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Guqin and Lingnan 1 嶺南古琴
Focus on Guangzhou (Canton) and the Pearl River delta2 Gugang Zhehu Qinpu: how old?3        

To my knowledge there are no traditional qin melodies that directly concern Lingnan, whether broadly defined as China south of the mountain range that extends along the northern border of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces,4 or more narrowly the Pearl River area around Guangzhou (Canton). This latter meaning is used here.5

This lack of such thematic material means that a Lingnan qin music program would have to be characterized not by the places or people mentioned in the melodies but by the style of playing.6 In broadest terms Lingnan qin music could be qin music that evokes Lingnan merely by the fact of who is playing it or by the mood that person is trying to create.7 More specifically, it could also be qin music played by someone trained in the Lingnan area or in a style that might be associated with this area. However, such styles would still be hard to define, particularly difficult if one wanted to give it the sort of specific characteristics that would allow it to be identified as music of a Lingnan "pai" (school or tradition).8

In addition to style of play, another way to delineate such a style would be to limit it to music played according to the tablature of the most important handbook to have been published in the Lingnan area, the Wuxue Shanfang Qinpu of 1836.9 An important qin master in this tradition was Zheng Jianhou,10 teacher of the most famous player 20th century player associated with this style, Yang Xinlun (1898-1990). Several leading players today claim direct lineage from Yang.11

Also of relevance for tracing historical connections in current playing style is the music in the Rong family lineage from Qing Rui.12

Since my own focus has been music published during the Ming dynasty, for me to be involved in such a program would require that I explore further the extent to which the music associated with existing handbooks and/or current players/schools that identify themselves as "Lingnan" can be used to assist in the reconstruction of guqin music that existed during the Ming dynasty.13

Some qin players in Lingnan believe that some of their existing 19th century tablature actually describes how to play melodies brought to this area after the collapse of the Song dynasty. Belief in the existence of such melodies seems to rely on claims of connections between melodies in the Lingnan repertoire and the tablature for melodies in a handbook referred to as the Gugang Yipu. As this handbook no longer exists, the present attempts to find such connections must largely rely on examining some 19th century tablature that does exist and does claim such a connection. This includes examples found in the main source for melodies associated with the modern Lingnan schools, the above-mentioned Wuxue Shanfang Qinpu as well as several other related handbooks.

This examination is still in its incipient stages.14

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 嶺南與古琴 Lingnan and Guqin (Wiki)
This website is focused mainly on qin music as published during the Ming dynasty. Having lived in Hong Kong many years I have a particular interest in guqin activities in the nearby Pearl River delta. Ten years ago in this region there were few players or teachers, but recently there has been an explosion of interest, with sizable qin groups in such places as Zhuhai, Zhongshan, Guangzhou, Dongguan and Shenzhen, not to mention Hong Kong.

Personal interest aside, because of the Ming dynasty focus of this website, one of the main aims here has always been to explore claims for antiquity of any qin music played today. It would thus be particularly interesting to learn more about the claims made that in Lingnan there still exists tablature (or close copies of tablature) originally brought to this region at the end of the 13th century. Some effort has been made to learn further about the current situation in Lingnan; it is intended that results of these enquiries will be put on the present page.

Any relevant connections with 劉禹錫 Liu Yuxi, 汪浩然 Wang Haoran or 丘公 Qiu Gong?

2. Guangzhou and the Pearl River delta
After further research perhaps this page will cover a more extended area.

3. 古岡蔗湖琴譜 Gugang Zhehu Qinpu (see further)
According to this webpage, this handbook dating from the Qing dynasty originally had no title but because it was apparently copied in the mid-19th century by someone nicknamed Zhehu it has been given its present name. The extent to which it might help in the search to authenticate the Gugang Yipu is unclear, other than that it names several of its melodies as coming from that handbook.

4. 嶺南 Lingnan region
"Ling" by itself (嶺 or 岭) means "mountain ridge"; here it traditionally refers to five ridges along the northern borders of Guangdong and Guangxi provinces.

5. Lingnan melodies
The melodies with a story connected to a region closest to Guangdong province seem to be Cangwu Yuan (also called Cangwu Yin) and its prelude, Mengji Yin. Cangwu is an old name for the Jiuyi Mountains on the Hunan side of its border with Guangdong.

6. Possible melodies for a Lingnan program
Selecting these melodies based on their possible connection to pre-Qing melodies is not intended to suggest that such historical research is more important than simply exploring guqin as played in Lingnan today. However, this website is focused mainly on qin music as published during the Ming dynasty.

