Zhuangzhou Meng Die
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60. Zhuangzi's Butterfly Dream 莊周夢蝶 1
- Shangjie mode, standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6, but played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 2
Zhuangzhou Meng Die
Details and another image 3        
The story of Zhuangzi's butterfly dream comes from Qi Wu Lun, the second chapter of the book of Zhuangzi.4 The story, of Zhuangzi dreaming he was a butterfly but upon awakening not knowing whether in fact he was a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi, has long been popular. It became associated with at least two qin melodies, the present one and the one that comes before it, #59 Shenhua Yin (Metamorphosis). However, neither title nor any of its known variations appears in recognizable form on any of the pre-Ming qin melody title lists.

On other other hand, after their first appearances here in 1425, both melodies became very popular, with versions of Zhuang Zhou Meng Die (under several different titles) surviving in over 45 qin handbooks through 1946 and versions of Shenhua Yin surviving in at least 35 handbooks through 1914.5 Both melodies are in shangjie mode, an otherwise uncommon mode title. Many handbooks have versions of both.

On the other hand, although all the melodies traced here in the chart below are related, at least throughout the earliest surviving tablatures, there seems to be an unusual amount of variety. This may be due to differing interpretations of the unusual harmonics as presented in Section 1. And perhaps this in turn inspired different developments in later versions; or perhaps it was the popularity of the subject that kept people working out new variations.

The most noticeable characteristic of Section 1, which is in harmonics, is the number of harmonics played at the eighth node (hui). These notes all have an intonation slightly different from harmonics played in the more common positions.6 Most early versions after 1425 changed the tablature so that the number of these "odd" notes was decreased and eventually eliminated. This raises questions about attitudes towards intonation; in particular, were qin players becoming more conservative, more confined in their approach? In modern times people have tried in vain to figure out a way to re-tune the qin to avoid playing such "dissonances", but in my imagination this sort of musical rule breaking (or re-thinking) that led to these dissonances evokes the sort of iconoclasms expressed by Zhuangzi himself. In addition, the tonality can give the music a sort of ethereal quality appropriate to evoking butterflies and their metamorphos\

Early claims connecting Zhuangzi7 and the qin include his association with the melody Zhuangzhou Duchu Yin,8 listed among the qin melodies of Cai Yong (Hejian Zage, #16).

In addition to my own recording, the Shen Qi Mi Pu version has also been recorded by Chen Changlin, Wang Duo and Li Feng. 9

Original Preface10

The Emaciated Immortal says

this piece existed in antiquity, but for a long time it had not been transmitted, (until the Song dynasty's) Mao Minzhong continued it.

The (first section of the) book Zhuangzi says,

"(I) Zhuangzi once dreamed I was a butterfly, a butterfly fluttering about..., not knowing about Zhuangzi. Suddenly I woke up, glad to find I was still Zhuangzi. (But) I didn't know whether I had dreamed that I was a butterfly, or was a butterfly dreaming of being Zhuangzi. There must be a difference between Zhuangzi and a butterfly, and this is what is called "material transformation."

Thus a gentleman who can attain the Dao shrinks that which has been created beyond objective existence, (instead) using his spirit to guide his life force, wandering pleasantly in a broad, quietly empty place, going along with all the changes in heaven and on earth, and being of one substance with the Universe. This pleasure is not the sort an ordinary bumpkin can know; (only) men of distinction attain it.

Timings follow the recording on
my CD; 聽錄音 listen with my transcription (compare video).
Eight sections; titles are from Zheyin Shizi Qinpu 11

(00.00) 1. Prophetic dream
(00.27) 2. Changing into a butterfly
(01.32) 3. Zhuangzi (becomes) a butterfly
(02.04) 4. A butterfly (becomes) Zhuangzi
(02.41) 5. Pleasant wandering
(03.14) -- ("the above is different from Section 6; it should all show the idea of fluttering")
(03.42) 6. Guiding one's life force
(04.35) 7. Waking up and knowing the difference
(05.33) 8. Material transformation
(06.19) -- End of piece (no harmonics indicated11)

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Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Zhuangzi's Butterfly Dream (莊周夢蝶 Zhuangzhou Meng Die)
31795.65 Zhuangzhou zhi meng 莊周之夢 has Zhuangzi's dream; nothing about music. Its prelude, 神化引
Shenhua Yin (Prelude to Metamorphosis), has a similar theme. Other titles used include,

However, regarding the operas, according to Free and Easy Wanderings: Lu Xun's Resurrecting the Dead and Its Precursors (Wilt Idema, pp. 4 & 5),

"From the seventeenth century and later we have a number of plays that go by the name of Hudie meng 蝴蝶夢 (Butterfly Dream), but their content is as a rule only tangentially related to the famous anecdote of Master Zhuang dreaming to be a butterfly.... The main content of these plays is the story of Master Zhuang’s meeting with a young widow who is fanning her husband’s grave so she may remarry as soon as possible....

