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Wang Tong
- Qin Shi #112
王通 1
琴史 #112 2
Wang Tong 3            
Wang Tong (583 - 616), style name Zhongyan, was later better known by the nickname Wenzhongzi (Wen Zhongzi). A famous writer and Confucian teacher, he was the elder brother of
Wang Ji. They were both from Longmen, northeast of Chang'an.

As a youth Wang Tong was (see Giles) "such an ardent student that for six years he never took off his clothes." He proposed 12 "Plans to Secure the Empire", and when these were not accepted he retired to He Fen, the area between the Fen and Yellow rivers, about 150 km. northeast of Chang An, there teaching thousands of students. When Yang Su4 made him an offer of official employment, he proudly declined it. After his death his disciples canonized him Wenzhongzi.

Wang Tong has been associated with at least three specific qin melodies:

  1. Fenting Cao5
    He is said to have created this; the title can be found in old melody lists, but there is no surviving tablature.
  2. Xing Tan
    The surviving 1525 tablature credits him but the source of this connection is unclear
  3. Gujiao Xing
    Again, the reliability of this attribution is questionable

Qinshu Daquan, Folio 16, #30 has two extracts from what is written here (one is shorter and sometimes re-ordered).6

The original essay in Qin Shi begins as follows.7

Wen Zhongzi had the given name Tong and style name Zhongyan. As a youth he had an ardent desire to help people, and so (in 592 CE) he traveled west to Chang An to see the Sui emperor Wendi (r. 589 - 605) and propose 12 Plans to Secure Tranquility, but they were not able to use them.

(Then follows a scrambled version of Wang Tong's Kingly Way (王道 Wang Dao) as found in Qinshu Daquan, Folio 16, #30)
(When I was in Chang An,) 楊素 Yang Su, 蘇夔 Su Kui (son of Su Wei [Wiki]) and 李德林 Li Delin (Wiki) all invited visits with me and I spoke with them....

(It continues with a quote from Wang Tong's Ritual Music (禮樂 Li Yue); the quote is the same as in Qinshu Daquan, Folio 16, #30)
When I was traveling in Fenting I sat and played the qin....

(After this there is mention of a fisherman overhearing him playing Nan Feng (compare Nan Feng Cao) and exclaiming that it did not concern matters of the present day. Then later he is said to have created a Fenting Cao....

Not yet complete.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Wang Tong references
21295.1130/2 王通 says 龍門人,字仲淹....門人諡曰文中子 he was from Longmen (in 絳州 Jingzhou district, northeast of Chang'an), style name Zhongyan....his disciples called him Wenzhongzi after he died. It lists a number of writings attributed to him, but says only his 中說 Zhong Shuo survives. He is not in ICTCL or other standard literature sources, but see Giles.

Xu Jiang discusses him in Qinshi Chubian Chapter 5a. However, it is quite unlikely that there is truth to his claim that the surviving Ming dynasty tablature for the melody Gujiao Xing reflects a melody created (or even simply played) by Wang Tong.

There is a detailed study of Wang Tong in Ding Xiang Warner, Transmitting Authority, Wang Tong (ca. 584–617) and the Zhongshuo in Medieval China’s Manuscript Culture; Brill, 2014 (details).

2. 22 lines

3. Image
This image, originally from 三才圖會 Sancai Tuhui, was copied from 21295.1130/2

4. Yang Su 楊素 (? - 606)
A military leader who helped establish the Sui dynasty (581-618) and was almost as powerful as the emperor himself (

5. 汾亭操 Fenting Cao
This title can be found on some old melody lists and there exists a separate introduction. Regarding the attribution, Prof. Ding Xiang Warner writes (personal communication, 11/2015)

There is an anecdote recorded in Chapter 6 of the Zhongshuo (Sibubeiyao edition, 6.5a/b), in which it is reported that Wang Tong composed a qin-melody and titled it 汾亭操 after his encounter with a mysterious angler (釣者). Zhongshuo's claim for Wang Tong's composition of this melody is corroborated by a reference to it, by the same title and likened to the melody "Guishan" 龜山 attributed to Confucious, in a letter by 王績 Wang Ji to a former acquaintance of his by the name 馮子華 Feng Zihua, who seemed to have spent some time at Wang Tong's White Ox Creek School. The statement in Wang Ji's letter reads: 吾家三兄,生於隋末。傷世擾亂,有道無位。作汾亭之操,蓋孔氏《龜山》之流也。

This is the only composition that is claimed for Wang Tong in all Sui and Tang sources that bear on the Wang Tong question.

The comment here that it can be compared to Confucius' Gui Shan is perhaps referring to an old version of the melody attributed to Confucius called Gui Shan Cao.

6. In QQJC V, pp.355 - 358. See also Xu Jian's History, Chapter 5. A. (p.53), Giles, etc.

7. Chinese text of the Wang Tong biography in Qin Shi
The original Qin Shi text is as follows:


楊素、蘇夔、李德林皆請見。子與之言,歸而有憂色。門人問子, 子曰:「二三子皆朝之預議者也。素與吾言終日,言政而不及化,是天下無禮也。夔與吾言終日,言聲而不及雅,是天下 無樂也。德林與與言終日,言文而不及理,是天下無文也。王道從何而興乎?吾所以憂也。」門人退。子援琴鼓《蕩之什》,門人皆沾襟焉。 子遊汾亭,坐鼓琴,有舟而釣者過,曰:「美哉,琴意!傷而和,怨而靜。在山澤而有廊廟之志。非太公之都磻溪,則仲尼之宅泗濱也。」子驟而鼓《南風》。 釣者曰:「嘻!非今日事也。道能利生民,功足濟天下,其有虞氏之心乎?不如舜自鼓也。聲存而操變矣。」子遽舍琴,謂門人曰:「情之變聲也,如是乎?」 起將延之,釣者搖竿鼓枻而逝。門人追之,子曰:「無追也。播鞀武入於河,擊磬襄入於海,固有之也。」遂志其事,作《汾亭操》焉。蓋孔子《龜山》之比也。楊素使謂子曰:「盍仕乎?」子曰:「疏屬之南,汾水之曲,有先人之敝廬在,可以避風雨,可以具饘粥,彈琴著書、講道勸義自樂也。願君侯正身以統天下。時和歲豐,則通也受賜多矣。」大業十一年寢疾而終。


Except the beginning and end, almost all of this can be found in Wang Tong's 文中子中說 Wenzhongzi Zhongshuo (online).

Regarding "蕩之什 Dang zhi shi", 蕩 Dang (MIghty) is a poem in the Da Ya section of the Book of Poetry (#255); it is followed by 10 poems with which it is commonly grouped ("Dang zhi shi" might be translated Suite on Might). There are no surviving qin settings of any of them.

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