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Chapter Six: Song and Yuan dynasties 1  
Xu Jian, Introductory History of the Qin, pp. 97-101

6.B.2. Qin Melodies : Melody Introductions 2  

2. 18 Blasts of the Nomad Reed Pipe (Hujia Shibapai) 3  



(In Chapter 5b1 Xu Jian tried to connect the Shen Qi Mi Pu melodies Da Hujia and Xiao Hujia to Tang dynasty melodies on this theme. The present essay tries to connect the Hujia Shibapai still played today [usually from the 1722 Wuzhizhai Qinpu but very similar to one dated 1689] to a melody of this title played during the Song dynasty but from that period surviving in name only, e.g., in poetry and painting as well as in melody lists such as Qinqu Pulu. Modern efforts have been made to pair this melody with the supposed Cai Wenji lyrics surviving from the Song dynasty, but this cannot be done using any traditional pairing method. Such pairing can be done only with the version of Hujia Shibapai first surviving in Luqi Xinsheng [1597].)

This melody was written based on an expressive long poem of the same name. The poem, 18 Blasts of the Nomad Flute, is (attributed to Cai Wenji [Cai Yan], but) first seen in the Afterword to the Songs of Chu by Zhu Xi of the Southern Song dynasty.4 This (poem) followed after the Poems of Grief and Resentment (Bei Fen Shi) by Cai Yan,5 Hujia Qu (Hujia Shibapai) by Liu Shang, and the poetic creations of Wang Anshi and other such people. The poems are profound and moving, describing the thoughts and feelings of Cai Yan longing for her homeland and yet reluctance to part with her children. Many times in the poem phrases occur such as, "strings about to break", "wish to stop playing" and "fast strings but sad tune", and thus we can see that it was particularly written as a qin song.6

As for whether the melodies come from the same period that produced the poetic lyrics, at present we have no way to confirm this, but in style and content the relationship between the two is very close. Qin melodies with this same theme that begin from the Tang dynasty are the previously introduced Da Hujia and Xiao Hujia as well as the Xiao Hujia Shijiupai created by Cai Yi of the southern Tang dynasty; the Bie Hu'er and Yi Hu'er introduced in Northern Song dynasty melody lists; and the tablature written by the northern Song's Wu Liangfu for Wang Anshi's Hujia poem. However, it was not until during the southern Song that we see records of a qin melody called Hujia Shibapai (Da Hujia Shibapai?). The Hujia Shibapai that has been transmitted to the present should be related to this latter version.

The Song dynasty was in a phase where there was aggressive force being applied from the north, time and again having to make humiliating concessions, patriotic people all feeling mental anguish and filled with grief and resentment. The poetry of Lu You and Xin Qiji prominently represented these sorts of string patriotic emotions. Patriotic literati also took advantage of traditional materials to express their emotional involvement. The Hujia Shibapai poems7 based on Cai Yan's Poems of Grief and Resentment written by such men as Wang Anshi, Li Yuanbai8 and Li Gang9 are just this sort of product based on historical circumstances. The preface to Hujia by Li Gang clearly pointed out,

"The affairs of the Likang period (marking the end of the northern Song dynasty) can bring 10,000 generations of sadness. Leisure days imitating several phrases in that style, just so as to write down the bottomless misery."

After Likang (1126), having lost most of the northern part of the country, began the southern song dynasty ruling part of China. Li Gang, by imitating Cai Yan's poetic form, was just trying to write down the "bottomless misery" of contemporary life.

After the southern Song were destroyed, Wang Yuanliang went north with the "Three royalties" and while in prison played Hujia Shibapai for Wen Tianxiang (1236 - 1283).10 This was also an expression of hatred for his country's defeat and his "bottomless misery". The miserable grief and resentment in the melody of Hujia Shibapai at once draw out strong sympathetic responses from several other patriotic subjects. Some said,


Another said,


Others connected to an urgent desire to return to their homeland wrote,


(For all see Qinshu Daquan.14) As one can see, the emergence and spread of the melody beginning at this time was certainly no accidental; the reason was deeply connected to political and social causes.

The song Hujia Shibapai sings about (see original text; translation from Chang and Saussy),

"War gear was a daily commonplace, and travel by road was dangerous,
The common people fled, all plunged in wretchedness." (Song 1, line 3)

This describes the pain brought upon the people by the disturbances of war at the end of the Han dynasty in order to denounce encountering the same situation at the end of the Song dynasty of people (having to) leave their native place and endure terrible ravages. "War gear as a daily commonplace" was created by a ruling class's struggle for power and wealth, and among the common people of each ethnicity it did not have any fundamental conflict with their welfare.

