Gao Shan
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05. High Mountains
- Gong mode, standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 2
高山 1
Gao Shan
  Gao Shan Liu Shui illustration from Kuian Qinpu 3    
Songfengge Qinpu (1677/82) has a qin song entitled Gaoshan Liushui (High Mountains, Flowing Streams), following the poetic ci pattern of that title.4 In all other surviving qin handbooks Gao Shan and Liu Shui (#6, Flowing Streams) are separate titles, though usually paired, as here. Gao Shan is somewhat more common, surviving in at least 42 handbooks from 1425 through 1946, as opposed to Liu Shui's 33 for the same period.5 The inclusion of these two melodies in Folio I suggests their antiquity. However, neither Gao Shan nor Liu Shui is mentioned in the earliest qin melody lists. In this context, then, it would be important to find out whether there is any further information about a melody occuring in a few Song dynasty melody lists but said to be another name for Gao Shan: Huailing Cao (Cherished Mount Lament).6

The words shan (mountains) and shui (water/streams) are also commonly paired: together they mean "landscape". As a famous saying attributed to Confucius says,

The wise enjoy the waters, the benevolent enjoy the mountains.7

Whether as separate melodies or a combined one, Gaoshan Liushui relates one of the most famous Chinese stories: that of the famous Zhou dynasty qin player Bo Ya 8 finding in Zhong Ziqi (today usually described as a woodcutter) a person who could appreciate his music. As highly as Chinese culture respected scholarship, there was also the ideal of the unlettered man of nature who had an instinctive understanding of the world.

The "classic" version of this story is the one told here, quoting the 3rd century BCE Daoist text attributed to Liezi. It uses somewhat different words but is basically the same as the account as written in the earliest known source, the Lüshi Chunqiu, from which it also seems to borrow.9 This latter book, translated as the Annals of Lü Buwei and dated from 239 BCE, adds some comment at the end about the lesson to be learned from the story: just as a qin player may stop playing if he has no worthy listeners, a person need not fully devote himself to his ruler if that ruler is indeed unworthy. Both of these versions set the meeting in the mountains ("Taishan", now in Shandong province).10

In contrast, another version of this story sets the meeting of Boya and Ziqi not in the mountains but along a river in the state of Chu (in the vicinity of the modern Wuhan). This latter story is told with the melody Ting Qin Fu (Ode on Listening to the Qin). There is no melodic relationship between the two, nor does either one have a musical relationship with either of two other melodies on this theme, Jiang Yue Bai (White Moon over the River) or the rather passionate song Boya Diao Ziqi (Boya Mourns Diqi).

The version of the story that Zhu Quan names in his preface, the book of Liezi, actually adds more detail, as indicated below. Zhu Quan's added commentary implies that melodies on this theme pre-date the Tang dynasty. There is, however, no direct evidence for this, poetic references from the Tang dynasty proving only that the story was by then almost universally known.

The ancient texts often associate these melodies to Mount Tai, the sacred mountain in Shandong. Later versions, at least of Flowing Streams, mention other places. In particular the "72 gunfu (arpeggio) Liu Shui" has been associated with the rapid streams from the high mountains in Sichuan.11

Regarding the surviving music of Gao Shan and Liu Shui, in Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539) and Taiyin Chuanxi (1554) both pieces are the same or very close to the SQMP version (see appendix below). Those in other handbooks, however, seem generally more closely related to rather different versions first published in the 16th century. The surviving Gao Shan seems to have little relationship to the version in SQMP, but its relationship with the 16th century editions can be seen more easily. This further supports the idea that SQMP Folio 1 pieces (further comment) were all old melodies that were no longer played at the time SQMP was published.

Qin melodies tend to get more complex the longer they are played, unless quite a different version is created. This is what may have happened with Gao Shan and Liu Shui. Zhu Quan transmitted an old, highly developed version but, as his introduction to SQMP states, he could find no one who could play it, and its style is quite different from other qin pieces. The other early Ming versions of both Gao Shan and Liu Shui (except the two just mentioned) tend to be shorter and simpler than those in SQMP. Perhaps, inspired by motifs, new versions were developed, which then became the source of the complex works heard today. This would help explain why the versions are so different.12

Gao Shan and Liu Shui are two of the seven SQMP first folio pieces not to be divided into sections (in the second and third folios only the modal preludes have no sections). With the other five unsectioned pieces one can find precise sectioning from later handbooks, but with Gao Shan and Liu Shui such sectioning requires some creativity. This is perhaps unnecessary but I found it helpful to do so during my reconstruction of the melodies.

