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Wusheng Qinpu 1
Qin Handbook of Five Tones, by the Lazy Immortal 2
  Folio pages 1-23 (pdf complete)        
Wusheng Qinpu, the second surviving guqin handbook (the first was Shen Qi Mi Pu, 1425), has five melodies, one for each of the five standard tuning modes. None has lyrics, and each survives here for the first time. The individual melodies are as follows:

Melodies in Wusheng Qinpu:

  1. 春羽     Chun Yu (Spring Rain); gong mode
                (I/188; transcription and recording)
  2. 汶陽     Wen Yang (North of the Wen); shang mode
                (I/190; transcription and recording)
  3. 仙山月 Xian Shan Yue (Moon over the Immortals' Mountain); jue mode
                (I/192; transcription and recording)
  4. 鴻飛     Hong Fei (Geese Flying); zhi mode
                (I/195; transcription and recording)
  5. 盟鷗     Meng Ou (Bonding with Seagulls); yu mode
                (I/197; transcription and recording)

Zhu Dianpei: Author/compiler of Wusheng Qinpu5

Zha Fuxi's 1950s project did not credit this handbook to a specific individual. However, more recent research has determined that it was probably Zhu Dianpei, also known as "懶仙 Lan Xian". (Previously he was credited as the author or compiler of Zheyin Shizi Qinpu.)

In 1448 Zhu Dianpei (朱奠培; 1418 - 1491) succeeded his grandfather Zhu Quan as prince of Nanchang. Zhu Quan, 17th son of the founder of the Ming dynasty and the first prince of Ning, had been originally enfeoffed at Daning,6 north of the Great Wall, but in 1403 was effectively banished to Nanchang, where he participated in numerous artistic and scientific endeavors until his death in 1448. His first son Zhu Panshi7 died in 1437, so Panshi's first son Zhu Dianpei became heir apparent then, in 1448, succeeded with the title Peaceful Prince.8 Zhu Dianpei died in 1491. The official Ming History says he was an accomplished writer, author of a one-volume Poetry Criticism.9 The only other information it has about him concerns accusations made by his younger brother in 1456; Zhu Dianpei was found guilty, but pardoned.

Elsewhere, however, an essay by Jerome Kerlouegan adds that, "One princess of Anfu 安福, daughter of prince of Ning Zhu Dianpei (r. 1449-91), authored a four chapter-collection, Guihuaxuan ji 桂華軒集, comprising 170 penta- and heptasyllabic poems." (p.72)10 It is not clear whether this 安福郡主 princess of Anfu included poems by her father. However, one Zhu Dianpei's reputation as a writer was probably a factor in attributing the Zheyin Shizi Qinpu to him. Here of note is the fact that all of the lyrics of the latter handbook were applied to the music following a quite strict formula.

Arrangement of the melodies
Because of of the way the melodies are arranged as one for each of the five modes, these melodies have been said to to have been designed specifically to show characteristics of that mode.
11 In this way the handbook could be quite important to modal studies. However, it is in fact one of the least studied; and its actual melodies seem quite unique, with only one of them appearing in any later handbook. Their modality also seems more adventurous than orthodox. For example, the number of non-pentatonic notes is higher than usual, even for the Ming dynasty. This is perhaps related to shifting tonal centers, but there do not seem to have been any explanations for this. However, there is some further discussion of this under Modality in early Ming qin tablature.

The identity of the author/compiler of Wusheng Qinpu remained uncertain for a long time. In his preface the author/compiler identified himself only as "Lan Xian", the Lazy Immortal.12 Then before the first melody the text says, "懶仙述 Lan Xian Shu: As described by Lanxian" (comment). The book's preface itself says nothing personal about the author, focusing on music theory: the five tones. There was indeed some speculation that he was a Ming prince, but to my knowledge no one definitively identified who he was until Tao Ran did so in her 2023 doctoral dissertaion.13

As for the book's significance to music theory, after the preface, Wusheng Qinpu has a single essay, entitled, "Lan Xian's Five Sounds Correct Permutations Qin Mysteries".14 This essay is in fact identical to one in Xilutang Qintong (1525) entitled "Correct Permutations of the Five Sounds" (Wu Sheng Zheng Bian). However, in 1457 there is no indication of awareness of the 1525 publication, and 1525 does not mention this handbook in connection with this essay, suggesting both versions could have been copied from an earlier source, perhaps the same one.