"(A) modern Kunqu version...is limited to the tale of Master Zhuang and the young widow (Zhuangzi, Section 18)....but it opens with a scene of Master Zhuang lamenting the skull" (悲髑髏 bei dulou? 悲 11088.xxx; 髑髏 46279.1 again Zhuangzi Section 18 and Liezi).

Today a qin melody called 悲髑髏 Lamenting the Skull claims a connection with Zhuangzi, but it is a new melody with apocryphal stories (compare those in the Idema article).

Meanwhile, Hudie Meng, as well as 蝶夢吟 Diemeng Yin, 蝶夢遊 Diemeng You and 籧栩吟 Quxu Yin, were also used as alternate titles for Shenhua Yin .

2. Shangjie Mode (商角調 shangjie diao)
For further information see
Shenpin Shangjie Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Image: Zhuangzi's Butterfly Dream (see further)
The calligraphic inscription copies the Shen Qi Mi Pu Preface.

4. The story in 齊物論 Qi Wu Lun, Chapter 2 of the book of Zhuangzi
China Text Project has the full text here in Section 14, together with the translation by Legge, as follows:

昔者莊周夢為胡蝶,栩栩然胡蝶也,自喻適志與!不知周也。 俄然覺,則蘧蘧然周也。不知周之夢為胡蝶與,胡蝶之夢為周與?周與胡蝶,則必有分矣。此之謂物化。
Formerly, I, Zhuang Zhou, dreamt that I was a butterfly, a butterfly flying about, feeling that it was enjoying itself. I did not know that it was Zhou. Suddenly I awoke, and was myself again, the veritable Zhou. I did not know whether it had formerly been Zhou dreaming that he was a butterfly, or it was now a butterfly dreaming that it was Zhou. But between Zhou and a butterfly there must be a difference. This is a case of what is called the Transformation of Things.'

Note that the chapter title Qi Wu Lun has various translations. For example,

This chapter also mentions "昭文之鼓琴 the qin play of Zhao Wen".

5. Tracing Zhuangzhou Meng Die
For 莊周夢蝶
Zhuang Zhou Meng Die, Zha's Guide (10/97/147) on p. 10 lists 39 handbooks, giving 蝴蝶夢 Hudie Meng and 夢蝶 Meng Die as alternate titles; another alternate is 夢蝶遊 Meng Die You (1859). One of the later occurences is the revised version of Zhuang Zhou Meng Die in Tianwen'ge Qinpu. That handbook also has a musically unrelated melody called 化蝶 Hua Die (Butterfly Transformation), attributed to Zhang Kongshan.

6. Intonation in the 1425 Zhuangzhou Meng Die
Harmonics at the 8th node (as well as the 3rd, 6th and 11th nodes) give notes based in natural tuning rather than in the Pythagorean system (Chinese
sanfen sunyi) used for the notes in other positions. For example, if the tuning (as here) is 1 2 4 5 6 1 2, notes played in harmonics at node 11 on the first string and at node 9 on the fifth string are both 3 (mi) but if the pitch of 1 (do) is 120 Hz., then that of the 11th node mi will be 300 Hz. while that of the 9th node mi will be 304 Hz. If these two notes are played in sequence then this may be perceived as a dissonance. This is discussed in more detail under Tuning a Qin.

In Section 1 the changed notes are 3, 6 and 7 (mi, la and ti). The other section in harmonics, Section 4, has several notes including a 長鎖 changsuo in the 11th position. One can speculate that these were changed because the notes played at the natural tuning nodes were perceived as dissonances. Some of the inconsistenceies in early versions might also have been due to copy issues caused by the fact that in qin tablature an unclearly written or printed 11 may be confused with a 7. In any case, from my experiences these dissonances when used sparingly are actually quite striking and beautiful, and so were an essential element in early qin music.

7. 莊子 Zhuangzi (莊周 Zhuang Zhou)
Zhuangzi and the footnote below.