"Now the Qiang and the Hu dance the measures and sing in harmony,
The two nations make a truce and put an end to conflict." (Song 12, line 2)

This expresses common desire of the common people of each ethnicity to strive for unity, oppose division, strive for friendship and oppose military campaigns. As for this brutal reality the people proposed an incisive but hidden question, asking (see Song 8) whether or not heaven had eyes. Asking whether or not the gods had any "power". This was in reality a strong protest brought against the rulers; a hidden question,

"When will the warfare over this wilderness never cease?" (Song 10, line 1b)

This sort of angry spirit was,

"Flooding to the great void...not contained by...the universe." (Song 18, last line)

The extant tablature for Hujia Shibapai is earliest seen in the Chengjiantang Qinpu (1689) from the early Qing dynasty.15 Having undergone several generations of people reworking and developing it, the music part of this melody had already separated itself from being bound to the phrases of the poem, more fully developing the expressive quality of the instrumental music. Wuzhizhai Qinpu printed the Shu (Sichuan) school tablature, at the same time also printing the Wu school lyrics, i.e., the original Hujia Shibapai lyrics (attributed to Cai Yan). This makes clear that the lyrics and music were originally paired together.16 This fingering in this tablature is recorded in rather great detail, and also has not a few marginal notes, (both) of great use to qin players. The version performed here is one based on this edition.

As with the original poem, the whole melody is divided into 18 sections. What the music expresses is also based on the meaning of the poem: the first 10 sections express longing for the native land, the latter eight sections express misery at departing from children. Within this, the fifth and 11th sections are transition sections. Now based on Wu Jinglue's performance this melody will be described in sections, as follows.17

The first to the fourth sections express cherished thoughts of (her) native land. utilizing a melody that is low in range and unhurried, embodying and profoundly giving voice to a mood in which,

"My will shattered, my heart broken, I lament and sigh." (Song 2, line 4b)

In the first, second, third and fourth sections this emerges as follows,

Staff notation example 1: omitted.18

The wiggly melody continues forward, as if exploring while going out along the route; it also resembles bringing up questions; however, the merciless reality causes people's "will to be shattered and hear to be broken", and thus the melody also falls to the lower registers at the end.

(The analysis has eight further such examples, all giving Xu Jian's interpretation of how the melody describes certain scenery, thoughts and actions.19 These examples and commentary are not yet translated.)

After the end of the melody (and before setting out the Cai Yan lyrics) Wuzhizhai Qinpu writes,20

"A sort if feeling about resentment and grief, with emotional sighs following the beat of an aggrieved heart, described using the fingers."

The whole melody mainly uses gong mode. Yu mode gathers in the eighth to 10th sections. Also, in the first and 16th sections there is a correspondence. Zhi mode is only used in two transition passages of section five and section 11.

Because this melody vividly and movingly re-creates the frame of mind found in the original poem, it was not only broadly spread out at the end of the Song dynasty and beginning of the Yuan dynasty, right up to the present it has been a very well received qin melody.

(It is possible that the version discussed here did develop in the oral tradition for over four centuries prior to its first publication in 1689; however, regardless of whether or not the few parts its music has in common with Da Hujia support this contention, there is simply no particular evidence allowing proper analysis of this claim.21)

(Continue with Xiao Xiang Shui Yun)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Chapter 6 covers these dynasties (dates, capital city [modern name]):

Northern Song (960-1126; Dongjing [Kaifeng])
Liao (907-1125; Dading Fu [Daning?])
Southern Song (1127-1280; Linan Fu [Hangzhou])
Jin (1115-1260; Zhongdu [Beijing])
Yuan (1206-1280-1368; Dadu [Beijing])

2. Translation by JT.

3. 18 Blasts of the Nomad Reed Flute (Hujia Shibapai 胡笳十八拍)
More information as well as links to further references are included with my own separate page on Da Hujia.

4. Zhu Xi (朱熹 1130-1200): Afterword to the Songs of Chu (楚辭後語 Chu Ci Houyu)
15473.176 楚辭, but no 後語 Houyu. As for this being the earliest, see another opinion.

5. Poems of Grief and Resentment (悲憤詩 Bei Fen Shi) by Cai Yan
This title is in a Han history of a century or two later, not in YFSJ. 11088.95 tells of her abduction then adds 作詩二章,其辭曰 She wrote a poem in two sections (or two poems). Its lyrics went....(see under Cai Yan).

