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Taiyin Daquanji 1
Folio 1D : Information on Assemblage of the Qin
Explanations provided by the translator are put either in brackets ( ) or in footnotes.2

(Assemblage)3 Right: Assemblage; Left: Assemblage of qin surface (top)  

The Grand History Master4 said, A qin length of 8 chi, 1 cun is proper. Feng Su Tong5 said the qin is 45 cun (4 chi, 5 cun) in length; this method follows the "four seasons, five elements"6 method. The two (men's) methods are different. Nowadays we use Fu Xi's construction as the correction length: three chi six cun six fen. This method follows the number (of days) in a year.7 This is an ancient method of construction. This style is suitable in length and width. The old chi and the contemporary provincial chi are the same, as compared to the Zhejiang chi, which is two cun longer. If longer than (Fu Xi's) length, then it is too long. If not this long, then it is too short. The famous qins used today are in accordance with this old method. Examine the styles which are listed below.

[Yin Shi:]8 The Grand History Master refers to Sima Tan of the former Han dynasty. He was a Grand Historian (taishiling). Later his son Sima Qian also held this rank. Thus, out of respect his father was called Grand History Master. Feng Su Tong is a book name. It was written by Ying Shao. Ji (year) is pronounced like ji (base); it is a year of 366 days.

The qin body is two cun long from the "forehead" to the (near side of the) mountain. The mountain is three fen thick. From the (other side of the) mountain to the furthest end of the dragon's lips is three chi four cun three fen (both the dragon9 and the phoenix10 are popularly associated with various parts of the qin). Altogether the length is (thus) 3 chi, six cun, six fen (see comment). Along the two sides the distance from the mountain to the cornered hats is three chi, three cun. The forehead measured across at the tongue is five cun two fen wide. In front of the dew collector the width is five cun one fen. Behind the mountain, as you approach the area of the neck, the width is five cun. Compared with the forehead it is two fen lower. The width in the center of the neck is four cun. The shoulders are six cun wide. At the waist the width is four cun one fen. At the tail the width is three cun nine fen. In addition, the measurements for the bottom of the qin are the same.

(Three diagrams of the qin assemblage) 11




Essay on playing the qin 12 Original text            
As for the method for playing the qin, the disposition must be uncomplicated and peaceful. Especially important is playing by oneself and not playing pieces so that your hands have to move around too much. Big flaws in playing are as follows:

These sorts of things are the vital organs (gaohuang) of the qin. The (flaws) come from

As a result, this causes

Thus the clear elegance of the ancients becomes lost, instead becoming low class and stingy. Look at (these bad players') hand movements and the flaws are apparent. The physical movements are the opposite of those for the qin; the feelings are the opposite of those for the qin. They know sound but they don't know music. They move their fingers but don't know the significance. Although they play, it is not as in former times. (For a good player) the sounds are plentiful but not confused. Like the moon (reflecting) on water, (the sounds) are together but not combined. Like wind in the pines, they are combined but also spread out. The sounds are valued for their lightness, not the addition of inappropriate ("guest") sounds. This is the refined theory of the qin. To be knowledgeable about music, one must seek this, then one can realize its beauty.

Situation of putting on the strings 14 Situation of playing the qin
(From above left:) Method of putting on the strings

Whenever putting on strings, use the string put through the peg hooks (? use the knot on the string to pull the tassel attached to the pegs?), tightly pull the top of the tassel to near the center of the mountain top, then use ring finger to begin fixing the string (to the Phoenix Feet at the other end). (The most comfortable way to hold the string is to) wind it around the inside of the little finger, extend it outside of the ring finger, then inside the middle finger (of the right hand, as depicted in the diagram below called "Hand method for putting on strings"). Then tightly sieze and fix the string using the thumb. With the qin use strength and quickly pull, using the left hand to help cause the string to be tight, and also using the left hand to pluck a string, to see if the sound is right. Once it is correct, then coil the string around the Phoenix Feet. Rely on this method to put on the strings, then the fingers won't become sore. Although you use the little finger to coil the string, nevertheless you use strength on the index and middle fingers, so the little finger won't become sore. If you use (only the) other fingers, then they will all be sore.

Situation of people today carrying a qin Situation of the ancients carrying a qin
(From above right15): The Emaciated Immortal says , (the ancients') way of carryng the qin was to consider the top as yang and so have it facing outwards, to consider the bottom as yin and so have it facing inwards; the head is in front and suitably up, the tail is behind and suitably down.

People of today mostly put the bottom towards the outside, for ease of getting to the Dragon Pool so as easily to use the fingers to grasp it; but this way loses its correctness and is less appropriate.