8. Melody of Zhuangzi Staying Alone (莊周獨處吟 Zhuang Zhou Du Chu Yin)
The commentary on Zhuang Zhou Du Chu Yin (31795.xxx) in Qin Cao (see
Hejian Zage, #16) says Zhuangzi disagreed with the military policies of 齊涽王 King Hun of Qi, and so became a recluse. However, commentaries on Du Chu Yin (21209.172) make no association with Zhuangzi. Neither does .173 獨處愁 Du Chu Chou (see YFSJ, Du Chu Yin and Folio 9, p. 1074, Du Chu Chou.)

9. Other recordings
The ones I have heard are, as follows:

9. Preface
For the original text see

10. Music
No section titles here. The Chinese section titles in later versions are:

In 1491 (music same as 1425):
1. 夢占; 2. 蝶化; 3. 周蝶; 4. 蝶周; 5. 燕游(已上分開第六段全要見栩栩之意); 6. 敘氣; 7. 覺分; 8. 物化.

In 1525:
1. 息慮; 2. 黑甜; 3. 神遊; 4. 物化; 5. 舉翅; 6. 翻風; 7. 恍惚; 8. 悠揚; 9. 夢醒; 10. 蘧然; 11. 悟性; 12. 忘性.

In 1556:
1. 世慮俱忘; 2. 雲牕高卧; 3. 夢為蝴蝶; 4. 形神俱化; 5. 周為蝴蝶; 6. none; 7. none; 8. none.

In 1571:
1. 夢占; 2. 蝶化; 3. 周蝶; 4. 蝶周; 5. 燕洊; 6. 叙氣; 7. 覺分; 8. 物化.

In 1585 (not numbered in the original):
1. 吉夢佳占; 2. 蝶化栩栩; 3. 周之為蝶; 4. 蝶之為周; 5. 燕遊天地; 6. 馭氣淩空; 7. 覺分人物; 8. 物物生生.

1525 and 1585 not yet translated.

11. Closing harmonics
Almost all qin melodies end on harmonics, even if only the final note. In early pieces this closing passage is often taken from the modal prelude, and rather than writing this out there are simply instructions to "play the harmonics from the modal prelude". Here in the 1425 Zhuangzhou Meng Die it is quite possible that these instructions were omitted by oversight. (Is it significant that the preceding piece,
Shenhua Yin, also has no closing harmonics indicated?) In any case, almost all the tablatures after 1425 that I have examined, including those of 1491 and 1556, which otherwise seem to be copies of the 1425 tablature, include closing harmonics (the exception is 1530, another copy of 1425).

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Appendix: Chart Tracing 莊周夢蝶 Zhuangzhou Meng Die
Further comment
above; based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide, 10/97/147 (compare the Shenhua Yin chart)

