Cai Shi Wunong
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21. Five Melodies of the Cai Clan
- Standard tuning:2 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
蔡氏五弄 1
Cai Shi Wunong
Cai Shi Wunong (Five Melodies of the Cai Clan) is the name of a famous set of qin melodies from antiquity. They are commonly attributed to
Cai Yong (133-192), but the surviving set of lyrics that come under this title all date from later than Cai Yong himself. So what connection did people imagine that these melodies have with Cai himself (or his family)?

Although Cai Yong did belong to a very prominent family (or clan), little is known about what happened to it after Cai Yong and his daughter Cai Yan. As a result the connection between these melodies and Cai Yong or the Cai Clan is likely to remain a mystery. Equally mysterious is the Qin Cao, a set of qin melodies said to have been listed, and/or described, and/or collected by Cai Yong. In fact, almost all other stories connecting Cai Yong to the qin survive with little historical evidence.

Regarding actual surviving early musical settings under the title Caishi Wunong, there seems to be only the present one for guqin, dated 1511, and the two identical ones also called Caishi Wunong dating from 1539 and 1559).4 These, however, are somewhat different from the other sets of surviving lyrics.

As for the source of the Caishi Wunong lyrics, they seem to have come from a variety of sources, none dating to before Cai Yong himself. The original mentions of the title seems to be in Caishi Wuqu mentioned in Xi Kang's Rhapsody on the Qin.5 Other early mentions of this title can be found in the Yuefu Shiji (YFSJ 8), which first lists them as follows (the brackets have what poems they actually include, without explaining the difference):6

  1. 遊春 You Chun (Spring Travel [tunes and lyrics]; 7 YFSJ lyrics, 2 called 遊春曲 You Chun Qu, 5 called 遊春辭 You Chun Ci)
  2. 綠水 Lu Shui (Clear Water [tunes and lyrics]; 6 YFSJ lyrics, 5 called 遊春曲 Lu Shui Qu and 1 called 綠水辭 Lu Shui Ci)
  3. 幽居 You Ju (Retired Life; 1 YFSJ lyrics but called 幽居弄 You Ju Nong)
  4. 坐愁 Zuo Chou (Sit in Sadness; ? no YFSJ lyrics)
  5. 秋思 Qiu Si (Autumn Thoughts; 9 YFSJ lyrics, all named simply 秋思 Qiu Si)

As can be seen from the content in the above brackets, an outline of the full list of poems in Yuefu Shiji is as follows (details):

  1. a. You Chun Qu (7 遊春曲 Spring Travel Tunes)
    b. You Chun Ci (2 遊春辭 Spring Travel Lyrics)
  2. a. Lushui Qu (6 綠水曲 Clear Water Tunes)
    b. Lushui Ci (1 綠水辭 Clear Water Lyrics)
  3. You Ju Nong (1 Retired Life Ditty)
    Zuo Chou (坐愁 Sit in Sadness, but missing)
  4. Qiu Si (9 Autumn Thoughts)

Meanwhile the poetic content of the present melody, the 1511 guqin song Caishi Wunong in Taigu Yiyin (as below), can be summarized as follows:

  1. 遊春曲 Spring Travel Tunes (two poems, both by 王維 Wang Wei)
  2. 遊春辭 Spring Travel Lyrics (five poems, two by 王維 Wang Wei, three by 令狐楚 Linghu Chu)
  3. 綠水曲 Clear Water Tunes (five poems, by 江奐 Jiang Huan, 吳均 Wu Jun, 江洪 Jiang Hong (2) and 李白 Li Bai)
  4. 綠水辭 Clear Water Lyrics (one poem, by 李賀 Li He)
  5. 幽居弄 Retired Life Ditty (one poem, by 顧況 Gu Kuang)

When you compare this with the content of the 1511 Caishi Wunong (as below) a number of questions remain:

In line with this, there are no surviving musical settings in the form attributed to Cai Yong himself. As can be seen, Taigu Yiyin uses only the lyrics of the first three poems. The second occurrence, in Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539), is identical to 1511. The third, in Xingzhuang Taiyin Xupu (1559) has the same music but no lyrics. None of the poems has a surviving musical setting apart from what is in the present Caishi Wunong.