The left hand and right hands are like a phoenix in the clouds.
This is the qin player's art
Hand methods:
for putting on strings (above) 16 and
for playing the strings (below)

  (Here the "Zhu" volume adds an additional commentary.
      The folio in this edition then ends with the following diagram. 20)


 (Translation of top:
      from left to right

 - Thumb (tablature: "big"21)
 - Index finger ("enter"22)
 - Middle finger ("middle"23)
 - Ring finger ("night"24)
 - Baby finger ("forbidden finger"
                        it doesn't move25)

(Translation of right and left sides,
      from right to left

Left hand finger usage:
 - 1st is called "big". Big refers to its being the biggest finger
 - 2nd is called "food". Food refers to its ability to (put) food in the mouth.

 - 3rd is called "middle"; middle refers to its living in the middle of the four (sic) fingers
 - 4th is called "name"; name recalls Mencius' so-called "no name finger"
 - 5th is called "forbidden"; forbidden refers to its having no use and so not moving it.


Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. In the 1970s, when I was studying guqin in Taiwan with Sun Yu-ch'in, I made a rough translation of this passage from a copy of Taigu Yiyin preserved in Taiwan and included by Dr. Tong Kin-Woon (TKW) in his Qin Fu (QFTGYY), pp. 35-39; it is here modified according to the mostly identical passage that begins the Taiyin Daquanji printed in QQJC Vol. I, pp.39 - 42 (30 Volume edition pp.49-52), referred to by TKW as the "Yuan Volume" (see his #6), after its supposed editor, Yuan Junzhe. When putting it online I tried to make corrections, but a number of passages still elude me.

2. Explanations by translator
See comments concerning the structure of the original text.

3. Assemblage (制度 Zhi Du)
There is no general title for these three diagrams. One of the diagrams is above. The original diagrams for the other two, translated next after that one, are below.

4. Grand History Master (太史公 Taishi Gong)
This title generally refers to 司馬遷 Sima Qian (ca.145 - c.85 BCE; Wiki), who wrote the majority of the Annals, but it earlier referred to his father 司馬談 Sima Tan (d. 110 BCE; Wiki), who was also a Grand History Master (also called the Grand Historian, or the Grand Astrologer). See Yin Shi below.

5. 風俗通 Feng Su Tong, by 應劭 Ying Shao (3rd c. CE)

6. 四時五行 si shi wu xing

7. See Yin Shi below.

8. 音釋 Yin Shi: Pronunciation and Explanation Return)

9. Dragon body associations with the Qin body
Many parts of the qin have dragon associations. "Dragon's lips" (龍唇 Long chun: 49812.351/2: 琴唇也 same as qin lips) refers to the lower end of the qin, putting it next to the "dragon's gums" (龍齦 long yin 49812.729) shown in the illustrations above. The dictionary says dragon's gums are 琴尾端之堅木 "the hard wood at the lower end of the qin." It then quotes 禮書論 Li Shu Lun by 陳暘 Chen Yang as saying, Dragon's lips is the place where the 聲 sound comes from; dragon's gums is the place that gives rise to the 吟 resonance; dragon's mouth (龍口 long kou) receives the strings and the dragon's beard ([龍]鬚 long xu) is also used to adorn this. The next diagram, Assemblage of the inner top, shows a place for the dragon's legs (龍腿 long tui). The third diagram, Assemblage of the inner bottom, shows two sound holes, the larger one called a broad pool (池闊 chi kuo) and the smaller a broad pond (沼闊 zhao kuo). The broad pool is elsewhere called a dragon's pool (龍池 long chi 49812.103), while the broad pond is elsewhere called a phoenix pool (鳳池 feng chi).

10. Phoenix body associations with the Qin body
As with the dragon, many parts of a qin are associated with the phoenix. Parts mentioned in the assemblages below include the phoenix wings (鳳趐 feng xue: long sides), phoenix tongue (鳳舌 feng she an indentation sometimes cut into the upper end of the qin), phoenix legs (鳳腿 feng tui: these seem to be connected to the dragon's legs inside the qin; they are also commonly called 雁足 yan zu, goose feet), and the phoenix pond (鳳池 feng chi, here called a broad pond.

11. Diagrams of Qin Assemblage: One image was the left one at top, the other two are here    
There are three images:

  1. 琴面制度 "qin surface", i.e., top surface

  2. 槽腹制度 "trough of the midsection", i.e., inner top

  3. 琴背制度 "qin back

The original of the first is the left image at the top. Translations of all three diagrams are above.

There are very similar images in the Taigu Yiyin at QQJC I/31-32.



12. The Zhu volume begins Folio 2 here.

13. [TKW30:] The other two volumes say "play the strings".

14. In QQJC and other reprints (which unfold the double pages) these two sheets are separated (back to back), but in the original they would have appeared side by side, as here.