Since the preface states that during the Tang dynasty these two melodies were not divided into sections, but that by the Song dynasty Gao Shan had been divided into four sections and Liu Shui had been divided into eight, one might consider this as a suggestion that the undivided SQMP versions date from the Tang dynasty. Unfortunately, there is no other evidence for this and it is perhaps just as likely that someone removed the sectioning in order to suggest the antiquity.13

In my transcription I have divided Gao Shan into ten sections, taking eight of the titles from the Xilutang Qintong version. Although the music in the latter is quite different, it is easy to spot the opening phrases (sections 1-2, 5-7 and 9) in the SQMP version which have corresponding opening phrases (sections 1-2, 5-7 and 8) in Xilutang Qintong. SQMP sections 3, 4, 8 and 10 begin at what seem to be natural breaks; 3 and 4 take Xilutang Qintong titles, while 8 and 10 have titles adapted from Zhu Quan's preface to the melody.

The SQMP editions also had no punctuation, so the punctuation in my reconstruction follows that of Fengxuan Xuanpin.

As for active play, today only the Sichuan school's Gao Shan and "72 gunfu Liu Shui" are to be heard.14 However, whereas there are at least 25 recordings of this Liu Shui, for Gao Shan there are only the two by Sichuan players Yu Bosun and Wang Huade, as well as the reconstructions from Chuncaotang Qinpu (1744) and Qinxue Rumen (1864) by Yao Bingyan. Besides my own, there are as yet no other recordings of SQMP's Gao Shan.

Original preface: 15

The Emaciated Immortal says,

the two pieces Gao Shan and Liu Shui originally were only one piece. At the beginning its motive is in (describing) high mountains, so it is said the meaning is that "people of selfless virtue enjoy the mountains" (Lun Yu). Later its motive is in (describing) the flowing streams, so it is said the meaning is that "people of wisdom enjoy the waters" (ibid). The division into two pieces came during the Tang dynasty; it wasn't further sub-divided into sections. By the Song dynasty Gao Shan had been divided into four sections and Liu Shui had been divided into eight.

According to Qin History,16 Liezi (原文) said,17

"(During the Spring and Autumn Period) Boya was good at playing the qin, Zhong Ziqi was good at listening. When Boya (playing the qin) had his will in (describing) high mountains, Zhong Ziqi said, '(Wonderful!) How lofty; like Mount Tai.' When Boya had his will in (climbing) flowing streams, Zhong Ziqi said, '(Wonderful!) How vast; it is like a great river and the sea.'

"Whatever Boya was thinking (as he played), Zhong Ziqi saw clearly in his heart. Boya said, 'Awesome! Your heart and mine are one and the same.' (In the Liezi original this paragraph is expanded as follows: "Whatever Boya was thinking [as he played], Zhong Ziqi unfailingly got it. Then, as Boya was roaming on the north side of Mount Tai he suddenly met a rainstorm. Stopping under a cliff, and feeling emotional, he used this as an excuse to take up his qin and play it. At first it was a melody about the persistent rain, then it was the sound of crashing in the mountain. Whatever melody he played, Zhong Ziqi never missed its significance. Boya then put away his qin and sighed, saying, 'Wonderful! Wonderful! You can hear whatever I think, the images you have are just what is in my heart. How can I flee from my sounds?'")

"When Zhong Ziqi died, Boya broke his strings and never again played the qin. (This detail is found first in Lüshi Chunqiu.)

