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34. Song of Integrity 正氣歌 1
- Standard tuning:2 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 Zheng Qi Ge
  Of many Wen Tianxiang Parks, one from Hong Kong3    
Wen Tianxiang (文天祥 ; 1236-1283), a renowned poet and high official of the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), wrote the lyrics of this song to proclaim why he could never serve the invading Yuan government. While working to support the Southern Song dynasty he had been arrested by Yuan soldiers in 1278 and taken to what is today Beijing. Here he was put in prison while the Yuan ruler, Kublai Khan, tried to persuade and/or force Wen to serve in the Yuan government. When Wen finally asked only for death, he was accordingly executed in January 1283.

A literal translation of this title could be "Correct Attitude Song" or "Righteous Spirit Song". Commonly used translations include Song of Righteousness, Song of the Spirit of Righteousness, and so forth. Because, in fact, the lyrics are a famous poetical essay in the collected works of Wen Tianxiang, one should also look at what Wen Tianxiang himself said about "zheng qi'. As described here on the China Knowledge website,

One of his core concepts was that of the "pristine matter" (zhengqi 正氣) that constitutes sun, moon and stars, while the "multiple matter" (haoran zhi qi 浩然之氣) forms mountains and rivers, as well as the human body. This matter includes the spirit of the Celestial principle (the dao 道 "Way") that is good and righteous by nature, so that the human body congenitally includes the spiritual goodness.

Kroll defines "浩然之氣 haoran zhi qi" as "flood-like vital breath", implying something that is unstoppable. All this suggests that another good translation of the title might be, "Song of Being True to Oneself"; thus "integrity" is chosen here for its original definition (Oxford Languages) as "the state of being whole and undivided". And in the lyrics "浩然 haoran is translated as "nobility", the spirit of this nobility being so strong that it fills the universe.

There seems to be no information as to how Wen Tianxiang himself might have thought his lyrics should be sung. It is written in 30 five-character couplets (60 phrases: 300 characters in all). Data on the musical arrangement of these phrases suggests a structure that emphasizes the message more than the music.4 Or to put it another way, if the music is important to expressing the lyrics, then the creator of the musical setting may have had in mind the sort of voice or voice production that could express this. Whether there was also beauty in the expression of this would depend on the beauty of the voice and its method of expression.5

When I did my initial reconstruction of this melody in the early 2000s I relied on an old translation by Herbert Giles as well as an anonymous online version to help understand the text. Then while revising that reconstruction in 2021 I discovered the much more detailed and accurate translation by Feng Xin-ming; this helped me come to a better understanding of the relationship between the words and the musical setting.6

The only other surviving qin setting of this title seems to be the nearly identical one in Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539). From the very few differences (so far all seem to concern hui position), it is not possible to say at present that one version was correcting the other7


According to the Song Dynasty History, Grand Councilor Wen Tianxiang was captured and taken to Yanjing (today's Beijing), but he would not yield. The Yuan emperor (Kublai Khan) had many discussions with him, wanting very much to utilize his skills, but Tianxiang maintained his loyalty....
(Translation unfinished. It goes on to tell of Wen's eventual execution, having written these lyrics to express his righteousness. It then adds that people later arranged it in the form of a song for strings, so that everyone would know of his awe-inspiring loyalty forever and a day.)
Music and lyrics9 (See my transcription; timings follow 聽錄音 my recording
The original was not divided into sections; the musical setting is a largely syllabic pairing, following the structure of the poem: (5+5) x 30. The arrangement here into 8 sections follows Giles and seems to be based on rhyme (in Sections 7 and 8 this is not quite so clear). Most of the words with links to the glossary below have more detailed explanations in the translation by Feng.

    正氣歌 Zheng Qi Ge: Song of Integrity

  1. 00.11
    Tiān dì yǒu zhèng qì, zá rán fù liú xíng.
    Heaven and earth have a "spirit of integrity"; in many forms does it flow into all things.

    Xià zé wèi hé yuè, shàng zé wèi rì xīng.
    Here below it is rivers and mountains, up above it is sun and stars.

    Yú rén yuē hào rán, pèi hū sāi cāng míng.
    In people it is called "nobility" (of spirit), vast enough to fill the universe.

    Huáng lù dāng qīng yí, hán hé tǔ míng tíng.
    Imperial roads become clear and quiet, harmony exudes in splendid halls.

    Shí qióng jié nǎi jiàn, yī yī chuí dān qīng.
    When times are poor, fidelity must appear; one by one this must be set down in black and white (i.e., history).

