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Passions of the Literati
Themes for a recital of silk-string guqin music 1
Passions played out in Chinese opera 2  

"Passion" in guqin melodies and literature may include romance but it generally avoids what would normally be considered erotic or even sensual (though see this comment).3 Broadly speaking, qin melodies that fit into this theme can most readily be divided into three categories: men and women; friends; and high principles. Representative melodies in each category include the following (no link means my reconstruction is incomplete):

I. Men and women

  1. Abandonment Han Gong Qiu: Ban Jieyu discarded like fan in autumn
    Xiang Si Qu: a female ghost sings of her abandonment
    Yanyi Ge: Wife accuses Baili Xi: once rich he forgot her
    Changmen Yuan: Empress Chen left in Changmen Palace
  2. Bereavement Cangwu Yuan: Two wives of Shun mourn his death
    Xiang Jiang Yuan: same
  3. Courtship Feng Qiu Huang: Sima Xiangru seduces Zhuo Wenjun
    Wenjun Cao: same story as previous, but different lyrics and melody
    Guan Ju: A lord seeks his lady, from the Shi Jing
  4. Infatuation Moshang Sang: Luofu tells a courting lord that she will remain true to her husband
    Xian Pei Ying Feng: Jiaofu from Zheng meets two river nymphs
  5. Loneliness Zhi Zhao Fei: Man in 50s lonely: even birds have mates
  6. Sacrifice Chu Ge: Yu Ji's suicide
  7. Separation Da Hujia: Cai Wenji abducted by nomads
    Dao Yi Qu and/or Dao Yi: Pounding cloth while loved ones are at frontier
    Gui Yuan Cao: song with Li Qingzhao's song about being abandoned in her chamber
    Longshuo Cao: Wang Zhaojun sent to the barbarians
    Qiu Feng Ci: Loved one away
II. Friends
  1. Bereavement Boya Diao Ziqi: Boya mourns death of Ziqi
    Ya Sheng Cao: Confucius mourns for Yan Hui
  2. Drinking Jiu Kuang: We drink for philosophical principles
    Zuiweng Yin: About the Old Toper, Ouyang Xiu
  3. Separation Yangguan Sandie (long version and short version: Parting on long journey
III. Heaven and principles

  1. Detachment Yuan You Song Yu's search for principles
  2. Involvement Li Sao: Qu Yuan's search for a good ruler
    Xing Tan: The Apricot Tree Forum, where Confucius taught

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Passions of the Literati
The first presentation on this theme took place 27 July 2002, with 戴曉蓮 Dai Xiaolian at the Chime conference in Sheffield, England. The theme of the conference was "Sex, Love, and Romance: Reflections on the Passions in East Asian Music". Su Zheng of Wesleyan University provided commentary.

My part of this recital consisted of introducing and playing several relevant melodies, many of them from Xilutang Qintong. These were:

Feng Qiu Huang (A Phoenix Seeks his Mate), which includes lyrics by which Sima Xiangru is said to have seduced Zhuo Wenjun ("Feng xi, Feng xi, gui gu xiang....")

Boya Diao Ziqi (Boya Mourns Ziqi): Boya finally meets someone who understands his music, then the man dies.

Han Gong Qiu (Autumn in the Han Palace): also called Autumn Fan, Ban Jieyu mourns that the emperor has discarded her, as one would a fan in autumn.

Yanyi Ge (Doorbar Song): the abandoned wife of the statesman Baili Xi comes to the court and sings of their former poverty (Baili Xi apparently then took her back). Dai and I played this together.

戴曉蓮 Dai Xiaolian (Chinese Wiki)
Dai Xiaolian, a native of Shanghai, is a professor at the Shanghai Conservatory (further details).


2. Carrying a qin in Chinese opera
This image, copied from, shows Chen Miaochang holding a qin during the scene 琴挑 Qin Tiao in the 崑曲 Kunqu opera 玉簪記 Yu Zan Ji.

3. Erotic connections to guqin
Two relevant books on sexual attitudes in China are listed here:

  1. R. H. van Gulik, Erotic Colour Prints of the Ming Period: With an Essay on Chinese Sex Life from the Han to the Ch'ing dynasty, B.C. 206–A.D.-A.D. 1644. Leiden, E.G. Brill, 1951.
    "Only fifty copies of the work were produced in a hand-painting method on wax paper. It was not for sale, but was donated to renowned university libraries, museums, and research institutes worldwide for research purposes" (
    jpg of list). "Volume 1 (Mi Xi Tu Kao) is the main body written in English, Volume 2 (Mi Shu Shi Zhong) is written in Chinese and is a collection of nine ancient Chinese works of sex literature, and Volume 3 (Hua Ying Jin Zhen) is the erotic paintings from the Ming dynasty that van Gulik collected." These have gone through several Chinese language editions that were more generally available. ( Pirated editions have occasionally circulated.

  2. R. H. van Gulik, Sexual Life in Ancient China... ca. 1500 B.C. till 1644 A.D.; Leiden, E.G. Brill, 1961 (392 pp)
    This book has some of the racy parts translated into Latin; this version is now available mainly through an edition published by Barnes and Noble. Some advertising announcements mistakenly add that this version has "a new introduction and bibliography by Paul R. Goldin". However, this is false. Goldin's work is only in the $195 Brill edition. Of that edition
    Brill says, "In 1961 Robert van Gulik published his pioneering overview of Sexual Life in Ancient China. This edition of the work is preceded by an elaborate introduction by Paul Rakita Goldin assessing the value of Van Gulik’s volume, the subject itself, and its author. The introduction is followed by an extensive and up-to-date bibliography on the subject, which guides the modern reader in the literature on the field which appeared after the publication of Van Gulik's volume. One of the criticisms in 1961 regarded the Latin translations of passages deemed too explicit by Van Gulik. In this 2002 edition all Latin has for the first time been translated into unambiguous English, thus making the full text widely available to an academic audience.

References connected to these books can be found on several pages:

  1. Qin strings
  2. Film themes

See also Guqin in Jin Ping Mei, the classical erotic novel.
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