Thus we have Gao Shan and Liu Shui.

my transcription; timings follow 聽錄音 the recording from my CD
Originally undivided; here arranged as 10 sections; 1-7 and 9 are from Xilutang Qintong; 8 and 10 are phrases from Zhu Quan's preface to the melody.18

(00.00) 01. Lofty mountains
(00.54) 02. Great heights of Kunlun
(01.23) 03. Sky and solitary cliffs
(01.58) 04. Fog rises among all the peaks
(02.19) 05. Daytime mist gathers in a green expanse
(02.53) 06. Sunset mist condenses in a purple mass
(03.31) 07. Put on straw shoes with thoughts of climbing
(03.56) 08. As lofty as Mount Tai
(04.41) 09. Flapping ones clothing and comfortably intoning
(05.31) 10. People of selfless virtue enjoy the mountains
(06.12) --- Piece ends

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Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Gao Shan sources
46302.31 高山 gives only geography. For a music reference see below under Gaoshan Liushui

2. Gong mode (宮調 Gong diao)
For more on gong mode see
Shenpin Gong Yi. For modes in general see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Kuian Qinpu illustration (QQJC XI/13) Compare painting by Qiu Ying 仇英 高山流水  
The Qiu Ying painting at right was copied from a website that has since disappeared. In contrast to here, where a man sits with a qin behind him, in the painting above, a solo figure seemingly seated on a boulder is actually playing. The dark area in the middle seems to be a pine tree, and there is a solitary stream in the distance to the upper left. The handbook has no Liu Shui, but the inscription on the right side of the illustration says 高山流水 Gao Shan Liu Shui. Underneath that is perhaps the seal of the painter, but it is unclear in the QQJC edition reprint. The inscription to the left is also not clear.

4. High Mountains, Flowing Streams (高山流水 Gaoshan Liushui)

Information about the surviving qin melody (song) of this title has been moved here.


5. Tracing Gao Shan (Details are in the appendix below)
Zha Fuxi's Guide 2/21/14; for details on the 33 surviving editions that include Liu Shui see its own appendix. Note that Gao Shan is not in Zheyin Shizi Qinpu, and the lyrics of Chongxiu Zhenchuan Qinpu don't fit SQMP.

The titles Gao Shan and Liu Shui (or Gaoshan Liushui) do not appear on the earliest qin melody lists, though in the Song lists Liu Shui is amongst the "most ancient" (q.v.) while Gao Shan and Liu Shui both appear in what seems to be a Yuan dynasty list (q.v.).

6. Huailing Cao: 懷陵操 Cherished Mound Lament or 壞陵(操) Ruined Mound (Lament)
As outlined here, these are two variants of the title of a melody in Qin Cao (see further). The introduction to the existing edition says,

Huailing Cao was created by Bo Ya. Bo Ya played the qin and created the sound of 滶徵 arousing (the note) zhi (or arouse zheng: evidence?). The rest is missing.

In addition, the Gao Shan entry in Qin Shu: Qu Ming says it can also be called 懷陵操 Huailing Cao.

In addition to the title occuring in Qin Cao, Huailing Cao can be found in several other title lists including Qin Yuan Yao Lu (see here and here but not here.

7. Confucius on water and mountains
The original quote (see 論語 Analects, VI.23) is


See also the quote from Xunzi in which Confucius is said to explain why gentlemen like to contemplate water flowing east.

8. Bo Ya 伯牙
The full name of Bo Ya (538.18 伯牙) is sometimes said to be 俞伯牙 Yu Boya, but the surname Yu is rarely used. See also Boya Diao Ziqi (Boya Mourns Ziqi) and Ting Qin Fu (Listening to the Qin), which recounts a different version of this story. The present story is also told with the biography of Zhong Ziqi.

9. The Lüshi Chunqiu of Lü Buwei (呂不韋﹕呂氏春秋 239 BCE)
Lü Buwei (see Wikipedia), while serving as Prime Minister to the king of Qin (later the first emperor of unified China, Qin Shihuang), apparently ordered the compilation of this volume in the year 239 BCE. For an English translation see Knoblock and Riegel, 14/2.3.

10. The story of Bo Ya and Zhong Ziqi according to Lüshi Chunqiu
The original Chinese text and the following translation are from Knoblock and Riegel, op. cit, p. 308 (their incorrect translation of qin as lute is here reversed).

