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Chapter Five: Sui and Tang dynasties 1
Xu Jian, Introductory History of the Qin, p. 40 2


The Sui and Tang dynasties ended the divided phase of Northern and Southern dynasties, as the peoples of various ethnic groups reunited under a central government. The peasants' revolt at the end of Sui dynasty heavily struck at the manorial economic structure enjoyed by traditionally wealthy families. The equal-fields-system established at the beginning of the Tang dynasty further provided beneficial conditions for the recovery and development of agricultural production. At the same time, the Tang dynasty adopted imperial examination procedures, which also benefited the progress of cultural subjects. Literature and the arts (including the musical arts) of this era all demonstrated unprecedented prosperity.3

A strong and united regime promoted cultural exchange, which occurred between China and foreign nations, among the ethnic groups, between the North and the South, as well as among various artistic arenas. The cultural center of the country, Chang'an, considered southern qingshang music to be the "True Chinese Sound",4 while also absorbing musical culture developments from other nations and ethnic groups. (The court) established the Ten Musical Divisions,5 which included banquet music,6 clear music,7 Xiliang music8 and Gaochang music9 and so forth. The famous Rainbow Garment Melody10 was the product of Han music mingling with the music of Northern minority ethnic groups. The artistic accomplishment of large-scale song-and-dance music further advanced the development of the art of qin.

The prosperous development of Tang dynasty qin art manifested itself in the following ways:

  1. The performance and appreciation of qin melodies was liberated from traditionally wealthy families and others of the privileged class, becoming understood more broadly by people of various classes and therefore yielding a number of deeply influential and well-known qin players.

  2. Hundreds of qin melodies circulated widely; the repertoire was unprecedentedly rich and the subjects and themes grew in range. Structural formats included xiaodiao, caonong, zaqu, qin songs, and so forth.11 Many excellent traditional melodies such as Guangling San were re-arranged, amended, and developed.

  3. The method of writing music was improved radically from longhand tablature to shorthand tablature.12 Many melodies popular at the time were sorted, recorded down in qin tablature collections, and passed down to later generations.

  4. The technical production of qin developed significantly as skillful craftsmen, such as Lei Wei of Shu, emerged.13 The famous qins they made were treasured and passed down for generations; many of them have been kept to this day.


Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. The period includes (with capital cities [and modern name]):

Sui (589-618; Chang An [Xi'an] and Luoyang)
Tang (618-906; Chang An)
Northern and Southern dynasties: North: Five Dynasties (907-959) Later Liang (907-923; Kaifeng)
Later Tang (923-934; Luoyang)
Later Jin (936-947; Kaifeng)
Later Han (947-951; Kaifeng)
Later Zhou (951-960; Kaifeng)
South: 10 Kingdoms (regional; includes one northern kingdom) Former Shu (907-925; Chengdu; Sichuan)
Later Shu (934-965; Chengdu; Sichuan)
Nanping (907-963; Jiangling area, in Hubei)
Chu (927-956; Changsha, most of Hunan)
Wu (902-937; Jiangdu [Yangzhou]; most of Jiangsu, Anhui and Jiangxi)
Southern Tang (937-975; Jiangning [Nanjing]; most of Jiangsu, Anhui and Jiangxi)
Wu Yue (907-978; Hangzhou; Zhejiang and parts of Fujian)
Min (907-946; Changle [Fuzhou]; most of Fujian)
Southern Han or Yue (907-971; Guangzhou; Guangdong and part of Guangxi)
Northern Han (951-979; Taiyuan; most of Shanxi)

2. Original translation by Jin Qiuyu.

3. 莊園經濟體質 manorial economic structure; 均田法 equal-fields system

4. Southern qingshang music 南方的清商樂
Qingshang is also the name of a musical ode. I am not sure what is meant by "true Chinese sound" (華夏正聲).

5. Ten Musical Divisions (十部樂 shibu yue)

6. Banquet music (燕樂 yanyue)

7. clear music (清樂 qingyue)
Later this refers to Buddhist music

8. Xiliang music (西涼樂 xiliangyue)
Music said to originae in Xiliang, in northern Gansu

9. Gaochang music (高昌樂 gaochangyue)
This is music associated with Gaochang, a region of Xinjiang; there is a wind and percussion melody of this name attributed to 柳宗元 Liu Zongyuan.

10. Rainbow Garment Melody (霓裳羽衣曲 Nishang Yuyi Qu)
Discussed elsewhere.

11. 小調 xiaodiao, 操弄 caonong, 雜曲 zaqu, 琴歌 qin songs

12. Longhand tablature: 文字譜 wenzipu; shorthand tablature: 減字譜 jianzipu

13. 蜀人雷威 Lei Wei of Shu (Sichuan)

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