Xiangfei Yuan
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03. Lament of the Xiang River Concubines
- Later grouped with shang mode:2   1 2 4 5 6 1 2
Xiang Fei Yuan 1
The two Xiang concubines 3
Tradition says that Emperor Yao gave his two daughters, E Huang and Nü Ying, to Shun. They became his "fei", which is variously translated as wife, concubine and consort. The two sisters sang their lament after Emperor Shun died. Their story was related in Biographies of Exemplary Women (Lienü Zhuan). And a temple in their honor on Junshan4 near Yueyang supposedly marks the spot where their tears speckled the local bamboo.5

There seems to have been an ancient tradition of using this theme for a qin melody. Yuefu Shiji has numerous lyrics on this theme in its qin melody section. Its prefaces include a quote from "Qin Cao" saying there were the melodies Xiangfei Yuan (Lament of the Xiang Concubines) and Xiang Furen (Xiang Consorts). In fact, Cai Yong's Qin Cao does not include any names on this theme, but the Monk Jueyue's Qinqu Pulu lists a Xiangfei Yuan, which it attributes to Nü Ying herself.

Versions of this melody survive in at least 18 handbooks from 1511 to 1961.6 The earliest surviving one, here in Taigu Yiyin, is very similar to the one still played today under the title Xiangjiang Yuan (Xiang River Lament).7

Note also that the longer and musically unrelated instrumental melody Cangwu Yuan has the same theme.

A handbook of 1828 says this was the melody "sent by Liang Yiniang in the Xiao Xiang region to Mr. Li during the five dynasties period."8 Liang Yiniang, as related in the Synthesis of Books and Illustrations (1726-8), lived during the Latter Zhou dynasty (north China, 951-960). She had an affair with a cousin; when it was discovered, he was driven off. But after she sent him a song, he asked his uncle for permission to marry her, and was successful.9

No other qin handbook makes this connection. The lyrics are not in the Yuefu Shiji, and none of the lyrics on this theme in Yuefu Shiji occurs in a surviving qin setting.10 On this matter the preface in Taigu Yiyin is silent, relating only the story of the two sisters, adding that their lament was later set to a string melody.11

On the other hand, the middle of the second verse has lines that are almost identical to those of a poem called Xiangsi Yuan, by the mid-Tang dynasty female poet Li Ye.12 Other parts of the melody echo a ci poem in the form Bu Suanzi by Li Zhiyi.13

At one time Xiang Fei Yuan was commonly taught as a beginner's melody. However, my teacher, Sun Yü-ch'in, told me that, although it seemed very easy, it was in fact one of the most difficult to play well.14

There is a silk string qin recording of the modern version, called Xiangjiang Yuan, by Tsar Teh-Yun; there are metal string recordings by Sun Yü-Ch'in, Li Fengyun and Li Kongyuan and others; none includes singing.

Original preface15

Books write that (Shun was) a bachelor. (Emperor) Yao gave his two daughters to him in marriage. The older was named E Huang, the younger Nü Ying. Shun then became emperor and (the two sisters) were called his two consorts. When Shun was hunting in the south he died in the wilds of Canglang. The two concubines cried for him. Their tears sprinkled the nearby bamboo, which then dried up and died. Later someone made this into an ensemble piece, Xiang Fei Yuan.

Music and Lyrics: Four Sections 16 (聽錄音 listen with 看五線譜 staff notation)
- Taigu Yiyin indicated the four sections by circles in the tablature; the numbers in brackets show the syllabic structures

1. (7+7) x 4
落 花 落 葉 落 紛 紛;終 日 思 君 不 見 君。
Luo hua luo ye luo fen fen; zhong ri si jun bu jian jun.
Falling flowers, falling leaves, falling and scattering;
    at the day's end I think of my lord, but don't see him.

腸 斷 斷 腸 腸 欲 斷;淚 珠 痕 上 更 添 痕。
Chang duan duan chang chang yu duan; lei zhu hen shang bian tian hen.
Heartbreak, break-heart, heart about to break;
    tears like pearls leave traces, then add even more traces.

一 片 白 雲 青 山 內;一 片 白 雲 青 山 外。
Yi pian bai yun qing shan nei; yi pian bai yun qing shan wai.
A layer of white clouds in front of the green mountains;
    another layer of white clouds behind the green mountains.

青 山 內 外 有 白 雲;白 雲 飛 去 青 山 在。
Qing shan nei wai you bai yun; bai yun fei qu qing shan zai.
Green mountains, front and back, have white clouds;
    the white clouds fly away, but the green mountains remain.