Cai Yong was famous as a scholar whose work on ancient texts saved him several times during political crises at the end of the Han dynasty (he "is generally acknowledged as the most accomplished writer of stele inscriptions of the early medieval period" [Knechtges, p. 60]). Also a noted drinker, as a musician he not only composed music but made instruments: one of the famous qin stories concerns the jiao wei (burned tail) qin which he is said to have made from wood that made a musical crackling sound while being used in a cooking stove. He is credited with having composed Chang Qing (Long Clarity). The story of his daughter's abduction by Central Asian nomads is told with the melody Da Hujia.

The aforementioned collection of melody titles that has been attributed to Cai Yong under the title Qin Cao is said to be the earliest surviving list of qin melodies; one can find commentary introducing 50 of them by author and background, but the date of that commentary is unclear. In addition, and adding to the confusion, there seem to be two versions of the list, one ending with 21 河間雜歌 Hejian Zage and the other with 21 河間雅歌 Hejian Yage, which begins with the present title 蔡氏五弄 Cai Shi Wunong. As can be seen in this comparison, the version of Qin Cao that mentions the Caishi Wunong has no commentary and so cannot help solve this mystery.

Yuefu Shiji, Folio 59, #2, contains all the poems under these titles, including the 9 Autumn Thoughts lyrics.7 The prefaces in Yuefu Shiji quote four sources.

  1. Qin Li says, Qin melodies include Caishi Wunong.

  2. Qin Ji says, The Wunong are You Chun, Lu Shui, You Ju, Zuo Chou, and Qiu Si; they are in gong mode.

  3. Qin Shu (or ?) says, (Cai) Yong was by nature calm and serene, with an elegant fondness for the qin. Shortly after 150 CE he went to Qingxi to visit Mr. Guigu's place. The mountains where he lived had five qu8....

  4. Qin Yi says, The emperor Sui Yangdi (r. 605 - 617) took Xi Kang's Four Melodies and the Cai Clan's Five Melodies and circulated them as Nine Melodies.

  5. (Guo Maoqian adds?), Now it seems that recent authors have often used these themes to decree lyrics, and there is no returning to the original meanings. And so forth.

The preface in Taigu Yiyin, like the one in Yuefu Shiji, also mentions only Cai Yong (133-192) in its attributions, and also suggests he composed all five titles. Neither discusses why only three (four in Yuefu Shiji) of the five are included, or the relationship between the lyrics and the music.

Original preface 9

According to Qin Li (Qin History) there is a Cai Shi Wunong created by Cai Yong. The five pieces are You Chun (Spring Travel), Lu Shui (Clear Water), You Ju (Retired Life), Zuo Chou (Sit in Sadness) and Qiu Si (Autumn Thoughts). The melodies are in the gong mode. Cai (Yong) elegantly loved the qin. Once when visiting on the historical traces of Guigu(zi).... (translation incomplete; it associates the five pieces with five dells in the mountains where Guiguzi lived).

Music and lyrics: Five titled sections (see my tentative transcription; timings follow 聽錄音 my tentative recording) 10
A largely syllabic setting, following the structures of the Yuefu Shiji lyrics (1 to 3 of 5;
Some terms used here are introduced below together11 followed by the Chinese text by itself. 11

  1. 遊春曲 Spring Travel Tunes ([5+5] x 2) x 2)
    Two poems, both by 王維 Wang Wei

    1. 萬樹江邊杳,         新開一夜風。
      Wan shu jiang bian yao,   xin kai yi ye feng
      Myriad trees darken the river's edge,   newly arisen are the evening breezes.