15. This illustration in QFTGYY, which here is photocopying the Yuan volume, has a slightly different commentary, omitting "The Emaciated Immortal says", and dividing the commentary so that the second half, regarding current practise, is printed with the sketch "Situation of people of today carrying a qin".

16. The picture in QFTGYY shows the string more clearly, but after wrapping around the small finger, while it does go under the ring finger, it doesn't seem to go over the middle finger (see Situations of putting on the strings, above). I do not know the significance of the design on the right side of three of the sketches.

17. At the bottom of this diagram the Zhu volume has:

Whenever playing the strings, one should use the middle finger to hit (them). If using the ring finger for hitting, then the hand gesture should be like a turtle playing in the water (there is an illustration of this in the next folio). Then playing a tune, one should comply with the tablature.

Then written to the left of this and of "Hand Method for playing the strings" is the following text:

Tuning the strings.
Grasp a peg. To tighten a string, turn it to the right (looking down: counter-clockwise, so that the knot is pulled towards your right); to loosen a string turn it to the left. First use the ring finger to strum the first three strings. This finished, "hook" the 1st and "thumb" the 4th then play them together (here "play" is literally "grate"; for these finger technique terms, see folios three and five; "grate 齪" is now replaced by "撮 pinch"). Then hook (the 3rd) and thumb the 6th, then grate them together. Then hook the second and thumb the fifth, then grate them together. After this thumb the 7th string by itself. Thus the tuning is accomplished. (Note: unles something has been omitted, this is a very basic method to give a general tuning, presumably based on the ability of the ear to hear the interval of a fifth.)

18. In QFTGYY "This is the qin player's art" is not put here; instead, it is the title of the lower sketch, here untitled.

19. The table of contents for the Zhu volume here has "Several qin players" (彈琴家數), but this is not in the text. After "The left and right hands are like a phoenix in the clouds" and "This is the qin player's art" (not mentioned in the table of contents) is the following essay which, like the material in the previous footnote, doesn't seem to be in the other two editions.

The metropolitan graduate (jinshi) 劉景尹字伊叔 Liu Jingyin (Bio/xxx), literary name Yishu, was good at music, particularly on the qin. If he heard someone play a piece he immediately memorized it. 與寄庵居士葉子問挾琴過子奏古風操 While passing time with retired scholar-recluse Ye Ziwen he took a qin, and played Gufeng Cao. Before he was halfway through a string broke. He re-strung the qin, and again played. After finishing he put aside the qin and poured out some wine; then they discussed tuning the strings. Although it is a basic (common? 朱 = 本?) matter, it is very difficult. Yishu said, when beginning to study qin, and having the problem of not yet being familiar with the essential meaning, tuning the strings is the hardest thing to achieve. The first thing to attain is putting them on, then playing a piece. Otherwise (you might as well) hang it on the wall of the room and just bind your hands (束手月而已?). Thinking of the open sounds of the seven strings, first recognize the correct order of the seven strings: gong, shang, jue, zhi, yu, wen and wu. A little summary is, if using the (open) 7th string, then put the thumb at the 9th position on the 4th. If (the open) 6th string, use the ring finger at the 10th positon on the 4th. But when seeking these sounds to be harmonious together, then stop: if when evaluating (輕重?) it, the sound is not yet harmonious, first you must tighten the 7th string by itself. (Then when you) use the 7th string to harmonize with the above sounds you can slacken it if in front (i.e., higher), or tighten it if behind (i.e., lower). 推之而上之觸類而伸 Extend/push out to raise them, push to stretch it out (push on a string to loosen it?). This is not a difficult matter. After this, the sound of the five tones becomes broad, filling the ears. If you can play the 7 open strings, you especially can attain the structure. This method of playing the open strings comes after putting on the strings and already recognizing the precision of the seven open-string sounds. Pluck with the thumb the open 2nd and 7th strings [using the left hand]. Then thumb the 1st and 6th. This should be done from the bottom towards the top (i.e., from the far side of the qin towards the near side?). Then "rub" (second finger inward) on the third (string) to harmonize it with the 6th (giving the interval of a 5th), "hook" (the third finger inward) on the 4th (string) to harmonize it with the 7th (also giving the interval of a 5th), and use the 2nd to harmonize with the 5th. If now you do this thumbing from the top towards the bottom (outwards?) you can finely distinguish the roundness and lustre of the qin sounds; then its correct.

I was happy with these words, simple and appropriate, so I have written them down.

20. The Yuan volume has the sketch and information together, as here; QFTGYY has "Left hand finger usage" on the following page. The Zhu volume puts it before the sketch and calls it 凡用指 "Whenever using the fingers".