  2. 01.09
    Zài Qí Tàishǐ jiǎn, zài Jìn Dǒng Hú bǐ.
    In the Qi (state)
    Official Historian's Bamboo Chronicles, in the Jin (state) Dong Hu's pen.

    Zài Qín Zhāng Liáng chuí, zài Hàn Sū Wǔ jié.
    In the Qin (state) Zhang Liang’s hammer (throw); (and) in Han it was Su Wu’s (honoring his) credentials.

    Wèi Yán jiāngjūn tóu, wèi Jī Shìzhōng xuè.
    It was General Yan’s head, Palace Attendant Xi (Kang)’s blood,

    Wèi Zhāng Suīyáng chǐ, wèi Yán Chángshān shé.
    It was Zhang (Xun) at Suiyang (losing his) teeth, and Yan (Guoqing) at Changshan (losing his) tongue.

  3. 02.00
    Huò wèi Liáo dōng mào, qīng cāo lì bīng xuě.
    Perhaps it was the Eastern Liao hat, (showing
    Guan Ning) incorruptible while working in ice and snow.

    Huò wéi Chū Shī Biǎo, guǐ shén qì zhuàng liè.
    Or perhaps it was (Zhuge Liang’s) Memorials on Dispatching the Troops, gods and spirits alike weeping at such heroism.

    Huò wèi dù jiāng jí, kāng kǎi tūn hú jié.
    Perhaps it was the river-crossing oar (of Zu Ti), while fervently attacking the nomad invaders.

    Huò wèi jī zéi hù, nì shù tóu pò liè.
    Or perhaps it was (Duan Xiushi) striking the usurper with a sceptre, the rebel's head broken open.

  4. 02.41
    Shì qì suǒ pāng bó, lǐn liè wàn gǔ cún.
    This spirit is so majestic, it inspires an awe that will last forever.

    Dāng qí guàn rì yuè, shēng sǐ ān zú lùn.
    It is like the sun and the moon: even life and death
    cannot be considered comparable.

    De wéi lài yǐ lì, tiān zhù lài yǐ zūn.
    The earth's dimensions depend on it to stand, heaven's pillars depend on it to keep their honor.

    Sān Gāng shí xì mìng, Dào Yì wéi zhī gēn.
    The Three Relationships (ruler-subject; father-son; husband-wife) really bind our fates; and the Way of Righteousness is our foundation.

  5. 03.27
    Jiē yǔ gòu yáng jiǔ, lì yě shí bù lì.
    Sadly I have now met
    misfortune, servitors like us are really without power.

    Chǔ qiú yīng qí guān, chuán chē sòng qióng běi.
    We prisoners, with me at the head, have been carted up and sent to the far north.

    Dǐng huò gān rú yí, qiú zhī bù kě dé.
    (Death in) a cauldron I long for as if a sweet: but though I seek it I cannot attain it.

    Yīn fáng tián guǐ huǒ, chūn yuàn bì tiān hēi.
    (Now) our dark room is silent with ghostly fires, the spring courtyard depressing as the sky turns dark.

  6. 04.21
    Niú jì tóng yī zào, jī qī fèng huáng shí.
    Oxen and thoroughbreds are in the same manger, chickens roost where phoenixes eat.

    Yī zhāo méng wù lù, fēn zuò gōu zhōng jí.
    All morning I an plagued by mist and fog, fated to go into the gutter as a corpse.

    Rú cǐ zài hán shǔ, bǎi lì zì pì yì.
    Like this I have passed another winter and summer, hundreds of disorders from my person staying away.

  7. 95.07
    Āi zāi, jù rù chǎng, wèi wǒ ān lè guó.
    Alas! This depressed and damp place, it is for me my peaceful homeland.

    Qǐ yǒu tā móu qi ǎo, Yīn Yáng bù néng zéi.
    How could this be more preposterous! Yin and Yang cannot cause me harm.

    Gù cǐ gěng gěng zài, yǎng shì fú yún bái.
    Observing this I keep to my integrity, and look up at the floating clouds so white.

    Yōu yōu wǒ xīn bēi, cāng tiān hé yǒu jí.
    Though relaxed my heart is sad; such a blue sky: how could it have any limits!

  8. 05.52
    Zhé rén rì yǐ yuǎn, diǎn xíng zài sù xī.
    The ancient sages' time is already far away, our models reside in the past.
      (or: my punishment will soon be in the past?)