      滿園深淺色,         照在綠波中。
      Man yuan shen qian se,   zhao zai lü bo zhong.
      Filling the garden with dark and light colors,   glimmers settling on the clear ripples.

    2. 上苑何窮樹,         花開次第新。
      Shang yuan he qiong shu,   hua kai ci di xin.
      Above the park such a barren tree,   but flowers, continuously renewed.

      香車與絲騎,         風靜亦生塵。
      Xiang che yu si ji,   feng jing yi sheng chen.
      Elegant carriages with silken mounts,   breezes calm and entice the senses.

    See below regarding whether the two poems above and two poems below attributed to Wang Wei should instead be attributed to 王涯 Wang Ya.

  2. 遊春辭 Spring Travel Lyrics ([7+7] x 2), ([7+7] x 2), ([5+5] x 2), ([5+5] x 2) and ([5+5] x 2)
    Five poems, two by 王維 Wang Wei, then three by 令狐楚 Linghu Chu 12

    1. 曲江絲柳變煙條,             寒谷冰隨暖氣銷。
      Qu jiang si liu bian yan tiao,   han gu bing sui nuan qi xiao
      Along Winding River silken willows are bordered by misty strips,   in cold valleys the resulting ice is now warmed by air and melts.

      纔見春光生綺陌,             已聞清樂動雲韶。
      Cai jian chun guang sheng qi mo,   yi wen qing yue dong yun shao.
      So we see the brightness of spring producing lovely pathways,   and hearing clear music evokes (the melody) Clouds of Shao.

    2. 經過柳陌與桃蹊,             尋逐風光著處迷。
      Jing guo liu mo yu tao qi,   xun zhu feng guang zhu chu mi.
      Walking on Willow Lane with peach blossoms along the path,   looking for bright openings because everywhere we have lost our way.

      鳥度時時沖絮起,             花繁袞袞壓枝低。
      Niao du shi shi chong xu qi,   hua fan gun gun ya zhi di.
      Birds go by from time to time as they try to rise up,   but petals in such numbers swirl and press down the branches.

    3. 晚遊臨碧殿,         日上望春亭。
      Wan you lin bi dian,   ri shang wang chun ting.
      On an evening stroll approaching a jade palace,   as the sun rises looking at a spring pavilion.

      芳樹羅仙仗,         晴山展翠屏。
      Fang shu luo xian zhang,   qing shan zhan cui ping.
      Flowering trees cover (people wearing) imperial insignia,   clear mountains spread out along jade green cliffs.

    4. 一夜好風吹,         新花一萬枝。
      Yi ye hao feng chui,   xin hua yi wan zhi.
      One evening enjoying breezes blowing   with new flowers in myriad numbers,

      風前調玉管,         花下簇金羈。
      Feng qian diao yu guan,   hua xia cu jin ji.
      Before the breeze playing on a jade reed instrument   flowers fall while bursting forth as golden tufts.

    5. 閶闔春風起,         蓬萊雪水消。
      Chang he chun feng qi,   Peng Lai xue shui xiao.
      By the imperial palace gate a spring wind arises,   on Penglai the snow is melting.

      相將折楊柳,         爭取最長條。
      Xiang jiang zhe yang liu,   zheng qu zui chang tiao.
      We were about to go Cutting Down Willows,   and struggle to get the longest twigs.

  3. 綠水曲 Clear Water Tunes ([5 + 5] x 4), ([5 + 5] x 2), ([5 + 5] x 2), ([5 + 5] x 2), ([5 + 5] x 2).
    Five poems, by 江奐 Jiang Huan, 吳均 Wu Jun, 江洪 Jiang Hong (2) and 李白 Li Bai

    1. 塘上蒲欲齊,         汀洲杜將歇。
      Tang shang pu yu qi,   ting zhou du jiang xie.
      On a pond water rush is lining up,   a sandbank blocks us and we are about to stop.