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1.  神奇秘譜
      (1425; I/173 [here])
8; credits Mao; S1 harmonics at 8th node give interesting tonality;
Also S3 changsuo at 11th; no closing harmonic coda
  2.  浙音釋字琴譜
      (<1491; I/228)
Meng Die; 8 TL; music almost same as 1425 but lyrics also used in 1585
  3. 西麓堂琴統
      (1525; III/127)
12T; redivides sections but closer to 1425 than are the next few pu
Harmonics still in S1 and S4; keeps 8th position harmonics in S1; recording by Wang Duo listed here)
  4. 發明琴譜
      (1530; I/349)
8; = 1425
  5. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/222)
8; rather different;
opening drops 3 harmonics at 8th position, keeps 2
  6. 梧岡琴譜
      (1546; I/426)
8; similar, making its own changes to "odd" notes;
(e.g., S1 opening drops 4 harmonics at 8th, but then adds one and keeps rest)
  7. 步虛僊琴譜
      (1556; Facs#24)
8 (5T); music same as 1425 but section titles diff and added only to S1-S5
  8. 太音傳習
      (1552; IV/109)
8; has its own variations
  9. 太音補遺
      (1557; III/355)
8; same as 1552
10. 琴譜正傳
      (1561; II/432)
8; same as 1546
11. 龍湖琴譜
      (1571; 琴府/270)
8T (sections not numbered); music as 1546
   . 新刊正文對音捷要
      (1573; #66)
Same as 1585?
12. 五音琴譜
      (1579; IV/244)
8; related but quite different (expanded?); above title is written "附 fu": attachment?
S1 = other S1 & S2; begins 1 2 1 1, 2 4 2 6, 216542, "repeat from top", 2 1 2 4 5,....
13. 重修真傳琴譜
      (1585; IV/416)
8TL; music related but very different from previous
grouped with jie mode
14. 玉梧琴譜
      (1589; VI/70)
8; related but again different; begins like 1579 but writes out repeat;
Harmonics S1 and S4; sectioning again different (S1 & S2 are separate)
15a. 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1589; VII/167)
12; harmonics only S1 and S4; preface begins "按是曲,本南華齊物論而作....";
Music still related but quite different;
15b. 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1609; Fac/)
Identical to 1589
16. 琴書大全
      (1590; V/501)
8; grouped with jue mode; harmonics S1 & S3;
17. 文會堂琴譜
      (1596; VI/235)
8; included with jue mode; related
Same as 1590
18. 藏春塢琴譜
      (1602; VI/419)
8; identical to 1589#1
19. 松絃館琴譜
      (1614; VIII/153)
10; harmonics in S1 and S5; still related
20. 古音正宗
      (1634; IX/369)
12; harmonics S1 & S5; related but not esp. to 1614
21. 義軒琴經
      (late Ming; IX/448)
8; Meng Die; begins like 1579;
After this rather different (S2 is very long; harmonics S1 & S3)
22. 徽言秘旨
      (1647; X/121)
10; related; harmonics S1 & S5
23. 徽言秘旨訂
      (1692; X/274)
10; this revision replaced the 1647 version for this edition;
24. 友聲社琴譜
      (early Qing; XI/180)
10; related; harmonics S1 & S5;
compare 1614: "嚴譜鄭剛"
25. 大還閣琴譜
      (1673; X/423)
10; harmonics S1 & S5; very similar to 1614 but not identical
26. 澄鑒堂琴譜
      (1689; XIV/318)
13; harmonics S1 & S5
27. 琴譜析微
      (1692; XIII/126)
13; harmonics S1 & S5
28. 蓼懷堂琴譜
      (1702; XIII/290)
10; harmonics S1 & S5
29. 五知齋琴譜
      (1722; XIV/537)
13; harmonics S1 & S5
preface and afterword
30. 臥雲樓琴譜
      (1722; XV/119)
13; harmonics S1 & S5;
31. 琴學練要
      (1739; XVIII/126)
10; 蝴蝶夢 Hudie Meng; "宮音"; harmonics S1 & S4; (治心齋琴譜)
grouped with Huangzhong Jun: lowered 3rd string tuning, but seems to use standard tuning
32. 蘭田館琴譜
      (1755; XVI/228)
13; harmonics S1 & S4; afterword (also see Zha Fuxi's preface);
"蓮舟和尚傳 transmitted by Monk Lianchou"; "馬龍文授 received from Ma Longwen"
33. 琴香堂琴譜
      (1760; XVII/153)
13; harmonics S1 & S5
34. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/357)
13; 夢蝶 Meng Die; harmonics S1 & S5
35. 裛露軒琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/96)
13; harmonics S1 & S5; "from 1722"
36. 響雪山房琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/401)
13; harmonics S1 & S4
37. 二香琴譜
      (1833; XXIII/158)
11; harmonics S1 & S4
Afterword discusses shangjue melodies incl. 炎涼操 Yan Liang Cao
38. 悟雪山房琴譜
      (1836; XXII/231)
10; huangzhong jun gong yin; harmonics S1 & S5;
lowered third string tuning (compare 1739)
39. 荻灰館琴譜
      (n.d.; XXIV/112)
13; "徵音 zhi yin; harmonics S1 & S5;
Preface & afterword
40. 秋水齋琴譜
      (1859; XXIV/181)
夢蝶遊 Meng Die You; 13; harmonics in S1 and S4;
Many editing marks within this handwritten tablature, which was not included in the Zha Guide
41. 琴學入門
      (1864; XXIV/339)
10; SJ; harmonics in S1 and S5
42. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/417)
11; "徵音 zhi yin; harmonics in S1 & S4;
"from 蓮池僧 Lianchi Seng"; see also Hua Die
43. 天籟閣琴譜
      (1876; XXI/128)
12; harmonics S1 & S4
44. 響雪齋琴譜
      (1876; ???)
13; Shangjue Yin (from Zha Guide: it is not in QQJC)
(originally part of 1807?)
45. 希韶閣琴譜
      (1878; XXVI/345)
10; SJY; harmonics in S1 and first part of S5
46. 枯木禪琴譜
      (1893; XXVIII/51)
13; SJ; harmonics in S1 and S5
47. 沙堰琴編
      (1946; XXIX/356)
夢蝶 Meng Die; 10; SJ; harmonics S1 and S5;
Forward, afterword and comments with each section

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