2. (5+5) x 10

我 有 一 片 心; 無 人 共 我 說。
Wo you yi pian xin; wu ren gong wo shuo.
I have just one heart; there's no one with me to speak.

願 風 吹 散 雲; 訴 與 天 邊 月。
Yuan feng chui san yun; su yu tian bian yue.
I'd like the wind to blow, and scatter the clouds;
    so then I could complain to the moon at the edge of the sky.

攜 琴 上 高 樓; 樓 高 月 華 滿。
Xi qin shang gao lou; lou gao yue hua man.
I bring my qin up onto a high tower;*
    the tower is high and filled with moonlight.

相 思 彈 未 終; 淚 滴 冰 絃 斷。
Xiang si tan wei zhong; lei di bing xian duan.
Feeling this love, my playing is not finished;
    tears fall and a smooth as
ice string breaks.

人 道 湘 江 深; 未 抵 相 思 半。
Ren dao Xiang Jiang shen; wei di xiang si ban.
People say the Xiang River is deep;
    but it cannot reach half of my love.

海 深 終 有 底; 相 思 無 邊 岸。
Hai shen zhong you di; xiang si wu bian an.
The sea is deep but in the end it has a bottom;
    my love has no boundary or limit.

3. (5+5) x 10

君 在 湘 江 頭; 妾 在 湘 江 尾。
Jun zai Xiang Jiang tou; qie zai Xiang Jiang wei.
The man at the Xiang River's head;
    his lady at the Xiang River's mouth.

相 思 不 相 見; 同 飲 湘 江 水。
Xiang si bu xiang jian; tong yin Xiang Jiang shui.
Able to love but not to meet;
    both drinking the Xiang River's water.

夢 魂 飛 不 到; 所 欠 惟 一 死。
Meng hun fei bu dao; suo qian wei yi si.
Dreaming of a spirit flying but unable to arrive;
    what is lacking is only death.

入 我 相 思 門; 知 我 相 思 苦。     (Compare these three lines to part two of the 1709 Qiu Feng Ci)
Ru wo xiang si men; zhi wo xiang si ku.
To enter the gate of my love;
    is to know my love's bitterness.

4. (7+7) x 4

長 相 思 兮 長 相 憶; 短 相 思 兮 無 盡 極。
Chang xiang si xi chang xiang yi; duan xiang si xi wu jin ji.
Everlasting love (means) everlasting remembrance;
    even love cut short has no limit.

早 知 如 此 絆 人 心; 何 不 當 初 莫 相 識。
Zao zhi ru ci ban ren xin; he bu dang chu mo xiang zhi.
If from the start I'd known that I'd so fetter my heart;
    how could I have not at the beginning avoided getting involved?

湘 江 湘 水 碧 澄 澄; 未 抵 相 思 一 半 深。 Xiang Jiang Xiang Shui bi deng deng; wei di xiang si yi ban shen.
The Xiang River's water is blue, settled and clear;
    but it does not reach half the depth of my love.

每 向 夢 中 相 見 後; 令 人 不 覺 痛 傷 心。
Mei xiang meng zhong xiang jian hou; ling ren bu jue tong shang xin.
Always, after dreaming of meeting you;
    I have felt unimaginable pain and distress.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1.  The numerous related entries include:

18223.27 湘妃 Two concubines of Shun; short for 湘妃竹, a kind of speckled bamboo. Nothing about music.
18223.18 湘江 Xiang Jiang Only mentions the river.
18223.19 湘江靜 Tranquil Xiang River; name of a 詞牌 cipai.
18223.30 湘君 Xiang ladies: 娥皇 E Huang and 女英 N Ying
18223.09 湘夫人 Lyrics in Chu Ci
250.282   二妃 Er Fei, Xiang ladies, more quotes, none qin

Note that 17496.109 江妃 Jiang Fei, the two river nymphs mentioned in Liexian Zhuan, are different people.

2. Taigu Yiyin does not organize melodies by mode. (Return)

3 Image: The two Xiang concubines 湘妃兒女圖
The illustration here is from 中國的神仙 Immortals in Ancient China, p. 158.

4. 君山 Junshan
Junshan was once an island and can still become one during a flood. In 2000 it was still accessible by boat across a corner of the much-shrunk Dongting Lake from Yueyang. The memorial is new, but the association of the place with the two wives of Shun is quite ancient.

