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Shi Kuang
- Qin Shi #31
師曠 1
琴史 #31 2
A statue of Shi Kuang playing qin3      
The famous music master Shi Kuang is usually said to have been from the state of Jin (now southern Shanxi province),
4 where he was associated in particular with Duke Ping of Jin (r. 557 - 532).5 There are numerous stories about Shi Kuang; indeed, it is commonly said he created the melody White Snow, a shang mode melody apparently at one time associated with the qingshang melody in the account given here.6 However, not all such stories are associated with the state of Jin and not all concern the qin.7 For example the image at right, though it shows Shi Kuang playing a qin, is from the Old Wind Music Terrace in Kaifeng, where the associated story tells of Shi Kuang organizing wind music performances. Other stories say he wrote a Classic of Birds (Qin Jing).

As for the story told here in Qin Shi, the second to sixth paragraphs tell a story similar to one told in Han Feizi as well as in Shi Ji, Book 24, though in the latter it illustrates a story related to the melody Nan Feng Ge.8 Meanwhile, another story from Han Feizi, also quoted in Qinshu Daquan (Folio 16, #24), has Shi Kuang of Jin playing the qin and laughing at 叔向 Shu Xiang.9

Qin illustration 9 in Taiyin Daquanji claims to be a depiction of Shi Kuang's Moon Qin.10

The Qin Shi entry is as follows.11

(Compare versions in Han Shu and Li Ji.12) Shi Kuang (Master Kuang), style name 子野 Ziye, was a man of 晉 Jin. Blind from birth, he was very capable and outspoken, without hiding anything. It was also said when he had been the 太宰 chief minister of Jin it had been well ruled. He didn't restrict artisans and teachers. As for music, there was nothing he didn't know. He could predict good and bad luck, victory and defeat. The people of Jin once heard that Chu soldiers were coming. Shi Kuang said, They will not attack us. Suddenly he sang a 北風 northern air, then a 南風 southern air. 南風不競多死聲楚必無功已而果然 (? Chu did not attack.) As for playing the qin it affected the spirit. For 10,000 generations people talking about music have had to begin with Shi Kuang.

(Compare Shi Ji, Annal 24, which is somewhat different here.13) Moreover, during the period 534 - 493, 衛靈公 Duke Ling of Wei was on his way to Jin when he stopped along the Pu River. In the middle of the night hearing the sound of someone playing a qin he asked those around him about it, but they hadn't heard anything. He then called Master Juan (Shi Juan14) and asked him the reason for this. He further said that it seems like the music of ghosts. Listen to it for me and write it down. Shi Juan said, Will do. The next day he said, I've got it but I am not yet fluent with it. Please stay one more night and I will become fluent. So they stayed another night. The next day he reported, I am fluent with it.

They then went on to Jin and saw 平公 Duke Ping. Duke Ping laid out wine for them on Shihui Terrace. The wine was intoxicating. Duke Ling then said, As I was coming here I heard some new sounds. Please let it be played. (Duke Ping assented. Duke Ling) then ordered Shi Juan to play the qin. Before he had finished (Duke Ping's music advisor) Shi Kuang brushed against the strings and stopped the sounds. He said, This is the sound of a doomed state; you must not listen to it. Duke Ping said, Why do you say that? Shi Kuang said, It was created by Shi Yan15 and is the reckless music of Zhou Xin (the dissolute last Shang ruler). When Wu Wang attacked Zhou Xin, Shi Yan went off to the east. He threw himself in the Pu River and drowned. So if you heard this sound you must have been by the Pu River. Duke Ping said, I still would like to hear it. Shi Juan then played it to the end. Duke Ping said, What kind of sound was that? Shi Kuang said, it was a pure shang (qingshang) melody.16 (Duke Ping asked, Is that the most moving of all melodies?17 Shi Kuang said, Not as much as a pure zhi [qingzhi] melody.)

Duke Ping then had (Shi Juan or Shi Kuang) play in pure zhi (qingzhi).18 As soon as he began to play 28 black cranes19 gathered in the courtyard. When he continued to play they stretched their necks and called out, then stretched their wings and danced. Duke Ping was overjoyed. He asked, saying, Is there not something even more moving than this?

Shi Kuang said, It is not (as moving) as a pure jiao (qingjiao) melody.20 Formerly the Yellow Emperor arranged a gathering of ghosts and spirits. Today your lordship's virtue and righteousness and not sufficient to listen to it. If you listen you will be destroyed. Duke Ping said, Nevertheless, I am willing to hear it. Shi Kuang then had no choice. He took his qin and played it. When he played it once white clouds from the northwest rose up. When he played it again the wind arose, with rain after it. Tiles flew from the roof and everyone ran off. Duke Ping was terrified. The kingdom of Jin then had a great drought and the earth was red for three years.