7. Evoking Lingnan
In other repertoires there are numerous melodies used to evoke Lingnam without necessarily mentioning specific place names.

8. Lingnan School (嶺南派 Lingnan Pai)
It is difficult to define precisely what is or would be a Lingnan guqin style. In particular, does it relate in any way to a broader Lingnan musical style, i.e., one found on other instruments. I have some familiarity with local art forms such as Cantonese opera (and other regional Guangdong opera styles), blind man's singing, Cantonese nanyin, and so forth, but little knowledge of how these might or might not connect into a general "Lingnan style". In addition, the term "Lingnan School" most commonly refers to an early 20th century art movement centered on Guangzhou that aimed at modernizing Chinese art, taking much inspiration from modernization in Japan. See, for example, The Lingnan School Painting and its leader 高劍父 Gao Jianfu (1879 - 1951).

9. Wuxue Shanfang Qinpu 悟雪山房琴譜
There are 49 pieces listed in its Table of Contents but there are then another 5 in an addendum, making 54 in all. There are also two versions of Gao Shan.

10. 鄭健侯 Zheng Jianhou
Zheng Jianhou was an important Lingnan guqin player in the early 20th century. During the late 1920s Yang Xinlun found him (perhaps in Hong Kong?) and became his disciple; this continued (in Guangzhou) for perhaps 20 years. Details of this are not clear, but it is said that after this perhaps Zheng moved (back?) to Hong Kong.

11. Lineage of 楊新倫 Yang Xinlun (1898-1990)
See also here. Although Yang himself was born in Shanghai his ancestral home was 番禺 Panyu, now a southern district of Guangzhou. He first studied qin with 王紹楨 Wang Shaochen (from Guangxi), then from 盧家炳 Lu Jiaping (Guangdong), then most thoroughly from 鄭健侯 Zheng Jianhou (see above), introduced to him by Lu Jiaping.

Yang Xinlun was also a martial arts master, teaching this in various parts of China before settling down in Guangzhou in the 1950s. Here Yang's best known disciples are apparently 謝導秀 Xie Daoxiu (1940-) and 區君虹 Ou Junhong (區軍虹? 1945-; recording).

12. Lineage of Qing Rui (1816-1875)
Qing Rui is said to have brought with him to Guangdong a Guangling style of qin play, but then he had extenstive interaction in Guangzhou with local Lingnan players. This is discussed further under Qing Rui, in particular the section concerning the current representative of this style, Hammong Yong in Hong Kong.

13. Current state of my research
"Lingan qin music" does not necessarily need an ancient history for it to be beautiful and/or interesting. But if one does look at it from a historical perspective, two questions immediately arise. Does current playing style accurately represent the playing style of Huang Jingxing as presented in the Wuxue Shangfang Qinpu? And what were the sources for the music in that handbook?

My current feeling is that if there indeed was Song dynasty or early Ming dynasty tablature preserved in the Pearl River area it is long lost, and if in the 19th century there did exist a Gugang Yipu it was probably reconstructed by someone taking ancient titles but more current tablature. This tentative conclusion comes in part from preliminary observations of melodies said in 1836 to have originated in the Gugang Yipu, in particular, comparing them to the versions of these pieces that I play from their earliest known Ming dynasty sources, as follows

  1. 玉樹臨風 Yu Shu Lin Feng (1836 #37)
    The 1836 version clearly has a closer connection to 19th century versions of the melody than to the existing 16th century version.
  2. 鷗鷺忘機 Oulu Wang Ji (1836 #19)
    Once again see comments on the existing 1836 version in this tracing chart.
  3. 神化吟 Shenhua Yin (1836 #54)
    Seems to be related to the 1589 version rather than to the one published in 1425.
  4. 懷古 Huai Gu (1836 #10)
    Seems to be a later version of the 1525 Huaigu Yin.
  5. 碧澗流泉 Bijian Liu Quan (1836 #11)
    Seems to be a later version of the 1525 Shishang Liu Quan.
  6. 霜鶴聽泉 Shuang He Ting Quan (1836 #53)
    Related to the Shuang He Ting Quan of 1596 (see also the Shuang He Ting Quan Yin and Shuang Qing of Buxuxian Qinpu [ca. 1556])
    No apparent connection to the Shuang Qing Zhuan of 1511 (see tracing chart).

If these melodies were indeed earlier than their existing Ming dynasty versions one would expect them to have more in common with the existing Ming versions than with the existing Qing versions; instead they seem to have the same sort of developments one finds in the other Qing versions.

14. Further research
There have been a number of studies done in this area in Chinese, but as yet I have not been able to examine them carefully.

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