5. Speckled Bamboo
Speckled bamboo seems to be the subject of a melody found in early lists called Tears on Bamboo Prelude (泣竹引 Qi Zhu Yin); it apparently had the same theme as Xiangfei Yuan. There are some good pictures of speckled bamboo on other websites (e.g., that of Geyuan Garden in Yangzhou). These images are also appropriate for the melody Cangwu Yuan (see in particular the title of Section 9).

Junshan is also noted for a special type of green tea called Junshan silver needle tea (君山銀針 Junshan Yinzhen.

6. Tracing 湘妃怨 Xiangfei Yuan (also see tracing chart)
Zha Fuxi's Guide 12/127/237 has 14 entries from 1511 to 1884; he does not mention the popular modern title, 湘江怨 Xiangjiang Yuan (but see 1738 as well as the next footnote). Instead, in addition to 湘妃怨 Xiang Fei Yuan, it mentions 二妃怨 Erfei Yuan (Lament of the Two Concubines) and 二妃思舜 Er Fei Si Shun (The Two Concubines Think of Shun). The fact that on his list the earliest occurrence of the title Xiang Jiang Yuan is in the 14th handbook (which also has a Xiang Fei Yuan) suggests that the modern title is relatively recent. Almost all versions have related lyrics, but with slight variations, suggesting the absence of an authoritative source.

For the version I learned (1961) see the next footnote.

Other than my own, to my knowledge all other available recordings are of the modern version.

7. Xiangjiang Yuan (湘江怨; see in chart)
This seems to have been a somewhat late title for this melody, appearing earliest in the 13th handbook (1709; see also the previous footnote), but it is the title almost always used today (except perhaps by people who want to think their modern version is the same as the earliest known version). It seems specifically to refer to a version of the melody reconstructed in 1928 from an old Fujian qin handbook. This is the version I learned from Sun Yuqin, and is also the version now played by virtually everyone. It is usually played without the lyrics.

There are three publications of this version included in the tracing chart below (the last three entries). Their music is virtually the same, with the first passage after the opening harmonics (3 23 32 12 6 6 6) being the passage most easily distingushing this modern version from the earlier ones:

The melody of Xiangjiang Yin is unrelated.

8. Details from the handbook 琴學軔端 Qinxue Renduan (1828)
The quote is, "此五季時瀟湘梁意娘寄李生者". Zha Fuxi (Jieti, p.128) adds a comment that this is not a standard explanation and it concerns only the lyrics. ("按原繕本中僅作此注,並非正面解題,而是說明此曲歌詞的來源。但這是一個重要材料。".)

9. 梁意娘 Liang Yiniang and 李生 Mr. Li (or Student Li)
The 1828 handbook (see previous) does not give the source of this story. Gu Jin Tushu Jicheng folio 335 (閨嬡典) says that Liang and Li were cousins who had often met. After appreciating the mid-autumn moon together she began meeting him secretly. When this was discovered he was driven away. Yiniang sent him a song. When Li received the song he sent someone to his uncle to request permission to marry her (he wrote, "令愛才華,賢甥文藻,不如妾之,以塞非議。"). He was successful.

10. Structural connection with Liang Yiniang lyrics
None of the Yuefu Shiji lyrics has a poetic structure that would allow them to accompany the present melody in accordance with the common pairing method.

11. string melody: xianguan (絃管)

12. Reproach from Mutual Love (相思怨 Xiangsi Yuan)
The 8 lines of the poem 相思怨 Xiangsi Yuan by the poet-courtesan (some say Daoist nun) 李冶 Li Ye (8th c. CE), also known as 李季蘭 Li Jilan, are almost identical to 8 lines in the middle of the lyrics of Xiangfei Yuan. The line order is different. Below they are made parallel by putting lines 5 to 8 of that section of the qin melody in front of lines 1 to 4. (The poem is also translated in Idema and Grant, p. 177; and by Stephen Owen in Chang and Saussy, p. 59.)

People say the sea is deep,
  but it is not half as deep as my love.
The sea still ends at a coastline,
  but my love is boundless and without limits.
I bring my qin up onto a high tower;
 the tower is empty but filled with moonlight.
I play the melody of mutual love;
  but at once a string and my heart both break.
Compare: 5

There is no musical connection between this and 相思曲 Xiangsi Qu.

13. Ci poem by 李之儀 Li Zhiyi (1038-1117) in the form 卜算子 Bu Suanzi
The poem by Li Zhiyi was likely inspired by that of Li Ye. The text (not yet translated) is as follows:


Wang Di has used this poem as lyrics for unrelated tablature originally published in 1682 for completely different lyrics. This was easy to do as the 1682 lyrics follow the same ci pattern.