On the other hand, the compiler of Xilutang Qintong was certainly aware of the content of Wusheng Qinpu: the 1525 afterword states that its copy of Moon over Immortal's Mountain (Xianshan Yue) comes from "Lan Xian's Qin Mysteries, Five Pieces (琴訣五篇 Qin Jue Wu Pian)".15 The two versions are virtually identical. This perhaps suggests either that there may actually have been more than one edition of this handbook, or that one of these was a subtitle.

Here it should be noted that not only is Xian Shan Yue the only melody in 1557 that has any commentary (the brief afterword saying it was revised from an older melody), it is also the only one of the handbook's five melodies to have closing harmonics: the other four only have the directions to "play harmonics from that mode". The significance of this is unclear.16

On the first page of the 1557 tablature (QQJC I/188), after the handbook title but before the first melody title, are the words "懶仙述 Lan Xian shu: as recounted by the Lazy Immortal". It is generally assumed that this means the Lazy Immortal created the melodies himself (thus further assuming that Lanxian's revisions to Xian Shan Yue were extensive enough that the piece could be considered as his own). Also on the first page of the tablature, and at the end of the book as well, there are several seals. However, these were added much later and so do not help further identify the author.17

Whether or not this Lan Xian created the melodies himself, some aspects of their style may suggest they were relatively new. In particular, they tend to have a relative lack of left hand ornamentation, and this may have been a characteristic of qin melodies as they first appeared. As described on the page Historical view of guqin ornamentation, qin melodies as they were copied and recopied over time tended to acquire more and more left hand ornamentation.18

The list of "Qin Sages" in Chongxiu Zhenchuan Qinpu does not mention Lan Xian or his melodies.

My reconstructions of the music in Wusheng Qinpu

In order to discuss specifics of my reconstructions it is necessary to refer to my recordings and tablature. Regarding the latter in particular there are explantions below for some of the conventions I use when correcting and/or clarifying aspects of the tablature. These conventions pertain to almost all of my transcriptions, including the five in the present handbook.19

Through such analysis a number of characteristics of the tablature in Wusheng Qinpu seem to make this handbook stand out.20

This being the second surviving qin handbook with a collection of melodies (i.e., not just modal preludes), in the 1990s (soon after I had completed the Shen Qi Mi Pu and Zheyin Shizi Qinpu recordings that marked the first phase of my reconstruction project) I did my own tentative reconstruction of all five of these pieces. This means I wrote out transcriptions preparation for working out note values that would turn them into actual melodies However, I never seemed able to finalize these. After this I periodically reviewed them, again not finishing them.21

Then in 2022 I tried one more time, this time inspired by reading an article about qin handbooks edited by Ming princes. It said that Wuyin Qinpu was such a handbook, and when I tried to find more about that claim I came upon the above-mentioned suggestions (q.v.) that Wuyin Qinpu might itself have been compiled by a grandson of Zhu Quan, Zhu Dianpei, who is also credited with having compiled Zheyin Shizi Qinpu (>1505). These, however, all seemed to copy each other (they were on the internet) with none making any apparent attempt to identify the source of that suggestion.

The melody I tried (re-tried again) first was #3 Xian Shan Yue (q.v.), the only melody in 1457 with any commentary. Xian Shan Yue is also the only one of these five melodies to be found in any other handbook: it is copied out as #62 in Xilutang Qintong (1525), where the afterword expresses admiration for the theoretical concepts found in Lan Xian's handbook.22

The 1525 version adds some punctuation and corrects some mistakes (though others it either ignores or apparently doesn't consider mistakes). Perhaps most problematic are the numerous harmonic notes played at several of the "just intonation" positions. On certain strings these produce not just notes with special intonation, but non-pentatonic notes that most people consider mistakes. However, if played in a certain way these can also provide very interesting color. Was that the intention? Or are they actual mistakes, and if so what is the correct pitch?23

In any case, in August 2022 I made a new transcription of Xian Shang Yue. This time the music seemed actually to be coming together and so I made the recording linked above; this and the transcription can now be found here. I found that to me this piece had a strangeness that I quite like and very much enjoy playing.