21. 大指 "Big finger", used for thumb and written 大
For thumb, 大指 da zhi is obvious, but in the finger technique explanations for the surviving ancient longhand piece You Lan the name is sometimes given as "母 mu" (mother) or "母指 mu zhi". This latter is not "mother finger" but a short form of "拇指 mu zhi"; 拇 (mu) by itself can refer either to the thumb or the big toe.

22. 食指 "Food finger", used for "index finger" and written 入
The shorthand form given here "入 ru" ("enter) seems to be a mistake: usually the short form is "人 ren" ("person"), even more commonly the "person radical": "亻". The diagram above adds that it can also be written "艮 gen", which would normally mean "keeping still", but as with the other abbreviations of the shorthand forms, these are selected purely for their resemblance to the shorthand form, not for their meaning.

44988.47 食指 gives as its earliest reference "左氏(左傳),宣,四:子公之食指動", "Zigong's food finger began to move." Apparently this was because he was thinking about a time when no one had offered him something to eat so he "dipped a finger" (染指 ran zhi) in the pot. This seems a bit after the fact for an explanation, but 染指 ran zhi then also came to be used to refer to butting in unasked, then slang for dipping into the cash, i.e., "taking a cut in".

23. 中指 "Middle finger", written 中
Easiest to remember! 中 is middle because of the line coming right down the middle.

24. 名指 Ring finger, written 夕
In Chinese the term "ring finger" (環指 huan zhi) has been borrowed from the West, but it is still mostly referred to by its traditional name, the "no name finger" (無名指 wuming zhi). The shorthand form of this, "夕 xi", usually means "star", but again this is selected not for its meaning but because it is the top half of "名". In the finger technique explanations for the surviving ancient longhand piece You Lan this finger may be variously shortened to "無 wu", "名 ming", "無名 wuming", "名指 mingzhi" and so forth.

According to a commentary on Mengzi by 趙岐 Zhao Qi (d. 201 CE), the fourth finger (ring finger) had no name because it had no obvious purpose.

《孟子·告子上》:「今有無名之指,屈而不信。」趙岐注:"無名之指,手之第四指也。蓋以其馀指,皆有名,無名指者,非手之用指也。" There is apparently no comment there about who thought that finger had no purpose, or why. However, it seems that in a number of other languages "no name" was also how the fourth/ring finger also came to be described, including Sanskrit, where its word for that finger, anamika, became the source of the Latin word anonymus, meaning anonymous.

25. 禁指 jin zhi: restrained fingering/forbidden finger (baby finger)
25312.xxx; 7/926 gives two meanings.

  1. (Restrained fingering):
    "Ban Gu (said)..., 'Qin signifies restraint, its use is to prohibit licentious behavior and to rectify people's hearts/minds'. So later they used (the expression) "禁指 jinzhi" to speak to their 意旨 intention that qin (play) should forbid licentious activities." (This suggests that the qin should only be played with restraint, i.e., it forbids playing ["fingering"] in certain ways, rather than forbidding [some] people from playing the qin, or forbidding that the baby finger be used at all. The example is,) ▶ 元·王實甫《西廂記》第五本第二摺:「這琴,他教我閉門學禁指,留意譜聲詩,調養聖賢心,洗蕩巢·由耳。」
    Wang Shifu,
    Story of the Western Wing, 5/2 (West/Idema, p.382), Student Zhang says, "This zither - It tells me to close the doors and study restraining my fingers. Devote my mind to poems set to music...."
  2. 小手指 Baby finger: ▶ 《鏡花緣》第七五回:「即如你以右手五指,合於我之右手五指之上,你若問我大指之上是汝何指,我必說是禁指。」
    In Chapter 75 of the novel Flowers in the Mirror (鏡花緣 Jing Hua Yuan) by 李汝珍 Li Ruzhen (1827), Meng Yunzhi 孟蕓芝 seems to say (something like, "If you take the five fingers of (your) right hand, and align them above the five fingers of my right hand, then you ask, above my thumb is which of your fingers, then I must say it is the 'forbidden finger'". (Does this mean the hands are aligned in the opposite direction? This is in a passage about fortune telling, not playing music.).

The text with diagram 4 above (I/52) says only, "禁者不動也", translated as "it being forbidden, don't move it." However, the "forbidden" in "forbidden city" (in Chinese "紫禁城 purple forbidden city") might better be translated as "restricted city" as it was restricted to those who had special permission. Since the baby finger is relatively awkward and weak, it is natural that it would not be used when playing guqin. But since there is no apparent connection between that and the baby finger being called the "forbidden finger", perhaps it simply means that when playing qin you should be careful not to touch a string with the finger you are never called upon to use.

Further regarding Flower in the Mirror, its Chapters 72 and 73 also have an interesting account of guqin play, related in some detail here

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