14. Difficult pieces
In this he specifically compared Xiangjiang Yuan with the modern version of Liu Shui. He said it is much easier to impress people with a flashy or complicated piece such as that: you practice it a lot and then just play it.

15. Original preface
The Chinese original is not yet online.

16. Original lyrics of the 1511 Xiangfei Yuan
The Chinese lyrics without the translation are as follows:







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Appendix: Chart Tracing Xiang Fei Yuan
If other title used, this is indicated
Based mainly on Zha Fuxi's
Guide, 12/127/237

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1. 謝琳太古遺音
      (1511; I/275)
4 unnumbered sections; quite similar to modern version;
lyrics: ([7+7] x 4) + ([5+5] x 10) + ([7+7 x 4)
  2. 黃士達太古遺音
      (1515; not included)
Identical to previous
  3. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/166)
Not divided into sections; melody very different
lyrics almost same but skips [5+5] x 2 in middle and final [7+7] x 2 ;
  4. 太音傳習
      (1552; IV/95)
4; no lyrics, but melody almost identical to 1511; adds 6 note coda
Also has the unrelated Xiangjiang Yin (see next)
    . 太音補遺
      (1557; III/370)
湘江吟 Xiangjiang Yin: unrelated:
  a version of Dongting Qiu Si
  5. 重修真傳琴譜
      (1585; IV/402)
4; melody similar but much re-arrangement
Lyrics almost same as 1511
  6. 琴書大全
      (1590; V/498)
3; "二妃思舜 Er Fei Si Shun, same as Xiang Fei Yuan"; melody similar to 1511;
lyrics also similar but some major re-arrangements in both
  7. 文會堂琴譜
      (1596; VI/204)
5; lyrics almost same as 1511; similar melody but many differences;
  in one section many passages are "repeated one string up" (=lower!?)
  8. 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1589/1609; VII/185)
6, titled; lyrics almost = 1511; melody related
not in 1589
  9. 陽春堂琴譜
      (1611; VII/464)
5; lyrics almost = 1511; melody related
10. 理性元雅
      (1618; VIII/230)
4, titled; lyrics almost = 1511; melody related
11. 樂仙琴譜
      (1623; VIII/403)
6; lyrics almost = 1511; 也、的那 added as fillers;
melody related
12. 臣奔堂琴譜
      (1663/5; XI/137)
1; "湘妃吟 Xiangfei Yin"; "舊名怨 old name Xiang Fei Yuan"; same lyrics but different melody
蕤賓調 ruibin mode (raised fifth string)
13. 一峰園琴譜
      (1709; XIII/513)
3; first to be called Xiang Jiang Yuan?
like 1511 but skips lyrics at end (入我相思門....; see further comment)
14. 琴書千古
      (1738; XV/376)
6; Xiang Fei Yuan; last page missing but similar to previous
restores 入我相思門.... (see previous); see also next: Xiang Jiang Yuan!
14a. 琴書千古
      (1738; XV/442)
3+1; called "湘江怨 Xiangjiang Yuan"; no lyrics;
melody starts as 1511 but then is very different from previous and from modern version
15. 蘭田館琴譜
      (1755; XVI/not here)
4; shang diao; missing along with last 8 pieces from the QQJC edition;
Zha Guide p. 132 (174) lists these 8; p. (763) 238 says "lyrics=1611"
16. 琴學軔端
      (1828; XX/458)
4; standard tuning; related melody; lyrics as 1585;
Preface: concerns 梁意娘 Liang Yi Niang; further comment above
17. 雙琴書屋琴譜集成
      (1884; XXVII/278)
4; standard tuning; lyrics as 1609 but 4th section title changed;
 music almost same
18. 研易習琴齋琴譜
      (1961; 3rd folio #2)
4+1; 湘江怨 Xiangjiang Yuan; modern version; afterword says something about the melody;
Preface suggests the tablature here came from a Fujian handbook (further comment)
19. 愔愔室琴譜
      (2000; Folio 1/p.39)
Not divided into sections; 湘江怨 Xiangjiang Yuan;
music almost same as 1961 but "new lyrics"; further comment
20. 虞山吳氏琴譜
      (2001; p.98)
Not divided; 湘江怨 Xiangjiang Yuan; staff notation; melody almost same as 1961; no lyrics. Comment on p.3 says it is a Ming dynasty qin song as reconstructed in 1928; further comment.

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