Then just about this time, much to my surprise and delight, I discovered that someone had actually just published (in 2022!) a complete reconstruction of all five melodies. This is the CD and booklet with transcriptions and commentary by the Tianjin qin player Shi Yu described below.24

Immediately I arranged for friends in China to buy and send me a copy of this work by Shi Yu. I read some of the commentary but listened only cursorily to one of the recordings. Shi Yu has clearly done great work on this and this inspired me to think finally I would do my own. However, as described in detail under Dapu: Bringing old music to life, my aim is to do each of my reconstructions completely independent of those by other people: because the tablature does not give a direct indication of note values I think it is very important for several people to do this reconstruction work independently and then only afterwards to analyze how and why there are differences in interpretation. Then perhaps we can begin to have an informed consensus on how the music actually sounded.

So I immediately went very intensively through the other four pieces from the handbook. I then came up up with considerably revised transcriptions of the other four pieces in the handbook. For the first time I had confidence that I was finding a "key" that would unlock these melodies for me, and I then vowed to keep focused on this handbook until I had recorded my own interpretations of these melodies.

Having completed my recording of Xian Shan Yue I next focused on Chun Yu. By autumn of 2023 I had made recordings and new transcriptions of all five of the melodies, as linked above.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 五聲琴譜 Wusheng Qinpu
262.1060 五聲 wu sheng: 宮 gong, 商 shang, 角 jue, 徵 zhi, 羽 yu. It also mentions: 辭、色、氣、耳、目 and 陰平、陽平、上、去、入.

The commentary (I/187) also mentions:
    雉朝飛 (Zhi Zhao Fei)
    箕山 Ji Shan (Jishan Cao?)
    洛浦 Luopu (Luo Pu Cao? Luo river bank; connection with Luo River goddess?)
    馮驩 Feng Huan (馮諼 Feng Xuan, a benevolent retainer of Lord Mengchang).
The first three can be melody names, so perhaps also the fourth.

2. 懶仙 Lan Xian: Lazy Immortal
懶仙 11722.xxx.
Kroll has,

  1. "懶 lăn: (med.) sloth(ful), lethargic; torpid; inactive, passive. a. (med.) otiose; unambitious; careless, shiftless."
  2. "仙 xiān: (Dao.) transcendent being; one who has moved beyond the needs and limits of the mundane world into the realm of spiritualization or divinity."
Shi Yu translated Lan Xian as "A Deity at ease"; perhaps more humbly the name was supposed to convey the idea of a person perceived to be in a position of responsibility wishing to escape the trammels of society. Or perhaps "lazing" rather than "lazy".

The following quote, until I learned of the dissertation by Tao Ran (perhaps the only attempt I had found to identify his true identity), says he was a grandson of Zhu Quan, probably not the same person as the 希仙 Xi Xian "Beyond Sounds Immortal" who compiled Zheyin Shizi Qinpu.

As of 2022 you can read this quote here (and elsewhere online):


Zhu Quan's skills at/approval of the qin influenced his descendants. The National Library 's collection includes an early Ming dynasty volume called Wusheng Qinpu. Its creator records his name as 'Lanxian' (the Lazy Immortal). According to scholars' research he is actually Zhu Quan's grandson Zhu Dianpei....The famous qin scholar Zha Fuxi reckoned that the book contained "examples of guqin melodies created in the 15th century".

The identity of the scholar(s) who did this research ("經學者考證") is not clear - internet sources simply quote or paraphrase this claim without expressing any interest in who actually made it. The source is also not given in Zha Fuxi's preface to the book's publication in Vol. I of Qinqu Jicheng, and I have not yet found it in his Collected Writings about the Qin. Notably, however, one can read online that Zhu Dianpei had the nickname 竹林嬾仙 Lazy Immmortal of the Bamboo Grove.

