Huang Yun Qiu Sai
 T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
SQMP  ToC   /   North and Central Asia 聽錄音 Listen to my recording with transcription   首頁
45. Yellow Clouds of Autumn at the Frontier
- Huangzhong mode:2 1 3 5 6 1 2 3
黃雲秋塞 1
Huang Yun Qiu Sai
The present melody for Huang Yun Qiu Sai (Huangyun Qiusai) survives in seven handbooks from 1425 to 1585.
4 In all but the last the music changes very little. Shen Qi Mi Pu does not connect the title to any particular story, instead evoking a general picture of the forbidding border regions to the north and/or west. Zhu Quan also gives no attribution.

Later handbooks, however, give the melody several differing attributions. They also try to be more specific about the theme. For example, Xilutang Qintong (1525) uses this melody as a prelude to Da Hujia, which concern's Cai Wenji's abduction by central Asian nomads. Taiyin Chuanxi (1552) and Taiyin Buyi (1557), which have tablature identical to each other, connect the melody to the story of Wang Zhaojun being married to a nomad prince, thereby associating it with the melody Longshuo Cao.5

To add to the confusion, Taiyin Chuanxi (1552) and Taiyin Buyi both call the melody Qiu Sai Yin (Autumn at the Frontier Melody).6 Qiu Sai Yin, in turn, is also the main title or an alternative title for several musically unrelated later pieces. One of these is a Qiu Sai Yin using standard tuning,7 sometimes also called Sao Shou Wen Tian (Scratch the head and ask heaven). The other, using raised fifth tuning, is most commonly called Sao Shou Wen Tian,8 but has Qiu Sai Yin as an alternate. A third is Shui Xian Cao.9 Commentary under Shuixian Cao gives some further detail on these titles.

Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (<1491) and Chongxiu Zhenchuan Qinpu (1585) add lyrics. The lyrics are identical to each other, but whereas the former has the same tablature as SQMP, that of the latter is rather different. The two introductions are also generally the same as in SQMP, but the latter adds that the melody is by Huang Tingjian (pen name Luzhi; 1045 - 1105), a famous Song dynasty literatus,10 and that someone later expanded on this. The origin of these claims is not clear.

Zhu Quan's preface mentions two place names, a military region called Yingzhou,11 and the mountain pass Yumen Guan.12 Yumen Guan was near Yang Guan, a mountain pass near the Dunhuang caves of Gansu province, and perhaps the most famous name evoking images of being sent westward out of civilization and into the nomad wilderness (evoked in Yangguan Sandie). Almost as famous for this is Guanshan, mentioned in a later section title.13

Since my own (fifth CD) there have been a number of similar online recordings

Original Preface14

The Emaciated Immortal says

this may be a very old tune. It speaks of the vast barbarian desert in the border region, spreading out for thousands of miles; of yellow (sand-filled) clouds which conceal the heavens; and of the bitter winds which pierce the body, chilling the eyes with misery. Whether north or south of the mountain passes, there is a sense great sadness, as well as loneliness and emptiness, and looking at the scenery evokes these sad feelings. This (piece) makes use of these strong feelings, by attaching them to the qin, thereby stirring up thoughts of autumn in the Yingzhou military region, and feelings of longing for home at (the border gate to the western desert,) Yumen Guan.

Music (timings follow the recording on my CD; 聽錄音 listen with my transcription)
The transcription is attached after that of Shenpin Wuyi
Three sections; titles from Zheyin Shizi Qinpu 15

(00.00) 1. The nomad desert extends everywhere
(01.00) 2. Yellow clouds hide the heavens
(01.31) 3. North and south of Guan Shan
(02.41) -- harmonics
(02.53) -- Melody ends

Return to the top

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Huang Yun Qiu Sai 黃雲秋塞
Outside of qin handbooks I have found no other references to this title. 48904.770 黃雲 huangyun mentions only yellow clouds like on a frontier, or a nickname for some unrelated people. Hanyu Dacidian (12/994) says this then quotes a poem by Du Fu (杜甫,佐還山後寄) which mentions autumn as well as yellow clouds. (Return)

2. Huangzhong (Yellow Bell) Mode
For 黃鐘調 Huangzhong mode, also called 無射調 Wuyi mode, slacken 1st, tighten 5th strings each a half step. This mode is often used for melodies with themes concerning the deserts north and/or west of China. For more details on this mode see Shenpin Wuyi Yi. For more on modes in general see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature. (Return)