Whenever Bo Ya played the qin, Zhong Ziqi would listen to him. Once when he was playing the qin, his thoughts turned to Mount Tai. Zhong Ziqi said, "How splendidly you play the qin! Lofty and majestic like Mount Tai." A short time later, when his thoughts turned to rolling waters, Zhong Ziqi said, "How splendidly you play the qin! Rolling and swelling like a rushing river." When Zhong Ziqi died, Bo Ya smashed the qin and cut its strings. To the end of his life, he never played the qin again because he felt that there was no one in the world worth playing it for. This applies not only to the qin, but to worthiness as well. Although a man is worthy, if he is not received by a ruler with due courtesy, why should he devote his full loyalty to him? It is like the fleet-footed horse that will not go a thousand li by iteself when the driver is not skilled.


This story has been used to suggest that Bo Ya was making up the music as he played, or, since the story is not considered to be historical, that it relates the concept of immprovisation. This may be the case, and the idea is reinforced by the translation saying, "when (Bo Ya's) thoughts turned to....". However, the original only says that is where his thoughts were, and there is nothing particularly to say he wasn't playing an existing melody, perhaps of his own creation.

11. Location of the High Mountains and Flowing Streams
Although the ancient texts mention 泰山 Mount Tai, the melody Jiang Yue Bai (White Moon over the River) seems to suggest the meeting of Boya and Ziqi took place near the modern Wuhan. The association of the modern Liu Shui with Sichuan is mentioned there. It is often said that the earlier versions, played by people in eastern China where the mountains were not so spectacular, accounts for their less dramatic nature.

12. Melodic changes in Gao Shan and Liu Shui
For some further general comments on this see Changes over time in guqin playing style.

13. Sectioning of Gao Shan and Liu Shui
As yet I have seen no reliable information that would further shed light on this.

14. Recordings
For silk string recordings see Content of Silk String Recordings.

15. For the original Chinese text see 高山.

16. Qin History (琴史 Qin Shi)
Is this a book name, or just the history of qin? Zhu Quan's sources are problematic. The quote here actually seems directly from Liezi itself (note changes). It is not a quote from Zhu Changwen's Qin History, which tells this story under Zhong Ziqi, not under Bo Ya.

17. 列子 Liezi
The original text can be found here. A. C. Graham, The Book of Liezi, pp. 109-110. Elsewhere it is explained that the reason Bo Ya never played again was his conviction that in life you are lucky to find one person with such deep understanding, and you could never hope to find two.

18. The Chinese titles are as follows:

(00.00) 01. 嵩嶽崢嶸
(00.54) 02. 崑崙巀嶪
(01.23) 03. 天空獨嶂
(01.58) 04. 霞起群峰
(02.19) 05. 晴嵐積翠
(02.53) 06. 暮煙凝紫
(03.31) 07. 躡履思登
(03.56) 08. 巍巍若泰山
(04.41) 09. 振衣懷嘯
(05.31) 10. 仁者樂山
(06.12) --- 終

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Appendix: Chart Tracing Gao Shan;
based mainly on Zha Fuxi's
Guide, 2/21/14.
Compare Liu Shui chart