3. Image: Wusheng Qinpu folio pages 1-2 (pdf complete; at right: seals [details]) Seals (*)      
Copied from QQJC I/185; the complete pdf is from QQJC I/185-201 (same as 1981: I/171-197). This presumably has the entire contents, but if there were original and back cover pages they were not included (the present edition added a new title page at I/183). The complete pdf was copied from the 2010 edition so, although otherwise identical, the pagination given in this table of contents is different.

The preface above, beginning "琴之為道大矣....", transcribed fully below, seems to come from a variety of sources. This is followed directly by the essay Lan Xian's Five Sounds Correct Permutations Qin Mysteries, excerpted below and later copied into Xilutang Qintong (QQJC III/42-3). Finally there are the tablatures for the five melodies.

* Seals
None of the seals is contemporary to the book. The standard characters for the three seals shown at right, from top to bottom on the first page of tablature, are:

In addition, the first seal is also above the text "琴之為道..." at the top right of the first page of text (q.v., from pdf), while the middle one is repeated at the end of last page of tablature (q.v.).

Thanks to 孫小青 Sun Xiaoqing for his help in reading the seals.

5. 朱奠培 Zhu Dianpei as author/compiler of Wusheng Qinpu
Details of this are in the doctoral dissertation of Tao Ran, details of which are:

(Tao Ran, Musical Sentiment and Literary Sentiment: A New Discussion on the Ming Qin Songs and Poems)
Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2022

As of 2024 Tao Ran is a post doctoral fellow at Peking University.

6. 大寧 Da Ning

7. 朱盤烒 Zhu Panshi

8. 寧靖王 Ningjing Wang

9. 詩評 Shi Ping; I have not been able to locate this work.

10. Anfu 安福 An Fu
Daughter of the Prince of Ning (see the essay by Jerome Kerlouegan).

11. Wusheng Qinpu designed to show/epitomize modal characteristics?
Though often argued, this has not yet been properly studied. A detailed study of the modes here should probably include a note count such as the one now included for the third melody, Xian Shan Yue (q.v.).

My own reconstructions seem to suggest, if anything, that they show the potential variety within each mode. However, studying this is quite complicated, as can be seen by examining the outline below called Characteristics of the tablature.

12. Tao Ran dissertation reference
Page number reference?

13. 懶仙序 Preface by Lan Xian
Much of the preface was quoted from a variety of sources: segments in brackets mostly show words or phrases added from one of these other sources. The original was unpunctuated and undivided; here an attempt has been made to arrange it thematically, but it still has both corrections and copy errors.

The complete preface, as follows, is not yet translated.

和平沉厚麄大而下者宫之聲也。 勁凝明峻從上而下歸於中者商聲也。 角則圓長通徹中平而王而仰揚流利。 從下商歸中正者謂之徵。 喓喓而遠,細而高者羽也。謂
後生學者,惟悅耳是趨,彼此遷飾,滋遁以紊。且宮商角羽之不分,猶不指五色而繪也。 矧足語其幾乎。古風廖廖千載而下。其無駸駸於下俚者詎可望耶。 此聲之所以不能不蕪於琴矣。

Towards the end the writer says, "暇日聊製五調", which I understand to mean that during some free time he tentatively created five melodies, presumably the five included in the handbook.

The preface also includes such detail as a description of the cycle of fifths (宮生徵,徵生商...). Lan Xian discusses some of the associations ascribed to the modes, mostly quoting a variety of old sources. In this he does not seem to say anything that describes the actual musical characteristics of the modes.

14. 懶仙五聲正變琴訣 (Lan Xian's Five Sounds Correct Permutations Qin Mysteries
As mentioned, the only commentary in this handbook (other than the preface and the afterword to the melody Xian Shan Yue) is the essay of this title. It is in fact identical to an essay in Xilutang Qintong (1525) entitled Correct Changes of the Five Sounds (五聲正變 Wu Sheng Zheng Bian. The most likely source of this essay is the Qin Tong of Xu Li. Xu Li himself lived in the 13th century, but much of his essay - much more than here - was copied into the 1525 handbook.