(This segment of the Shi Ji passage ends, "Whether the listeners are lucky or unlucky, with regards to music they should not foolishly follow their passions." It is followed by the final passage of Annal 24, in which Sima Qian comments on music. This final passage is included in QSDQ, Folio 1, #5.)

Even though qin is one type of music instrument....(translation incomplete)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Sources for Shi Kuang (Master Kuang, or Music Master Kuang)
For Chinese sources 9129.xxx, but .198 師曠之枝策 quotes a Zhuangzi story that mentions the qin (昭文之鼔琴也,師曠之枝策也,惠子之據梧也), while .199 師曠之聰 quotes Mengzi on Shi Kuang's acute hearing. Xu Jian discusses him in his Outline History, Chapter 1. A. (pp. 3-4).

Shi Kuang was perhaps the most famous of China's ancient Music Masters, but there is little information about him in English. Wiki includes him under the Music Bureau, where he is said to have been music master in 6th century Jin (Shanxi); commentary with the image above has him as music master in Liang (Henan). China Knowledge concentrates on the Classic of Birds (禽經 Qin Jing) attributed to him (though clearly a much later work). In general, internet biographies agree that his style name was 子野 Ziye but they differ on other details, such as his home town, most saying he was from 山西洪洞 Hongdong in Shanxi, but some saying he was from 冀州南和 Nanhe in Jizhou (southern part of modern Hebei province). One of them (hudong.com) has a variety of images of or related to him, including statues such as the above.

韓非子 Han Feizi (Wiki; original text online, e.g., in China Text Project) has several stories about Shi Kuang (including one in Chapter 10 regarding the melody White Snow).

The section concerning the story given here of Shi Xiang and Duke Ping of Jin comes from the section called 十過 Ten Faults. The original text is as follows,


This passage has been recounted by Burton Watson in his partial translation of Han Feizi (Han Fei Tzu: Basic Writings, 1964; his Chapter 4, Ten Faults, is Han Feizi Section 10).

Han Feizi also has several other stories concerning Shi Kuang. The original texts of the two quoted in Qinshu Daqian are as follows:

  1. (Paragraphs 9 an 10 of) the section called 難一 Nan Yi.
    晉平公與群臣飲,飲酣,乃喟然歎曰:「莫樂為人君!惟其言而莫之違。」師曠侍坐於前,援琴撞之,公披衽而避,琴壞於壁。公曰:「太師誰撞?」師曠曰:「今者有小人言於側者,故撞之。」公曰:「寡人也。」師曠曰:「啞!是非君人者之言也。」左右請除之。公曰:「釋之,以為寡人戒。」 10 打開字典顯示相似段落。

    As Duke Ping of Jin was drinking with his vassals he became intoxicated and thus sighed.... (A version of this story, which tells of Shi Kuang deliberately bumping into Duke Ping, is also found in Huainanzi: see the translation from Major et al).


    Not yet translated.

  2. Paragraph 7 of the section called 難二 Nan Er:

The latter is a story concerning 叔向 Shu Xiang, about which see further below.

2. 27 lines

3. Image of 師曠 Shi Kuang playing the qin Kaifeng honors Shi Kuang    
The statue above is in King Yu Terrace Park (禹王臺公園 Yu Wang Gongyuan), just outside the old South Gate in Kaifeng, Henan; the Yellow River used to flow through here. Yu is the legendary emperor better known as Yu the Great (大禹 Da Yu). The statue of Shi Kuang is obviously new.

In contrast, the image at right, from the same park, is an old photo (source) of what is said to be the oldest relic in Kaifeng, the Old Wind Music Terrace (古吹臺 Guchui Tai). This terrace is specifically associated with Shi Kuang. According to tradition, during the Liang kingdom, which from 502 to 556 was based here, their king was much enamored of Shi Kuang, who it was said had once come to Liang and entertained people with three days of music. In honor of this the king built the pavilion here.

This structure is apparently part of what is now called King Yu's Terrace (禹王臺 Yuwangtai). Modern images show an arch (牌坊 baifang?) with the characters "古吹臺" at the bottom of steps going up to the (Yuwang?) Shrine (example).

4. Jin 晉
Jin (Wikipedia) was a state north of Chu, in what is today southern 山西 Shanxi province.

5. Duke Ping of Jin 晉平公
In addition to his association with Shi Kuang the duke also figures in one account of the life of Bo Ya.

6. White Snow (白雪 Bai Xue)
This attribution seems to come from passages in ancient texts that tell of disasters occuring when Duke Ping ordered Shi Kuang to play a melody of this title at an inappropriate time. For example, Huainanzi Section 6 (覽冥訓 Lan Ming Xun, paragraph 1m, has the following account (translation from Major et al, 6.1):

"In ancient times Music Master Kuang played the tune 'White Snow,' and because of that, spiritlike creatures descended (from heaven); wind and rain arrived violently; Duke Ping became impotent and ill; and the lands of the state of Jin reddened (with drought)."