4. Tracing Huangyun Qiu Sai (tracing chart)
Zha Fuxi Guide 7/72/112. See details in the Appendix below.

5. The most famous stories of a Han person longing for the green fields of home are probably those of the women Wang Zhaojun and Cai Wenji, and of the general Su Wu (see under Hanjie Cao). However, the same sort of stories were also found amongst scholars assigned to work in these regions, which they generally found rather inhospitable. (Return)

6. Qiu Sai Yin in Wuyi mode 秋塞吟,無射調
Compare standard tuning Qiu Sai Yin. 25505.433 秋塞 qiusai says "autumn on the frontier" then quotes poems by Yu Xin (513-581, 庾信, 車騎將軍賀婁公神道牌銘) and Wei Yingwu (737 - c.792, 韋應物,西塞山詩). The former mentions clouds, but they are flat, not yellow. There is nothing about music.) (Return)

7. Qiu Sai Yin in standard tuning (Wuyi mode) 秋塞吟,無射調
Compare Wuyi tuning Qiu Sai Yin. There is further detail on this version under Shuixian Qu. Similar titles include See also Going out to the Frontier (出塞 Chu Sai) and Entering the Frontier (入塞 Ru Sai), both listed in Seng, Most Ancient. These could also connect with the story of Longshuo Cao. (Return)

8. Sao Shou Wen Tian 搔首問天
12802.7 搔首 sao shou mentions only scratching the head. This melody, which uses raised fifth string tuning, is also sometimes associated with the story of Wang Zhaojun (see #46 Longshuo Cao), but it is more commonly associated with that of Qu Yuan being out of office. Sao Shou Wen Tian is also an alternative title for Shuixian Cao (see footnote below). (Return)

9. Shui Xian Qu (水仙曲 Water Immortal)
For occurrences of melodies called Shuixian see Shuixian Qu, Footnote 1. Shuixian Cao tells the story of Boya (Bo Ya) being taken by his teacher to an island for advanced qin lessons; after waiting 10 days for an immortal to come from the water and teach him, Boya realizes he should learn from nature. The title is in ancient lists of melodies, but the earliest surviving tablature is in Wuyin Qinpu (1579). The title has never been associated with Zhaojun. (Return)

10. Huang Tingjian 黃庭堅
See his biography. He died while in exile in Guangxi, but I know of no connection between him and desert regions. (Return)

11. 營州 Yingzhou
19936.24 營州 ; all references seem to be to the east: modern Liaoning, Hebei or Shandong; not the same as the fabled eastern isle 瀛州 Yingzhou mentioned in #50 Baji You. (營 Ying by itself refers to a military encampment, so perhaps yingzhou might simply be translated as "military regions".)

12. 玉關 Yu Guan
21296.850 玉關 Yu Guan says it refers to 21296.171#5 玉門 Yu Men, i.e., 玉門關 Yumen Guan; in Gansu east of Dunhuang and northeast of Yang Guan. (Return)

13. 關山 Guanshan
This could simply mean "mountain pass" as well as specific places; more under Yi Guanshan as well as Guanshan Yue.

14. Preface
For the original Chinese text see 黃雲秋塞.

15. Music
The original section titles are, 1. 胡沙漠漠 ; 2. 黃雲蔽天 ; 3. 關山南北 .
Return to the top

Appendix: Tracing 黃雲秋塞 Huang Yun Qiu Sai
comment; chart based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide, 7/72/112.

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information (QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
黃雲秋塞 Huang Yun Qiu Sai and 秋塞吟 Qiu Sai Yin
  1.  神奇秘譜
      (1425; I/158)
3; see above
  2.  浙音釋字琴譜
      (<1491; I/254)
3T; lyrics; otherwise same as 1425 but adds some mistakes
Lyrics concern the barbarous desert; no mention of Wang Zhaojun
  3. 西麓堂琴統
      (1525; III/211)
3; related; sometimes same, but then differences; no comments
Used as a prelude to Da Hujia
  4. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/373)
3; Same as 1425
No commentary; not used as a preface (precedes Shanzhong Si Youren)
  5. 太音傳習
      (1552; IV/152)
3; 秋塞吟 Qiu Sai Yin; same as 1425, but unrelated to the later Qiu Sai Yin
Prelude to Longshuo Cao; intro relates it to Zhaojun story
  6. 太音補遺
      (1557; III/389)
3; 秋塞吟 Qiu Sai Yin; same as 1425; intro as 1552
  7. 重修真傳琴譜
      (1585; IV/496)
3T; lyrics as <1491 but music very different; preface begins, "此曲黃魯直作,後人增益之。言塞上胡沙....
Huang Tingjian created this composition, someone later augmented it. It discusses Hu deserts on the borderlands...."

Return to the top, to the Shen Qi Mi Pu ToC, or to the Guqin ToC.