The essay begins with an outline, formatted differently in 1557 from in 1525 but with the same text. The whole essay (missing its central section) is as follows:


懶仙曰:五聲之變,進則乘其 所勝,退則召其所稟。不能則 復有有餘則相於所生而亦兼 所勝。此必然之理也。夫宮慢 則入徵,商慢則入宮,角慢則 入羽,皆召所稟而相之。太蔟(太簇?) 引角召羽而不能乃復相徵 者也。泉鳴又引之則下相於 商乃不入徵而入商也。宮慢 而入徵矣。黃鐘進羽而乘之。 宮又召徵而不變乃宮得(耳+力?)......"

Another 16 lines like this, then it ends,

...... 宜乎。曲乘而入者宜乎。操知 此則可得言矣。學琴者大 要不可不明於正變之聲而 尤不可失於曲操之意。若 《馮諼》、《雉朝飛》皆羽;《箕山》、《洛浦》皆慢角,而《馮諼》不可雜以《雉朝飛》之聲、《洛浦》有不可有《箕山》之意也。姑舉一隅,於是達之者當有辨焉。

No translation yet.

15. Qin Mysteries, Five Pieces (琴訣五篇 Qin Jue Wu Pian
"訣 Jue" might more precisely be defined as secret formulas only taught to insiders. As for this in a title, although the afterword in Xilutang Qintong to melody 3, Xian Shan Yue, refers to "Lan Xian's Qin Mysteries, Five Pieces" (懶仙所諸琴訣五篇; 21570.xxx), there does not seem to be any references elsewhere to such a title.

16. "入本調 Play harmonics from that mode"
To be examined further: Is the way these Xian Shan Yue modal harmonics treats the mode different from the way they do within other melodies in Xilutang Qintong? Does the lack of a modal prelude in the other melodies have any bearing on the possibility that the melodies were newly created by Lan Xian?

17. Seals
See above.

18. New melodies tend to have less ornamentation?
Ornamentation and other characteristics were outlined further in this footnote. For example, there is an almost complete lack of occurrences of the fast vibrato 吟 yin and a very few occurrences of the slower vibrato 猱 nao.

Some issues of style that might be pointed out are that the nao that actually do occur are almost always followed by a lower note and are commonly connected to downward slides, plus the only qualified nao are 飛猱 fei nao ("flying" nao).

19. Conventions used when discussing the music and tablature
For explaining/analyzing the melodies it is most convenient if I can refer to my own transcriptions. Here several conventions in these transcriptions are worthy of particular note in the Meng Ou transcription, as follows:

I have been using conventions such as these since my earliest transcriptions.

20. Characteristics of the tablature
There is some further analysis included with individual melodies. Meanwhile some general characteristics include,

More subjective is the issue of note values/rhythms. There is considerable discussion within qin circles about whether or not qin music is rhythmic. As I write in the essay "Rhythm in Early Ming Qin Tablature, my interpretations are based on the idea that the music is fundamentally rhythmic, as much of Chinese folk music seems to be, but that this is often so freely interpreted that it may not sound rhythmic to the casual listener. Beyond that there is a search for rhythmic phrases and patterns. The way I arrange the measures on each system (staff line) within my transcriptions (e.g., with phrases not carrying over from one staff line to the next) is intended to help show the patterns I have found. Examples will be given with comments on individual melodies.

Further study will certainly provide more examples. Meanwhile, the inconsistencies described here also suggest the possibility that the melodies in the surviving handbook may have been copied from tablature originally written out by several different people, whether or not at a significantly earlier time.