      春心既易蕩。         春流豈難越。
      Chun xin ji yi dang,   chun liu qi nan yue.
      Spring fancies are easily vast,   spring actions are ever so much more difficult.

      桂棹及晚風。         菱江映初月。
      Gui ji ji wan feng,   ling jiang ying chu yue.
      Cassia oars accompany evening breezes,   water chestnut in the river shines under the new moon. (sic)

      芳香若可贈。         為君步羅襪。
      Fang xiang ruo ke zeng,   wei jun bu luo wa.
      Fragrances seem ready for bestowal   on (my) gentleman strolling along (with my) silken stockings.

    2. 香曖金堤滿,         湛淡春塘溢。
      Xiang ai jin ti man,   zhan dan chun tang yi.
      In fragrance and dim light strong dikes are full,   the limpid water in spring (makes) the ponds overflow.

      已送行臺花,         復倒高樓日。
      Yi song xing tai hua,   fu dao gao lou ri.
      Having already sent Branch Department flowers,   they are turned around (by their reflection) with the high pavilions in daylight. (?)

    3. 塵容不忍飾,         臨池客未歸。
      Chen rong bu ren shi,   lin chi ke wei gui.
      My plain appearance can not bear to be ornamented,   I am by the pond (but my special) guest has not yet return.

      誰能別淥水,         全取浣羅衣。
      Shei neng bie lü shui,   quan qu liu luo yi.
      Who can draw out such clear water   and use only that to completely cleanse gossamer silk clothing?

    4. 潺湲複皎潔,         輕鮮自可悅。
      Chan yuan fu jiao jie,   qing xian zi ke yue.
      As the flowing water (tears?) duplicates (an image) gleaming and spotlessly,   lightly and freshly it brings pleasure.

      橫使有情禽,         照影遂孤絕。
      Heng shi you qing qin,   zhao ying sui gu jue.
      This sent a message that this (image) was its mate,   but (seeing it is only a) reflected image this then confirms its own solitude. (?)

    5. 淥水明秋月,         南湖采白蘋。
      Lü shui ming qiu yue,   nan hu tan bai pin.
      The clear water is bright in the autumn moon,   On a southern lake (she) picks out white duckweed,

      荷花嬌欲語,         愁殺蕩舟人。
      He hua jiao yu yu,   chou sha dang zhou ren.
      Lotus flowers have a beauty (she) wishes to declaim,   but sadness completely ravages that boater (the woman) .

  4. 綠水辭 Clear Water Lyrics ([5+5] x 4)
    One poem, by 李賀 Li He (791-817); translated by Frodsham in "The Collected Poems of Li Ho", #140 (p.169), as follows:

    今宵好風月,         阿侯在何處。
    Jin xiao hao feng yue,   A Hou zai he chu?
    Tonight a pleasant wind and moon,   But where is poor Hou?

    為有傾城色,         翻成足愁苦。
    Wei you qing cheng se,   fan cheng zu chou ku.
    Because her beauty breaks men's hearts   She has her share of pain and sadness.

    東湖採蓮葉,         南湖拔蒲根。
    Dong hu tan lian ye,   nanhu ba pu gen.
    Is she gathering lotus by East Lake?   Or plucking cattails by South Lake?

    未持寄小姑,         且持感愁魂。
    Wei chi ji xiao gu,   qie chi gan chou hun.
    She has no little sister-in-law in mind,   They're but the tokens of her sorrow.

  5. 幽居弄 Retired Life Ditty ([7 x 7] x 4; last couplet is in harmonics)
    One poem, by 顧況 Gu Kuang (c.725-c.819)

    苔衣生()花露滴,         月入西林蕩東壁。
    Tai yi sheng hua (hua) lu di,   yue ru xi lin dang dong bi.
    Moss and lichen grow (flowers), flowers drip dew,   The moon enters the western forest, and the vast east cliffs.