6. 絃欲絕、欲罷彈、絃急調悲
These phrases are all to be found in the poem attributed to Cai Yan herself (q.v.).

7. Hujia poems
QSCB Chapter 6a2 mentions four such poems compiled by Wu Liangfu into a single collection, In the Style of Hujia Shibapai. The same four were also apparently compiled as the "四家胡笳詞 Hujia lyrics of four masters". These are versions attributed to:

  1. Cai Yan
  2. Liu Shang
  3. Wang Anshi
  4. Li Yuanbai (see below).

The first three poets are famous. As can be seen from the present and linked pages, there were also many more such poems. Just below Xu Jian will quote several examples collected in Qinshu Daquan Folio 12 (QQJC V/261-268).

8. Li Yuanbai 李元白
14819.112 and Bio/951-2 both have two southern Song dynasty writers of this name; 1356.115 元白 has Yuanbai as a nickname but not for anyone named Li. I have not yet located the Hujia poem associated with this name.

9. Li Gang 李綱 (d. 1140
Bio/899; ICTCL, Vol. 2/43, says he was one of the 豪放派 School of the Heroic and Unrestricted poets who "attempted to interweave patriotic themes into the ci, a genre formerly confined to the roomscapes of private life." I have not yet located the text of a Hujia poem associated with Li Gang.

10. Wang Yuanliang plays Hujia Shibapai for Wen Tianxiang
See Wen Tianxiang's Hujia lyrics

11. 怊悵悲憤,思怨昵昵,多少情,終寄胡笳十八拍。 Author not identified; passage not yet located.

12. 拍拍胡笳中音節,燕山孤壘心石鐵。 Author not identified; passage not yet located.

13. 蔡琰思歸臂欲飛,援琴奏曲不勝悲。 Author not identified; passage not yet located.

14. "See Qinshu Daquan". QSDQ has 532 pages! Most of the above three quotes are also cited online in various places, probably just taken from Xu Jian; as with him, none makes any attempt to identify the source other than "Qinshu Daquan".

15. Analysis of Hujia Shibapai
In his analysis Xu Jian makes no mention of any connection this Wuzhizhai Qinpu version has with the surviving Da Hujia. He also does not mention the version in Luqi Xinsheng (1597), which is a setting of the exact lyrics he discusses here, presumably assuming it is a new version by Xu Shiqi.

16. Actually this pairing only shows that some had the idea that they were or should have been paired in the past. There is absolutely no evidence that a version related to this melody was ever paired to these lyrics.

17. Transcription and performance by 吳景略 Wu Jinglue of Hujia Shibapai from Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722)
The recording can be heard on The Qin Repertoire of Wu Jinglue, CD 2, Track 7. A transcription has been published in Guqin Quji, Vol. 1, pp. 135 - 151.

18. Staff notation example 1
See transcription, p.136, lines 4-5 (end of Section 1/beginning of Section 2).

19. Hujia staff notation examples
The other eight staff notation examples can also all be found in the transcription included in Guqin Quji, Vol. 1, pp. 135 - 151, as follows:

Example 2: transcription, pp.139-40 (beginning of Section 5)
Example 3: transcription, p.141, lines 5 and 6 (beginning of Section 7)
Example 4: transcription, p.144, lines 3-5 (end of Section 9)
Example 5: transcription, p.146, lines 1-3 (all of Section 14)
Example 6: transcription, p.148, lines 1-3 (early in Section 14)
Example 7: transcription, p.148, lines 4-6 (late in Section 14)
Example 8: transcription, p.149, lines 2-4 (middle of Section 15)
Example 9: transcription, p.151, lines 4-6 (middle of Section 18)

20. 一種憤怨悲切之情,逐拍傷心之慨,形諸指下。

21. Dating this version of Hujia
In this regard, one of Xu Jian's arguments is that during the Southern Song dynasty half of China was in foreign control, and during the Yuan all of it fell under foreign rule. Naturally there was then an interest in Cai Yan's story. However, the fact is that the 1589 version of Hujia seems to have been far more popular in the Qing dynasty than Da Hujia and Xiao Hujia were in the Ming (see chart). This suggests that the modern Hujia developed at the beginning of the Qing dynasty in response to the Qing dynasty's foreign Manchu rule.

As for what the music is intended to express, to my knowledge Xu Jian never played this melody, and he does not indicate that he ever asked for Wu Jinglue's opinions about this. Perhaps after I have made my own careful study of the music here I will then translate the missing part above, adding further commentary.

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