21. Not "completing" a reconstruction
What this means is that I had worked out the notes and given them tentative note values in order to copy them by hand into staff notation. I tried again in 2009 when I made digital copies using the transcription program Encore. Although I then printed this out and added the original tablature underneath, I was still unable to play, and thus record, this tentative interpretation. In general, when this happens it means that the note values I have selected so far have not yet revealed underlying structures that satisfy me enough to allow me to play the pieces in a way I find potentially convincing (starting with I actually enjoy the melody). Here, If the tablature is accurate, its music seems to have been quite different from that of other early handbooks.

22. Music theory in Wusheng Qinpu
I do not fully understand the theoretical arguments, but it would have been surprising if Xilutang Qinpu's compiler Wang Zhi had not approved of these theories, since they are all expressed also in Wang Zhi's own handbook, as further discussed above.

23. Problems with the tablature
There seem to be quite a few mistakes in the original tablature: most seem to be inaccurate finger positions, but in addition much of the punctuation seems to be missing. Because it is the only piece also found in a later handbook I have focused on Xian Shan Yue (Moon over the Immortals' Mountain). It has a few changes from what is here, but none seems particularly significant.

More specifically, the differences between the tablature for Xian Shan Yue in Xilutang Qintong compared to here in Wusheng Qinpu tend to be changes single clusters, not phrases. In some cases this seems to be a correction; in others clear errors from the earlier copy are unchanged. This leaves open the possibility that the version in Xilutang Qintong was copied from another source (Qin Jue Wu Pian) rather than corrected from Wusheng Qinpu.

24. A set of recordings by 石玉 Shi Yu Cover of booklet with CD  
(Announcement; available from Taobao: 五聲琴譜樂詮附CD精裝版)

The image at right shows the cover of 五聲琴譜樂詮 Wusheng Qinpu Yue Quan (sleeve jacket off) by 天津石玉 Shi Yu of Tianjin. Published in 2022, it includes a CD of Shi Yu's recordings of all five melodies using a guqin with composite strings. It also has a 178-page booklet, as follows (in Chinese unless otherwise indicated):

    石玉、參編書籍 The author and works he has edited
  1. p.01 整理說明 General introduction
  2. p.05 About the collation (English)
  3. p.09 凡例 General aims
  4. p.11 目錄 Table of contents (Chinese and English)
  5. p.01 五聲琴譜序 Preface to Wusheng Qinpu
  6. p.02 懶仙五聲正變琴訣 On the relationship of the five modes
  7. p.04 Transcription of each melody, with each followed by a copy of the original tablature
  8. p.165 主要參考數目 Listing of 31 important reference materials
  9. p.168 後記 Afterword
  10. p.172 Length of the five tracks on the accompanying CD.
Further detail on Shi Yu's reconstructions: Sample page          
As can be seen in the sample page at right, the transcriptions include both staff notation (showing modern Western pitch based on A=440Hz: open 1st string = C) and number notation (showing the traditional relative pitch: e.g., open 1st string is 1 if it is the tonal center, but if the tonal center is the open third string then the open 1st string = 5, even though it is still the Western C). My own transcriptions use staff notation for this traditional relative pitch. For more about the difference between these two see this further comment. The red text in the column is mostly Shi Yu's editorial comments. Note also, as with my own transcriptions, the indicated rhythms should be flexibly interpreted: they may not be interpreted exactly the same each time.

In August 2022 I found out about these recordings just as I was finalizing my own reconstruction of Xian Shan Yue. I was able to obtain a copy quite quickly but did not open it until I had actually finished my own transcription and recording: because the tablature does not directly indicate note values, it is important for there to be independent reconstructions so that people can use the different interpretations to learn more about how note values are determined today and from that have a better understanding of the parameters within which the original notes might have been played.

Having said that, according to my preliminary observation of his interpretation of Xian Shan Yue, they seem quite familiar to me when working in passages where we can follow the original punctuation. However, one of the major difficulties with Wusheng Qinpu is lengthy passages with no punctuation. This is not such an issue in Xian Shan Yue, where one can compare the punctuation from Xilutang Qintong. In all the other pieces, though, we are often finding some quite different phrasings. (Shi Yu does not add phrase markings from the original even when from the transcription/recording it seems clear that he has ended a phrase.)

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