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Xi Kang
- Qin Shi #84
嵇康 1
琴史 #84 2
Xi Kang playing the qin 3  
The name Xi Kang (223 - 262) is now commonly pronounced "Ji Kang", but historical records indicate his family pronounced the surname as "Xi".
4 He has a number of connections to the qin, mentioned further below, but is best known in the qin world as the author of Qin Fu (Rhapsody on the Qin5), the first known physical description of the qin. Some of the physical attributes mentioned in the Rhapsody are discussed further here.

Xi Kang's style name was Shuye and he was also called Zhongsan Daifu.6 His family's ancestral home was near the modern Shaoxing, but when he was born they had moved to northern Anhui province. At the time this was in the area ruled by the Wei dynasty, which had been started by Cao Cao (155 -220) during the Three Kingdoms period. Xi Kang married a granddaughter or great-granddaughter of Cao Cao, leading him originally to a government position in the Wei capital, Luoyang. However, by the time he was an adult the Wei was under the control of the Sima clan, which in 265 founded the Jin dynasty. Around 245 he left Luoyang to live across the Yangzi River in Shanyang,7 about 60 km northeast of Luoyang.

Shanyang then became the center of activities for the famous group of scholars called the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.8

Xi Kang was a noted thinker and poet. However, due to his connections to the wrong faction and, by tradition, his moral nature in an immoral period, he was in the end executed by the Sima faction in 262.9 By tradition at his execution he played Guangling San one last time, saying its tradition would die with him.

There are many stories in which Xi Kang meets ghosts. Gu Guan Yu Sheng, below, is one. Several other mentioning qin are related in Van Gulik.10 There are also paintings on this theme.11

Xi Kang is especially associated with four melodies said to be the Four Melodies of Xi Kang:12

  1. Chang Qing
  2. Duan Qing
  3. Chang Ce
  4. Duan Ce

Other melodies especially connected to him include:

  1. Guangling San
  2. Xuan Mo
  3. Gu Guan Yu Sheng
  4. Feng Ru Song (a song).

Writings by Xi Kang to be found in Qinshu Daquan include:

  1. Rhapsody on the Qin (Qin Fu, also included in its entirety in his biography below)
  2. A letter breaking off relations (with Shan Tao, excerpt)13

Other writings by Xi Kang mentioned here:

  1. Sheng Wu Ai Le Lun Essay: Music has no sorrow or joy (Egan, Controversy, p.15)
    See comment under Mozi Bei Ge

Xi Kang's entry in Qin Shi 14
The original entry, in 95 lines, begins with 5 lines of introduction and about 8 lines of closing, the rest being Xi Kang's long Rhapsody on the Qin. The outline is thus as follows:

嵇康 Xi Kang, style name 叔夜 Shuye, was from 譙國銍 Zhi in the kingdom of Qiao (southwest of 宿州 Suzhou in the northern part of modern Anhui province). He had the highest of skills amongst his peers, but did not look for fame. He taught students to preserve his own way, lived correctly while waiting for appropriate times, but died without getting an appointment in those ruinous times. 古今所悼愍者也。博綜技藝,特妙絲竹;以為物有盛衰,而此無變,滋味有厭,而此不勌,可以導養神氣,宣和情志。 處窮獨而不悶者,莫近於音聲也。

Xi Kang once wrote a Rhapsody on the Qin that fully brought out the virtues of the qin. Its lyrics are,

"惟椅梧之所生兮 The trees of that species from which qins are built...." (see original; there are at least two published translations. The Qin Shi entry omits the opening but includes the rest of the poem.)

(Xi Kang) had formerly been appointed "Zhongsan Daifu". At the time Jin was in conflict with Wei. Shuye (Xi Kang) did not enjoy.... (Translation incomplete. This last paragraph tells of Xi Kang's conflict with Zhong Hui leading to his death and the demise of the melody Guangling San (see its original preface).