A footnote comments, "'White Snow' evidently was a work of sacred music. When the Jin ruler Duke Ping ordered his music master to play it outside its proper liturgical context, the misfortunes named here resulted. A much more detailed version of the story appears in Hanfeizi, chap. 10." However, those longer accounts generally do not mention the title "White Snow". Its connection to Sunny Spring (Yang Chun) seems to have come later.

7. Other stories of Shi Xiang
For the example the story associated with with Shi Xiang at Liang (in spite of the image at top), as described here, concerns wind music. The attribution to him of a Classic of Birds (禽經 Qin Jing) is mentioned above.

8. Version in Shi Ji
Van Gulik, Lore, pp.143-4, translates the story from Shi Ji, Annal 24 (the whole annal is not yet fully translated). It is somewhat different from here, e.g., not mentioning the names of the melodies/modes: Pure shang (Qing shang), Pure jiao (Qing jiao) and Pure zhi (Qing zhi).

The story in detail is told in several other ancient sources. The Qin Shi version here seems closer to the one in Hanfeizi, 十過 10 Faults, though leaving out some details. Hanfeizi mentions the melody names. QSDQ, Folio 16 includes several briefer references from other sources.

9. Shu Xiang 叔向 (d. ca. 528 BCE)
The original text of 韓非子 Han Feizi is given above; in it Shi Xiang plays qin as he gives his comment on Shu Xiang. Shu Xiang himself is also quoted in the Zuo Zhuan regarding understanding (the sounds of) 風 wind for political prognostications ("wind" could also be "airs", with the music of a country showing something about that country's fate).

10. The 月琴 yueqin illustration shows not a modern yueqin but a guqin with a large round section in the middle.

11. Original Qin Shi text
The original Chinese is as follows:







Punctuation mostly from Wang Mengshu and site.douban.com.

12. Sources for the first section
See 漢書、禮記

13. Shi Ji story
It is not clear whether Zhu Changwen is making his own paraphrase of the Shi Ji text or quoting some other early version (or paraphrasing). In the Shi Ji the related passage cited is directly preceded by a story of Shun playing Nan Feng Ge.

14. 師涓 Shi Juan
This Shi Juan (Music Master Juan, 9129.117/2) is not related to #27 涓子 Juanzi. Xu Jian discusses him in his Outline History, Chapter 1. A. (p. 3), but only in conjunction with the story told here from Shi Ji.

15. 師延 Shi Yan
Shi Yan (Music Master Yan) was Music Master of 紂辛 Zhou Xin (d.1122 BCE), the dissolute last ruler of the Shang dynasty. 9129.73 retells the present story from Shi Ji, Hanfeizi and Huainanzi, adding nothing about Shi Yan himself.

16. 18003.383 清商 qingshang: one of five tones, autumn wind, and name of a ghost.
      18003.384 清商三調 Qingshang Sandiao: name of a melody
      18003.386 清商曲歌辭 Qingshang Qu Geci: Yuefu section
      18003.387 清商伎 Qingshang Ji: Tang court music
      18003.388 清商怨 Qingshang Yuan: 詞牌 cipai and 曲牌 qupai names.

17. The meaning of 悲 bei
The Chinese word translated here and below as "moving" is 悲 bei, most commonly translated as something like "sad". For details on this see the wonderful article by Ronald Egan, Music, Sadness, and the Qin, HJAS 57. The original Chinese (the part in parentheses added from Han Fei Zi) has: 公曰﹕清商固最悲乎?師曠曰﹕不如清徵。 See further under Mozi Bei Ge.

18. Pure zhi (清徵 qingzhi)
18003.674 清徵 qingzhi: 清澄之徵音 clear zhi tones; quotes the Shi Kuang story from Hanfeizi and 風俗通,瑟 Fengsu Tong, Se. The significance of zhi mode is also told in connection with a story about Mao Minzhong playing Guanguang Cao in zhi mode.

19. Black cranes (玄鶴 Xuan He)
This site has a number of later references to black crane/black cranes (search); presumably they allude to the present story, though there is also another early story mentioning cranes told in connection with Chu Shang Liang. Note also the story from Korea about the origins of the komungo

20. Qingjiao 清角
18003.149/1 清角 Qingjiao: one of the five tones; quotes a biography of Liu Kun, 晉書 History of Jin, Liezi, Hanfeizi (the present story), Wen Xuan and Su Dongpo. 18003.149/2 name of a qin belonging to Huang Di. In the Shi Ji version of the story, where the melody names are not mentioned, there is only brief mention of Huang Di. In the Hanfeizi version there is more detail about Huang Di gathering various spirits into a great assemby on 泰山 Mount Tai and there created the Qingjiao music.

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