Rulin Waishi: The Scholars
 T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
Novels and Operas   /   Performance themes   /   My performances 網站目錄
Guqin in The Scholars
Rulin Waishi (Wiki),1 a novel by Wu Jingzi (1701 - 1754)2
  Jing the tailor plays for Yu the farmer3  
The Scholars, a famous novel by Wu Jingzi first published in 1750, has been translated into English by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang (Beijing, 1957); the illustration at right accompanies the final chapter of that edition, the closing passage of which is recounted below. The creator of the illustrations (one for most chapters; at right is the one for Chapter 55) is identified as Cheng Shih-Fa (程十髮 Cheng Shifa, 1921-2007).

The Wiki page for the novel currently shows the Du Jin painting called 18 Scholars, which illustrates the "Four Arts of the scholar" (琴棋書畫 qin qi shu hua) being carried out by a group of 18 scholars at an Elegant Gathering. Chapter 18 of this novel mentions such an Elegant Gathering, but does not mention the qin. Nevertheless, an appropriate guqin melody to evoke this gathering might be 18 Scholars Ascend Yingzhou: the "elegant gathering" was a scholarly activity and the scholar's relationship to officialdom, accessible mainly through the examination system, is at the core of the story told in the book.

In the novel the character for qin occurs in a number of chapters, but most of these are just passing references.4 Chapter 54 mentions 打譜 dapu, but it is actually 打棋譜 da qipu: reconstruct a chess match for study.

The most substantial mention comes at the end of the last chapter, Chapter 55, the second half of which is entitled "High Mountains Flowing Streams". This is a qin melody title so famous that it can be understood simply to mean "qin melodies", and that is presumably how it is used here. The title is connected to a famous story (Ziqi the wood gatherer is such a good listener that he can perceive whatever Boya the scholar is trying to express through qin and as a result they become friends; however, the following year Ziqi dies, so Boya discards his qin and never plays again.) Although this story may be sad, the melody itself has never been considered sad. In addition, in the actual qin repertoire High Mountains and Flowing Streams survive almost exclusively as two separate pieces, one called High Mountains, the other Flowing Streams.

In the present story a tailor named 荊元 Jing Yuan who loves art and music plays several qin melodies for an old friend 于老者 Yu Laozhe (Old Yu). As described at the end of the book (Chapter 55 before a closing poem),

After they had greeted each other and chatted a little, Old Yu put Jing's (qin) on a stone bench for him. Jing sat on the ground and Old Yu sat beside him. Jing slowly tuned his strings and began to play. The clear notes woke the echoes all around and the birds alighted in the boughs to listen. Soon (Jing) tuned to 變徵之音, 淒清宛轉 a tragic air, expressing grief and longing, and as Old Yu heard the 深微之處 most moving passages the tears ran down his cheeks.

After this, the two friends were constantly together. But now Jing took his leave.

In the immediately preceding passage there was mention of 桃源 Peach Blossom Stream (as related in the melody Spring Dawn at Peach Blossom Spring); however, what melodies were actually played here is not stated. As mentioned, although the title of the section is "High Mountains Flowing Streams", those two melodies purport to evoke natural scenery, not the sadness of Ziqi's eventual fate. Perhaps the important message conveyed here is that, in the proper setting, qin melodies can epitomize "bei".

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 儒林外史 Rulin Waishi
"儒林" Rulin literally means "forest of Confucians", and the book title might more literally be translated as "Unofficial History of the Literati". 1239.45 concerns the novel, and there are many other combinations beginning with "rulin". Though published ca. 1750, it is set during the Ming dynasty. For analysis of the book in English see writings by Stephen Roddy and Shang Wei.

2. 吳敬梓 Wu Jingzi (Wiki)
Arthur Hummel, Eminent Chinese of the Ch'ing Period, p.866, says he was "a life-long opponent of the examination system". No separate entry in ICTCL.

3. Image: Cheng Shih-Fa (程十髮 Cheng Shifa, 1921-2007)
The Yangs' translation includes numerous illustrations, all as here by Cheng Shifa. The illustration above accompanies the final chapter of that edition, the closing passage of which is recounted here. Other comments on the creator of the illustrations can be found on the internet.

4. References to guqin in Rulin Waishi
The character 琴 qin occurs in Chapters 7, 8, 10, 25, 34, 37, 44, 53 and 55 (see the online ctext copy). These references can be outlined as follows (page references to Yang translation):

Chapter 55 is discussed further above.

Return to the Guqin ToC