    扣商占角兩三聲,               洞戶溪窗一冥寂。
    Kou shang zhan jue liang san sheng,   dong hu xi chuang yi ming ji.
    Hit "shang" and scratch out "jue" - just two or three sounds.   (My) cave door and gorge window are completely dark and silent.

    獨去滄洲無四鄰,               身嬰世網此何身。
    Du qu Cang Zhou wu zi lin,   shen ying shi wang ci he shen?
    Alone (I have) gone to Cangzhou, on no sides are there neighbors,   Body tassels and the net of society: these are for whose body?

    關情命曲寄惆悵,               久別江南山裏人。
    Guan qing ming qu ji chou chang,   jiu bie Jiang Nan shan li ren.
    Relationships and twists of fate deliver disappointment,   And (I have) long been parted from people in the hills of Jiangnan.
    06.04 曲終 Melody ends

Suggestions for improving the translation will be appreciated.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Five Melodies of the Cai Clan (Cai Shi Wunong 蔡氏五弄)
32581.126 蔡邕 has information about Cai Yong but nothing on 蔡氏 (9/; or 五弄 wu nong ( However, 262.256 五曲 wu qu mentions Xi Kang's Rhapsody on the Qin, which seems to have the earliest mention of this title, though rendering it as 蔡氏五曲 Cai Shi Wu Qu. Early commentary in 文選 Wen Xuan identifies them as follows:

  1. 遊春 (Roaming in Spring)
  2. 淥水 (Clear Waters ["Limpid Waters"])
  3. 坐愁 (Sitting in Sadness)
  4. 秋思 (Autumn Thoughts)
  5. 幽居 (Dwelling in Seclusion)

Further regarding #2 淥水 Lu Shui (18106.2), see below and also The Travel of Clear Waters: A Case Study on the Afterlife of a Poem by Kaiyu Xu (2019) provided help in understanding the Clear Water lyrics.

Meanwhile 樂府詩集 Yuefu Shiji has lyrics, for which see below. the individual parts see:

2. Mode
The preface, quoting ancient sources, says the melodies are in gong mode, which in the Ming dynasty seems to have the 3rd string as do, but the melody here seems to use the first string as do.

4. Tracing 蔡氏五弄 Cai Shi Wunong (tracing chart)
All three have identical music. The 1539 setting has identical words but the 1559 setting omits the lyrics. Details in the chart below based on the Zha Guide (13/142/249).

5. Earliest mention of Caishi Wunong
This assumes a healthy skepticism that Cai Yong himself compiled the list of melodies called He Jian Za Ge, said to have been part of one version of the Qin Cao commonly attributed to him.

6. Original listing of the Five Melodies of the Cai Clan
See above, but also see Seng Juyue, which seems to list them as six melodies. Clearly this was not the case, though perhaps it also suggests that the five melodies had a separate existence as well. On this, the Melody List by Seng Juyue also has a lengthy introduction:


On all this, early lists are not uniform. See, for example, the names at the beginning of the third section of the Melody List from Qin Shu in Qinyuan Yaolu. I am not aware of any collection of poems that has the five titles put together as in sources such as Seng.

7. 樂府詩 Yuefu Shiji lyrics for Caishi Wunong
See YFSJ 8; pp, 855-860).

The following is a translation of the complete list of the poems under this title in Folio 59, #2 of Yuefu Shiji (pp. 855 - 860). As can be seen, it skips Zuo Chou, #4 in the standard listing. As for here in Taigu Yiyin, its Caishi Wunong skips both Zuo Chou and Qiu Si, taking as texts for its five melodies only 1.a., 1.b., 2.a., 2.b. and 3. Note that none of the lyrics are attributed to Cai Yong himself.

