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Shi Wen
- Qin Shi #34
師文 1
琴史 #34 2

Shi Wen (Master Wen or Music Master Wen) may well be a legendary figure. He is mentioned several times in classical literature, but as yet I have found no specific information about him beyond what is written in Liezi, Chapter 5, Questions of Tang. The Liezi account begins by saying that it was hearing Hu Ba play the qin that got Shi Wen interested in it. Qin Shi already mentioned Hu Ba in the preceding biography, and it omits mentioning him here. Otherwise its account closely follows that in Liezi, adding at the end a short commentary (here arranged as the final paragraph) by Zhu Changwen himself.3

The Liezi story associates strings and musical notes with the weather. The associations it mentions can be found in other early writings that more generally connect musical notes and qin strings to nature and the elements. See, for example, under Guanzi and in Taiyin Daquanji the explanation of Stud names and the Discussion of strings followed by the Diagram of the Five Worthies Rule). The correspondences outlined there are used in Liezi (Chinese) as follows (note that in the Chinese lunar calendar the second lunar month comes in what is considered the middle of spring):

  1. Gong string (first string), do): earth, all seasons;
    Shi Wen plays this last, harmonizing the sounds from the other strings.
  2. Shang string (second string, re): metal, autumn;
    Shi Wen plays it first, in spring summoning nanlü (la, eighth month) and brings cool breezes.
  3. Jiao string (third string, mi): wood, spring;
    Shi Wen plays it second, in autumn rousing jiazhong (re#, second month), bringing warm breezes.
  4. Zhi string (fourth string, sol): fire, summer;
    Shi Wen plays it fourth, in winter rousing ruibin (fa#, fifth month) and sunshine melts ice.
  5. Yu string (fifth string, la): water, winter;
    Shi Wen plays it third, in summer summoning huangzhong (do, 11th month), bringing frost, snow and frozen lakes.

In other words, by playing the note corresponding to the opposite season Shi Wen could change the weather. This story has been translated elsewhere, but the point about changing the weather is not always made clear. Perhaps this is because of an inherent contradiction in the story: it spans the four seasons, but seems to take place all at one time.4

The original biography of Shi Wen in Qin Shi (Chinese) is as follows,5

Shi Wen was from Zheng. He left home to travel as an apprenctice to Shi Xiang. He lifted his fingers6 and plucked the strings, but after three years could not play a piece properly.

Shi Xiang said, "You might as well go home."

Shi Wen put his qin aside and sighed, "It is not that I cannot play the strings, and it is not that I cannot play the melodies properly. What I have in mind does not reside in the strings. What I aim for does not reside in the sounds. If inside I do not grasp it to my heart, on the outside (these feelings) will not respond on the instrument. And so I do not dare extend my hand to stir the strings. Let me avail myself of some more time. In a short time we can check again.

When he saw Shi Xiang again Shi Xiang said, "How is it going with the qin?

Shi Wen said, "I've got it. Please let me demonstrate."

And so during spring he plucked the shang string thus summoning the note nanlü; cool breezes suddenly arrived and crops were ready for harvest. When autumn came he plucked the jiao string thus rousing the note jiazhong; warm breezes whirled gently and the bushes and trees crops burst forth. When summer came he plucked the yu string thus summoning the note huangzhong; frost and snow descended together, streams and ponds froze. When winter came he plucked the zhi string thus rousing the note ruibin; the sun brought heat that quickly melted the ice. As he was about to finish he called upon the gong string to coordinate (its sounds) with the other four. As a resulta luck wind soared, auspicious cloudes drifed, seet dew fell, and fresh springs bubbled.

Shi Xiang then beat his chest and jumped up, saying, "Sublime, your playing! Even Shi Kuang playing qingjiao music and Zou Yan blowing on pitchpipes7 were not as good as this. They would have put the qin under the arms and take the pipes hand, and just follow along behind you.

When the heart/mind is as the Dao, the qin is just a vessel. If grounded in the Dao, then one can encompass the vessel; by understanding the heart one can properly use the qin. As with Shi Wen's skills they in this world most approach the true essence. When a gentleman studies the qin he should correct his mind in order to examine the playing techniques, examine the playing techniques in order to investigate the sounds. To achieve beauty one can forget the music methods, because as a Daoist instrument with profound feelings, its limit is nearly like this.8

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Shi Wen 師文 references
The only information at 9129.20 師文 (he is not in Bio) is the present story: "春秋鄭國樂師,從師襄學 a music master in the state of Zheng during the Warring States period; he studied from Shi Xiang", followed by the a quote from the story in 列子唐文 Liezi, Tang Wen (Questions of Tang).

