Chu Region  
 T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
Silk Zither Dreams     Other areas     Performance Themes     My Performances     My Repertoire 首頁
Chu Region
Melodies connected to the old state of Chu 

問訊衡陽 Asking News of Hengyang, in Hunan; from Qiu Hong          

The ancient kingdom of Chu once included a large region of central China, especially what are today's Hunan and Hubei provinces. Here the Yangzi, Han and Xiang rivers emerge from the mountains of western and southern China. Sometimes it has rivaled the north and east of China as a center of power and culture. At other times it has been viewed as a place of exile for scholar-officials who were out of favor.

Qin melodies with a Chu connection have some general characteristics. Many use a non-standard tuning, as can be seen from the melodies listed below. Tuning for #1 requires raising the second, fourth, fifth and seventh strings from standard tuning; tuning for #2 requires raising the second, fifth and seventh strings from standard tuning; tuning for #3 to #7 raises the fifth and seventh strings; while tuning for #8 to #10 raises the fifth string. In this they can be contrasted with melodies associated with north and central Asia, which generally seem to use the Yellow Bell Tuning.

#15 Geese Descend on a Sandbank, which is very popular today, and #16 Geese Arrive at Hengyang both use standard tuning. They seem to be later melodies, but have a similar theme to #1.

Most of these melodies with non-standard tuning have themes found in the Songs of Chu (Chu Ci), a collection of poetry dating from the Han dynasty. The word "qin" itself acutually occurs in these poems only once, but many qin melodies in this tuning are attributed to or connected with the famous scholar official Qu Yuan. These all can be interpreted as being laments by scholars at being out of favor with the government or the society in which they live. This theme as found in poetry and painting is discussed in wonderful detail in Alfreda Murck, The Subtle Art of Dissent, Poetry and Painting in Song China.

Since the early Ming dynasty, melodies using non-standard tuning have become less and less common. This might suggest that melodies 1 to 10 here are the earliest. However, Cangwu Lament (#13) is specifically identified in its earliest occurrence (1525) as being tablature from the famous Song dynasty connoisseur Yang Zan.

It is also possible that tunings used here were specifically associated with the old Chu region. However, there are some notable melodies using these tuning which do not have the Chu connection. The most prominent of these is Thrice Parting at Yangguan (Yangguan Sandie), more thematically connected to Central Asia. Its tuning, originally raised second and fifth, is now raised fifth.

I reconstructed all the qin melodies mentioned here (those with no links are not completed) from Ming dynasty qin handbooks. Many of the melodies can be accompanied by visual images.

  1. 神品姑洗意 Guxian Modal Prelude (61 2 3 5 6 1); 1425
    飛鳴吟 Calling out in Flight
    秋鴻 Wild Geese in Autumn

  2. 夷則意 Yize modal prelude (3 5 6 1 2 3 5); 1525
    處泰吟 Dwell at the Source; 1525
    遠遊 Wander Afar; 1525 (8 images; poem)

  3. 神品楚商意 Celestial Air defining Chushang (2 4 5 6 1 2 3); 1425
    楚歌 Song of Chu 1425 (1 image; partial lyrics)

  4. 澤畔吟 Marshbank Melody (poem: The Fisherman); 1425 (4 images; poem )

  5. 離騷 Encountering Sorrow; 1425 (18 images; poem)

  6. 宋玉悲秋 Song Yu Mourns Autumn (poem: Nine Changes); 1525 (9 images; poem)

  7. 屈原問渡 Qu Yuan asks at the ferry; pre-1491

  8. 神品蕤賓意 Celestial Air defining Ruibin mode (2 3 5 6 1 2 3)
    泛滄浪 Floating on the Canglang River; 1425

  9. 瀟湘水雲 Water and Clouds over the Xiao and Xiang Rivers; 1425

  10. 漁歌調 Melody of the Fisherman's Song; <1491
    漁歌 Fisherman's Song; <1491

  11. 桃源春曉 Spring Dawn at Peach Spring (Taoyuan Chunxiao)
    Compare 天台引 Mount Tiantai Prelude (Tiantai Yin), a standard tuning melody telling a similar story but connected to Mount Tiantai, south of Shaoxing

  12. 招隱 Seeking Seclusion (Zhao Yin) (gong: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6); 1425 (poems)

  13. 湘妃怨 Lament of the Xiang River Concubines (shang: 1 2 4 5 6 1 2); 1511 (song)

  14. 角意 Defining Jiao Mode (jue: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6); 1525
    蒙棘引 Covered Brambles Prelude; 1525
    蒼梧怨 Cangwu Lament; 1525

  15. 列女引 Exemplary Woman Prelude (Fan Ji); 1525 (1 image)

  16. 雁落平沙 Wild Geese Descend on a Sandbank (Yan Luo Pingsha, later 平沙落雁 Pingsha Luo Yan); 1634

  17. 雁過衡陽 Wild Geese Traverse Hengyang (zhi: 1 2 4 5 6 1 2); 1539

  18. 伯牙吊子期 Bo Ya mourns Zi Qi (yu: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6); 1525 (song)

Return to the top or to the Guqin ToC.