 15, 16 and 17 (577 to 579) specifically concern qin. All three chapters seem to consist entirely of quotations from earlier sources.

14. 靜觀吟 Jing Guan Yin
See separate page.

15. 李匡文 Li Kuangwen
Bio/966, 李匡文 Li Kuangwen, style name 濟翁 Jiweng, wrote a 資暇 Zixia (see next footnote).

16. Artificial fingernails of bamboo (削竹為甲)
Van Gulik, in Lore, p.120, footnote 86; the footnote, a history of the artificial fingernail, is quoted in full elsewhere.

17. Original text
Not yet online. Note the comment above about the gap in Qin Shi at that point.

Return to QSCB, or to the Guqin ToC.