1. a. You Chun Qu (遊春曲 Spring Travel Tunes) Two five-character quatrains by Wang Wei (701-761)

Further regarding these two poems and the two poems below, here attributed to Wang Wei (complete poems above), a note in YFSJ says they have also been attributed to 王涯 Wang Ya (ca.760 - 835 Wiki). On this YFSJ quotes 全唐詩 Complete Tang Poetry, but it is not clear to me which attribution it considers correct. Note also that with the melody Chun Jiang Qu there seems to be some confusion about whether some of its lyrics attributed to 張仲素 Zhang Zhongsu were actually by Wang Ya.

1. b. You Chun Ci (遊春辭 Spring Travel Lyrics)

Two seven-character quatrains by Wang Wei (701-761)
Three five-character quatrains by Linghu Chu (766-837)

2. a. Lushui Qu (綠水曲 Clear Water Tunes)
18106.2 淥水 says "clear green water", qin melody, and the name of two different streams in Jiangxi going into the 湘水 Xiang River, one from the north, the other from the south. It is also mentioned in Xi Kang's
Rhapsody on the Qin), in the You Lan melody list, and in a poem by Bai Juyi. Here as Lu Shui Qu there is,

one poem (eight five-character lines) by Jiang Huan of Qi (5th c.)
one five-character quatrain by Wu Jun of Liang (469-520)
two five-character quatrains by Jiang Hong (6th c.)
one five-character quatrain by Li Bai (701-762)

2. b. Lushui Ci (綠水辭 Clear Water Lyrics)

one poem (eight five-character lines) by Li He (791-817)
Translated by Frodsham in "The Collected Poems of Li Ho", #140 (p.169)

3. You Ju Nong (Retired Life Ditty)

One poem (eight seven-character lines [first is 3+3?]) by Gu Kuang (c.725-c.819)

4. Zuo Chou (坐愁 Sit in Sadness)


5. Qiu Si (Autumn Thoughts)

two poems (both 8 x 5) by Li Bai (701-762)
three poems (each 14 x 5) by Bao Rong (fl. 820)
one poem (8 x 5) by 司空曙 Sikong Shu (720 - c.790)
one poem (8 x 5) by 司空圖 Sikong Tu (837 - 908)
two poems (each 4 x 7) by Wang Wei (701 - 761)

Once again, I am not aware of any collection of poems that has lyrics of all the five titles put together as listed here in sources such as Seng.

8. Mr. Guigu and his five qu
鬼谷 46757.41 鬼谷子 and .42 鬼谷先生 refer to 王詡 Wang Xu, a 4th century BCE Daoist philosopher best known as Guiguzi (Wiki); Cai Yong following in his footsteps sounds like a sort of Daoist pilgrimage. Guigu is also the name of several places as well as a star name.

As for 五曲, 262.256 says these could be either five melodies or five "winding places".

9. Original preface
The original Chinese text begins,


Not yet translated.

10. Tentative recording and transcription
Recorded 31 January 2021. This will remain "tentative" until it has been sung by a singer or until I have memorized it all the way through and so feel more confident of the structures; the present recording was done section by section.

11. More references

  1. in Spring Travel Tunes
    None yet. (

  2. in Spring Travel Lyrics (return)

  3. in Clear Water Tunes (return)

  4. in Clear Water Lyrics (return

  5. in Retired Life Ditty

12. Original lyrics
The Chinese lyrics without the above translation are,

萬樹江邊杳,新開一夜風。 (杳 yao elsewhere is 杏 xing)



經過柳陌與桃蹊,尋逐風光著處迷。 (For 經 the text here is 紅)




桂棹及晚風。菱江映初月。  (棹樂府作楫)







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Appendix: Chart Tracing 蔡氏五弄 Cai Shi Wunong
Further comment
above; based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide 13/142/249

in Spring Travel Lyrics
    (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/295)
5; preface; lyrics
  2. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/96)
5; included with gong mode pieces; identical music and lyrics as 1511
  3. 太音續譜
      (1559; III/449)
5; no lyrics but almost same music as 1511 and 1539 (differences may be copy errors)
The preface is also somewhat different.

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