References elsewhere to Shi Wen include:

Huainanzi, Chapter 11: So if a se has no strings, even Shi Wen cannot use it to make music; only with strings can it be expressive. So strings are the vehicle for expression, but not the reason for the expressiveness.

2. 16 lines

3. Shi Wen in 師文,列子唐文 Liezi, Tang Wen (Questions of Tang)

列子,唐文:瓠巴鼓琴而鳥舞魚躍。鄭師文聞之。棄家從師襄遊。柱指鈞弦,三年不成章。 師襄曰:「子可以歸矣。」師文捨其琴,歎曰:「文非弦之不能鉤,非章之不能成。文所存者不在弦,所志者不在聲。內不得于心,外不應于器,故不敢發手而動弦。且小假之以觀其所。」無幾何,復見師襄。師襄曰:「子之琴何如?」師文曰:「得之矣。請嘗試之。」於是當春而叩商弦以召南呂,涼風忽至,草木成實。及秋而叩角弦以激夾鍾,溫風徐迴,草木發榮。當夏而叩羽弦以召黃鐘,霜雪交下,川池暴沍。及冬而叩徵絃,以激蕤賓,陽光熾烈,堅冰立散。將終,命宮而總四弦,則景風翔,慶雲浮,甘露降,澧泉涌。師襄乃撫心高蹈曰:「微矣!子之彈也!雖師曠之清角,鄒衍之吹律,亡以加之。彼將挾琴執管而從子之後耳。」

The same story in 琴史 Qin Shi (#34) is as follows (changes marked):

師文,鄭人也。棄家從師襄遊。柱捐(instead of 指)鈞弦,三年不成章。師襄曰:「子可(omit 以)歸矣。」師文舍(instead of 捨)其琴,歎曰:「文非弦之不能鉤,非章之不能成。文所存者不在弦,所志者不在聲。內不得於心,外不應於器,故不敢發手而動弦。且(omits 小)假之以觀其後(instead of 所)。」無幾何,復見師襄。師襄曰:「子之琴何如?」師文曰:「得之矣。請嘗試之。」於是當春而叩商弦以召南呂,涼風忽至,草木成實。及秋而叩角弦以激夾鍾,溫風徐迴,草木發榮。當夏而叩羽弦而(instead of 以)召黃鐘,霜雪交下,川池暴沍。及冬而叩徵絃,以激蕤賓,陽光熾烈,冰威(instead of 堅冰)立散。將終,命宮而總四弦,則景風翔,慶雲浮,甘露降,醴(instead of 澧)泉涌。師襄乃撫心高蹈曰:「微矣!子之彈也!雖師曠之清角,鄒衍之吹律,亡以加之。彼將挾琴執管而從子之後耳。」(End of the Liezi account.)夫心者道也,琴則器也。本乎道則可以周於器,通乎心故可以應於琴。若師文之技其天下之至精乎。故君子之學於琴者,宜正心以審法,審法以察音。及其妙也,則音法可忘,而道器冥感,其殆庶幾矣。

4. Some other recountings of this story can be found through an internet search.

5. The translation here of the section quoted from Liezi is largely taken from the translation by A.C. Graham (The Book of Lieh-Tzu, John Murray, 1961; Mandala reprint 1991, pp. 107-8).

6. Liezi: 柱指. Qin Shi has 柱捐. Both are vague: fingers like pillars? Pay his tuition?

7. Zou Yan 鄒衍 (4th C. BCE)
Shi Ji 74, Mencius and Xun Qing (史記,孟子,荀卿) discusses the 齊三騶子 "Three Master Zou's of Qi" (elsewhere Zou is written 鄒): 鄒忌 Zou Ji (a qin master),鄒衍 Zou Yan (40445.62, mentioned here), and 騶奭 (45903.49) Zou Shi. Giles: A native of 齊 Qi who served prince 昭 Zhao of Yan, "he is said to have so improved the climate of a certain cold valley that millet grew readily there ever afterwards. He wrote on cosmogony and the five elements, and was very fond of discussing astronomical problems...." I don't know where the story about pitchpipes (律 lü) comes from.

8. Corrections needed.

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