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information: (QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
Right aligned commentary is for later versions of Gao Shan; compare Liu Shui chart
  1.  神奇秘譜
      (1425; I/120)
Original has no sectioning (but compare above) or phrasing indicated;
lyrics of 1585 don't fit
  3. 西麓堂琴統
      (1525; III/76)
8T; quite different: more elaborate
  2. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/86)
Same as 1425 but adds phrasing
  4. 太音傳習
      (1552-61; IV/55)
Phrasing but no sectioning; similar to 1425
  5. 新刊正文對音捷要
      (1573; --)
Same as 1585?
This handbook does not include Liu Shui
  6. 重修真傳琴譜
      (1585; IV/321)
4 titled sections; lyrics; melody is very different
  7. 玉梧琴譜
      (1589; VI/16)
4; another very different version again
  8. 藏春塢琴譜
      (1602; VI/316)
4; identical to 1589
9.a 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1589; VII/157)
6, titled; also different
9.b 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1609; VII/--)
same as 1589?
10. 古音正宗
      (1634; IX/280)
6; related
11. 徽言秘旨
      (1647; X/37)
8; related
12. 徽言秘旨訂
      (1692; X/255)
9; related
not same as in HYMZ
13. 愧菴琴譜
      (1660; XI/15)
related, no section titles, but an illustration!
Inscription at right of picture says "gaoshan liushui", but handbook has no Liu Shui
14. 臣卉堂琴譜
      (1663; XI/93)
15. 琴苑新傳全編
      (1670; XI/323)
11; related but different from 1425
16. 和文注音琴譜
      (<1676; XII/230)
1; lyrics; related
   . 抒懷操
      (1677/82; XII/380)
Gaoshan Liushui: unrelated; different tuning
(抒懷操 was part of 松風閣琴譜?)
17. 德音堂琴譜
      (1691; XII/501)
6; related
18. 蓼懷堂琴譜
      (1702; XIII/182)
8; related
19. 一峰園琴譜
      (1709; XIII/522)
6; related;
20. 五知齋琴譜
      (1722; XIV/438)
8; related; no Liu Shui
21. 存古堂琴譜
      (1726; XV/235)
no Liu Shui
    . 光裕堂琴譜
      (1726?; XV/313)
published together with and identical to previous
22. 治心齋琴學練要
      (1739; XVIII/142)
no Liu Shui
23. 春草堂琴譜
      (1744; XVIII/238)
no Liu Shui; afterword says Gaoshan and Liushui were divided during the Yuan dynasty
Called "Gaoshan Liushui" in this recording (#1) by 徐元白 Xu Yuanbai (Yao Bingyan did same?)
24. 琴劍合譜
      (1749; XVIII/303)
25. 穎陽琴譜
      (1751; XVI/68)
6; related
26. 蘭田館琴譜
      (1755; XVI/199)
related; no Liu Shui
27. 酣古齋琴譜
      (1785; XVIII/393)
8; related
28. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/299)
8; related
29. 小蘭琴譜
      (1812; XIX/430)
no Liu Shui
30. 琴學軔端
      (1828; XX/398)
8; related
31. 鄰鶴齋琴譜
      (1830; XXI/42)
8; related;
no Liu Shui
32. 悟雪山房琴譜
      (1836; XXII/285)
First of two
33. 悟雪山房琴譜
      (1836; XXII/289)
Second version, directly following previous one
34. 槐蔭書屋琴譜
      (1840; XXIII/350)
35. 荻灰館琴譜
      (1853; XXIV/89)
As played by a student of Zhang Kongshan
(compare 1876 below)
36. 琴學尊聞
      (1864; XXIV/235)
Followed by a 本音 ben yin in lowered third tuning
37. 琴學入門
      (1864; XXIV/323)
7; no Liu Shui
Recording by Yao Bingyan?
38. 青箱齋琴譜
      (1864; XXIV/368)
39. 白菡萏香館琴譜
      (1871; XXIV/439)
40. 以六正五之齋琴學秘書
      (1875; XXVI/236)
8; no Liu Shui
41. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/158)
three versions in a row (only one Liu Shui):
one follows 1744, one follows a Mr. Xu's, one follows a Mr. Zhang's
42. 天籟閣琴譜
      (1876; XXI/)
8; related; from "友琴堂選譜"?
 no Liu Shui
43. 希韶閣琴譜
      (1878; XXVI/318)
44. 枕經葄史山房雜抄
      (>1881; XXVII/210)
45. 雙琴書屋琴譜集成
      (1884; XXVII/312)
46. 養性堂琴譜
      (>1884; XXVII/377)
47. 枯木禪琴譜
      (1893; XXVIII/38)
   . 琴學初津
      (1894; XXVIII/245)
Only Gaoshan Liushui
15 sections (combines the existing Gao Shan and Liu Shui?)
48. 詩夢齋琴譜
no Liu Shui
49. 沙堰琴編
      (1946; XXIX/318)
Sichuan school handbook:
see recordings by 俞伯蓀 Yu Bosun and Wang Huade
50. 夏一峰傳譜
#10 has staff notation of a Gaoshan Liushui:
see in Liu Shui chart
51. 研易習琴齋琴譜
8 sections
52. 虞山吳氏琴譜
Staff notation; based on 1722

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