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Xi Kang sources
New in 2017: Stephen Owens and Wendy Schwartz, transl., De Gruyter, The Poetry of Ruan Ji and Xi Kang (complete translations, for sale and/or downloadable as pdf)

8500.12 嵇康 has a rather brief account, references 三國志 San Guo Zhi 21, 晉書 Jin Shu 49 and 琅琊代醉編 Langyadai Zuibian 18. He is discussed in detail in QSCB, Chapter 3.A. (pp.26-29). See also his biographies in Knechtges, Wen Xuan III, pp.390/1, and in R. H. Van Gulik, Hs'i Kang and his Poetic Essay on the Lute.

2. 95 lines (includes the entire 琴賦 Qin Fu)

3. Xi Kang images
This image is from an illustrated Ming dynasty Liexian Quanzhuan, which developed out of the Han dynasty Liexian Zhuan. There are further Xi Kang images under Qin in Art.

4. Xi Kang or Ji Kang?
Regarding pronunciation of his surname, Knechtges writes (op.cit.) that, fleeing a flood, Xi Kang's family had moved from 會稽 Guiji (also called Kuaiji, in Zhejiang) to 致 Zhi (in Anhui). According to the 晉書 History of Jin they then changed their family name from 奚 Xi to 嵇 (8500: name of a mountain in Anhui; the entry says it can be pronounced either "Xi" or "Ji", but apparently it is normally pronounced "Ji"). This new name "was derived from the final syllable of their native place, Guiji, except that they wrote it with 'mountain' in the lower right portion of the character and pronounced Ji as Xi", so that they wouldn't have to change the pronunciation of their surname.

5. Xi Kang's Rhapsody on the Qin (琴賦 Qin Fu; original text 中文)
This page discusses and has links to further commentary on these two English translations:

R. H. Van Gulik, Hs'i Kang and his Poetic Essay on the Lute
David R. Knechtges, Wen Xuan III, Rhapsody on the Zither
The original text is also included in Qinshu Daquan, Chapter 18.

6. Other names for Xi Kang
嵇康,字叔夜,號中散大夫 Xi Kang, style name Shuye, also called Zhongsan Daifu, a government rank tentatively translated by Hucker as "Grand Master of Palace Leisure". "中散大夫 Zhongsan Daifu" is used in the Qin Shi biography of Xi Kang's son, Xi Shao.

7. 山陽 Shanyang: location of the Bamboo Grove?
This is discussed further in the Shanyang footnote of the Seven Sages page.

8. 竹林七賢 Zhulin Qi Xian

9. Xi Kang and authority
Needam, Science and Civilisation in China: Vol. 5, Chemistry, p.254 relates the following,

A story which has come down to us in many versions has Xi Kang working at his forge when the powerful minister Zhong Hui 鍾會 (+225-263) visited him. Xi Kang continued working, 'sitting with his legs apart', and this arrogant disregard for rank led in time to his execution...."

This story is commemorated at a park in Henan province.

10. Stories of Xi Kang with Ghosts
See Lore, p.157.

11. Illustrations of Xi Kang with Ghosts
For example, under the Wang Shixiang article about Guangling San there is an image said to show Xi Kang playing for ghosts. In addition, the Cleveland Art Museum website has a painting said to have a similar theme: commentary says that, as with the painting in the Wang article, this also depicts Xi Kang playing qin for ghosts.

12. 嵇康四弄 Four Melodies of Xi Kang
These four (長清,短清,長側,短側) are included in some old melody lists; when added together with 蔡邕五弄 Cai Yong's five pieces (see in the same list) these make the 九大弄 nine great pieces.

13. A letter breaking off relations 絕交書
This was extracted from the middle of 嵇康,與山巨源交書, Xi Kang's Letter breaking off relations with 山濤 Shan Tao (style name Juyuan). The original is in Wen Xuan, Chapter 43 (pp. 1985 - 1999; the extract is on p.1992). The whole letter is translated by James Hightower in Birch, ed, Anthology of Chinese Literature, Vol. 1, pp. 162 - 166; qin is translated "lute", p.164.

14 Original Qin Shi text for Xi Kang
The original Chinese is as follows:


(「其辭曰:惟椅梧之所生兮....能盡雅琴,唯至人兮。」 見全文。)


All the sources are not yet traced.

Return to Guangling San, or to the Guqin ToC.