Daoism and the Guqin
 T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
Performance Themes   My Performances   My Repertoire   Zhuangzi   Confucian Qin Themes 首頁 
Daoist Qin Themes 1
Daoism and the Guqin (My CRI radio broadcast, with sound clips.)
Zhuangzi 2  and  Laozi 3       

The five categories given here for qin melodies with Daoist themes are my own distinctions. Some clearly could go into more than one category and there is no category for Daoist ritual music. One might argue that all qin music had ritual connotations, but that none was used for specific rituals. However, this would be an oversimplification.

Reconstruction is incomplete for those melodies marked with a *.

    Daoist Texts

  1. Qingjing Jing (Canon of Pure Tranquillity, 1592; compare the modern Pu'an Zhou)
    a Daoist morning lesson still (or again) chanted at some Daoist temples
  2. *Jingye Tan Xuan (Quiet Evening Talk on Metaphysics, 1625)
    a another text from the Daoist Canon, said to a primordial Dao De Jing

    Daoist Concepts

  3. Shui Xian Qu (Water Immortals Melody; 1579); learning music from nature, i.e., learning the Dao from nature
  4. Zuo Wang (Sitting and Forgetting; 1425); reference in the Zhuangzi
  5. Yi Zhen (Nurturing Reality; 1425)
  6. Cai Zhen You (Roaming to Gather the True; 1525); reference in the Zhuangzi
  7. Xiaoyao You (Carefree Roaming; 1525); title of the first chapter of the Zhuangzi

    Daoist Heroes and Legends

  8. Liezi Yu Feng (Liezi Rides the Wind, 1425); story from Liezi
  9. Shenhua Yin (Metamorphosis, 1425); Zhuangzi dreams he is a butterfly
  10. Zhuang Zhou Meng Die (Zhuangzi's Butterfly Dream, 1425)
  11. Kongtong Wen Dao (Discussing the Dao at Kongtong Mountain, 1525); Yellow Emperor meets Guangchengzi
        (with prelude, Kongtong Yin)
  12. Taoyuan Chunxiao (Spring Dawn at Peach Spring, 1525); a Wuling fisherman finds a hidden mountain utopia
  13. Tiantai Yin (Mt. Tiantai Prelude, <1491); the Wuling Mountain scholar writes of Liu Chen and Ruan Zhao visiting a utopia at Tiantai
  14. *Xian Pei Ying Feng (Fairy Jade in the Wind, 1525); Meeting two Han River nymphs
  15. Yao Tian Sheng He (Jade Sheng Heavenly Crane, 1525); Wangzi Qiao rides a crane

    Spirit Travel

  16. Huaxu Yin (Huaxu Clan Prelude, 1425); the Yellow Emperor flies to a Daoist utopia
  17. Shen You Liuhe (Spirit Wandering the World, 1425)
  18. Baji You (Wandering All Over, 1425)
  19. Yuan You (Wander Afar, 1525); Daoist response to Qu Yuan's Li Sao

    Reclusion and Escape

  20. Dunshi Cao (Withdrawing from Society, 1425); Xu You in reclusion at Mount Ji
  21. Zhao Yin (Seeking Seclusion, 1425); Secluded in the mountains until needed
  22. Jiu Kuang (Wine Mad, 1425); Escape a corrupt world through drink
  23. Shanzhong Si Youren (Amidst Mountains Thinking of an Old Friend, 1425)
  24. Qiuyue Zhao Maoting (Autumn Moon Shining on a Reed Pavilion, 1425); pavilion the mountains
  25. Shanju Yin (Living in the Mountains, 1425)
  26. Qiao Ge (Song of the Woodcutter, 1425); an idyllic life in the mountains
  27. Yu Hui Tushan (Yu's Meeting at Mt. Tu, 1425); a mountain recluse recalls past glories
  28. Yu Ge (Song of the Fisherman, <1491); an idyllic life along rivers
  29. Feng Ru Song Ge (Wind in the Pines Song, 1511); Xi Kang plays the qin in the mountains
  30. Gui Qu Lai Ci (Come Away Home, 1511); Tao Yuanming's influential poem on the virtues of being a "home recluse"
  31. Gukou Yin (Allure of Gukou, 1525); Zheng Pu's virtuous life as a recluse inspires moral conduct
  32. Zuiweng Yin (Old Dotard's Chant, 1539); Ouyang Xiu's retreat in the Langya Mountains

Return to the top

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Daoist Qin Themes
These need not specifically mention the Dao. Thus Water Immortals Melody (above) concerns learning from nature, and learning music from nature is very much a Daoist concept.

Since Chinese is written in ideograms, not an alphabet, it is difficult to know what the original pronunciation would have been for "道". Regarding the modern choice of "dao" vs "tao", the former is the common mainland Romanization system, the latter was the Wade=Gile version. In English the difference between "d" and "t" is usually that the former is both aspirated and voiced while the latter is usually aspirated but unvoiced. In modern Chinese both sounds are unvoiced, the difference being that the "d" is unaspirated while the "t" is aspirated. The old Wade-Giles system distinguished this difference by writing the unaspirated sound as "t" and the aspirated sound as "t'".

2. Zhuangzi 莊子 (the upper left image is from an ink painting in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan)
Also: 莊周 Zhuang Zhou; see separate entry.

3. Laozi 老子 (the upper right image is a stone rubbing)
Also: 老聃 Lao Dan; see separate entry.

4. Daoist Ritual Music
Although one might argue that all qin music could in some way be ritualistic (hence stories such this one from the Shi Ji saying that by playing the qin Shun brought order to the universe), this concept is as much Confucian as Daoist. It is also presumably this aspect of the qin that led it to be included in ritual orchestras even though it could not be heard (where orchestras included 10 or more qin, even then they would not have been heard in the large court environment required by the orchestra, unless there were specific solo parts for qin, which even if done was apparently never documented).

Further, Chapter 25 of the Encyclopedia of Taoism, "Daoist Ritual Music", by Takimoto Yuzo and Liu Hong, divides Daoist ritual music into two categoires, instrumental and vocal. For the vocal it further distinguishes four types, based on the type of music rather than the purpose:

  1. "Very musical, with a defined melody" (韻 yun, 訟 song, 讚 zan, 嘆 tan, 引 yin)
  2. "Chant in which the musical aspect is secondary to the vocal element", often used in communicating with superiors (寶誥 baogao)
  3. "Rhythmical presentation with a more suble musical element" (念咒腔 nianzhou qiang)
  4. "A kind of recital that is spoken in a voice specially pitched low or high, resembling the speech used in Chinese opera"

Arguably the most specifically Daoist ritual music for qin would be qin songs with Daoist texts, the first category included above. Here one finds settings of two texts, the first of which is known to have been chanted, the second of which would have been chanted in a similar way (as yet I have found no specific reference for this). The qin settings for these two pieces put the melodies either in the first category, or take them out of this categorization completely and into a more specifically musical context (where the text is not necessarily song at all).

At present it does not seem possible to say whether in the oral tradition any Daoist practicioners used the qin for private rituals, and if so how; on the other hand, it seems perfectly plausible that they would have done so, and that this may occur again.

As for the specific songs such as those in the first category above, one can approach them in several ways: learn to play and sing them, learn to play or sing them, listen to the music separate from the text, listen to the singing separate from the music (whether it be qin or other instruments), or listen to them as independent melodies (as is generally done today with Pu'an Zhou: most people who hear it, or even who play it, are not aware of its origins as a chant).

Return to the top