    Fēng yán zhǎn shū dú, gǔ dào zhào yán sè.
    Sheltered from the wind I open a book to read, and the ancient Way brings color to my face.
    06.28 曲終 Melody ends

See also below regarding this and other translations.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 正氣歌 Zheng Qi Ge

2. Tuning and mode (see date below under structure)
Although Taigu Yiyin does not group pieces by tuning or mode, in Fengxuan Xuanpin (II/157) it has been placed with melodies in shang mode. Shang mode uses the first string as do (gong, 1), has do as its primary tonal center, with shang alongside so as a secondary tonal center. For more on modes in general see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature. As with other pieces in that mode it has do as its main tonal center with dol and re as secondary centers. However, it does not seem to include any flatted mi's.

3. 香港:文天祥公園 From Hong Kong: One of many Wen Tianxiang Parks (visitor information)
Man Tin Cheung Park, using the Cantonese pronunciation of Hong Kong, is in 新田 San Tin, about a mile south of the 福田 Futian border crossing with mainland China at 黃崗 Huanggang. The park apparently dates from around 2003 because, according to Chinese Wikipedia,

In 2003, the Kowloon-Canton Railway began to build the Lok Ma Chau Spur Line (from Sheung Shui to Lok Ma Chau, it opened in 2007). Since the rail line was going to pass through Chau Tau Tsuen and San Tin, this caused dissatisfaction among the 文 Man clan, who believed that the completion of the railway would lead to a geomancy pattern of "iron snake blocking the road." The villagers thus requested that a giant sculpture of Wen Tianxiang be built, in order to have a beneficial effect on (i.e, cancel out) the "malign spirits" of the railway. Since this would not affect the progress of the project and because Wen Tianxiang was a famous figure in Chinese history, KCRC was willing to allocate $3.8 million for the construction of a park.

Near the park is the Tai Fu Tai Museum, said to be on the grounds of a family estate that had been owned by members of the Man clan, which claims ancestry going back to Wen Tianxiang himself, or perhaps his brother.

The poem featured here can be seen in the right background of the image above; the five character lines go right to left then top to bottom. Inscriptions of this poem are also featured at other Wen Tianxiang parks. For example see this image from this website about one near Taroko Gorge in Taiwan, and this one from a 文天祥紀念館 Wen Tianxiang Memorial Hall at his hometown of 江西吉安 Ji'an in Jiangxi province.

4. Structure of 正氣歌 Zheng Qi Ge
As mentioned above, Zheng Qi Ge consists of 300 characters arranged into 30 couplets of 5+5 characters each. Here, however, it has been further divided into eight sections. This tries largely to follow the rhyme scheme. This is somewhat speculative, particularly for Sections 6 to 8. Other considerations include passages in harmonics and, or course, the meaning of the text.

Overall, the setting is a largely syllabic pairing of notes to characters (i.e., syllables). Data on how these 300 characters are arranged into musical notes is as follows:

As a caveat, there are a few questionable notes (one in particular "corrected" in the 1539 edition). In my transcription if a note has been changed it is circled and connected to the original in a rectangular box below it.

In addition there is one quite remarkable couplet having the following notes (with translation of the accompanying passage ["-" indicates a slide on one character]):

F-Eb F G F G / Ab Bb-C C C C .
"We prisoners, with me at the head, have been carted up and sent to the far north."

It is tempting to suggest that the dissonance here is deliberate, specifically highlighting that couplet from the text. This is something that can occasionally be found elsewhere in the Ming dynaty repertoire, though I have never seen it discussed. These passages also tend to disappear from later versions of those melodies. (Example: Zhuangzhou Meng Die.)

Within the 30 lines (each having 5+5 characters) a number of patterns can be discerned. For example,

Perhaps these patterns suggest that this piece was intended more as a chant than as a song. It might also be mentioned that inconsistencies within such a framwork suggests that these structures were something instinctive on the part of the creator of the melody, rather than resulting from being part of a conscious composing process.

5. Voice production
Much of the traditional aesthetic appreciation of qin music involves the colors available; for example a note repeated on a different string will have a different color from the one on the original string. An essential element here is the use of silk strings, but it is also essential that the player have the skill to bring this out. Likewise a singer should be able to take music that might otherwise seem repetitious and make it interesting through subtle vocal technique. Unfortunately I am unaware of anything written about this aspect of singing qin songs. It may have to do with ornamenting the music by taking advantage of the tonal nature of Chinese. However, if the singing is to follow in the "amateur" tradition of qin play (a concept related not to skill but to the player aiming towards a goal "higher" than entertainment), then perhaps one should be careful about using techniques from, for example, Chinese operatic forms.

6. Translations of 正氣歌 Zheng Qi Ge
A primary aim of my translation with transliteration (also in the transcription) is to provide guidance for a singer, particularly one whose native language is not Chinese. In addition, the music itself seeming on the surface rather repetitious, a primary challenge is to see how the structures within the music may fit (or be made to fit) the structures of the poem (primarily rhyme and meaning).

Translations consulted in making my own are as follows:

  1. Herbert Giles, originally published in Gems of Chinese Literature, 1923; Giles titled it Divinae Particulam Aurae.
    The only one available for my original transcription, it skips parts and explains rather than translates many terms. It can be found on the
    Project Gutenberg website, where it is included in an essay by Giles.
  2. Unidentified, perhaps from "中國華文教育網 Overseas Chinese Language and Culture Online."
    Found on several official Chinese websites during my original work, but as of 2018 no longer to be found
  3. Feng Xin-ming, The Song of the Spirit of Righteousness, online only; 2008. More at tsoidug.org.
    This 馮欣明注譯 annotated translation is much better than the earlier ones.
  4. Anonymous, Monk's page of Chinese Poetry (2013)
    Also has explanations and a translation of Wen Tianxiang's own preface

The basic text of the poem can often be found arranged simply as 30 lines of two five character phrases each, not divided into sections. Later edtions often do have subdivisions, as do various (but not all) translations. These seem generally to follow the meaning - I have not yet found another one based on rhyme. >P>Sections in my own translation and transcription is thus different in places as I have tried not only to take rhyme scheme into account (an expert in this area might have different ideas, particularly in the latter half) but also considerations of structures within the tablature and text. This is discussed in some detail here, but much of this is also speculative.

7. Tracing Zheng Qi Ge
Zha Guide 14/152/282 lists only these two versions.

Because these two are identical there is no separate tracing chart here.

8. Original preface
The original Chinese preface in Taigu Yiyin is as follows:


The rest is not yet online.

9. Glossary and original lyrics
After the glossary of names and terms in the poem there is a copy of the original Chinese poem by itself. For use as lyrics it is paired with the translation and transliteration above:

Glossary of names and terms mentioned in the lyrics
For further details of most of these, see the
online translation by Feng Xin-Ming.

Original text
Includes Wen Tianxiang's own preface, not included in the present handbook (
translation available)

污下而幽暗。當此夏日,諸氣萃然﹕雨潦四集,浮動床幾,時則為水氣;涂泥半朝,蒸漚歷瀾,時則為土氣;乍晴暴熱,風道四塞,時則為日氣;檐陰薪爨,助長炎虐,時則為火氣;倉腐寄頓,陳陳逼人,時則為米氣;駢肩雜遝,腥臊汗垢,時則為人氣;或圊溷、或毀尸、或腐鼠,惡氣雜出,時則為穢氣。疊是數氣,當之者鮮不為厲。而予以孱弱,俯仰其間,於茲二年矣,幸而無恙,是殆有養致然爾。然亦安知所養何哉?孟子曰:「吾善養吾浩然之氣。」彼氣有七,吾氣有一,以一敵七,吾何患焉!況浩然者,乃天地之正氣也,作正氣歌一首。 Currently I am imprisoned at a northern court, seated in an earthen cell, the room about eight chi (feet) wide and perhaps four xun (four armspans or 32 chi) deep; the single doorway is low and small, the window space short and narrow, under the filth it is dark it is dark and gloomy. In these summer days, all sorts of airs gather; as rain water floods around, even buoys up my bed, that is the air of the water; as mud smears around for half of the morning, I find myself submerged in vapor and sludge, that is the air of the mud; on extreme hot and sunny days, when all the wind channels are blocked, that is the air of the sun; when the burning of faggots for cooking pushes up the heat, that is the air of the fire; when rotten grains in stores emit sickening odors, that is the air of the rice; and the odors, sweat and respirations from the crowd make up the air of the human; the stench from the jakes, rotten corpses and dead rats, the air of the effluvia. With these several airs around, one can hardly keep oneself wholesome and not be overwhelmed. I have always been physically frail. Having been shut up here for two years, luckily I am still unaffected. Do you know on what I rely to keep myself safe? As Mencius said,” I strive at upkeeping my Noble Spirit.” Seven airs there be, I’ve got only one. With one against seven, what harm can they do on me? My Noble Spirit is the air of righteousness. Hence I have written this: Ode to the Air of Righteousness:









Regarding rhyme, the last character of each couplet is as follows:
      形星冥庭青 筆節血舌 雪烈羯裂 存論尊根 力北得黑 食瘠易 國賊白極 昔色
This is put here for ease in looking at the pronunciation of these characters for possible rhyme in other dialects, such as in
this pronunciation tool for Cantonese.

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