Yan Guo Hengyang
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65. Wild Geese Traverse Hengyang
- Zhi mode:2 standard tuning played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
雁過衡陽 1
Yan Guo Hengyang
Yan Guo Hengyang illustration from Kuian Qinpu 3
The version I have reconstructed of this melody is the one in Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539).
4 However, earliest surviving melody with this title is found in Xilutang Qintong (1525), then versions survive in 20 later handbooks up through 1946.5 Their variety suggests the melody was actively played in various repertoires throughout the Qing dynasty, but at present no one else plays it.

Early handbooks connect the melody with Song Yu,6 a poet of Chu, an ancient kingdom which contained the Hengyang region. Later handbooks, starting with Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722), connect it with the Han dynasty traveler Su Wu, who is said to have used a goose to send a message home from Central Asia.7 Little further is known of its origins. 8

Hengyang, an old district name, is now a city just south of Hengshan National Important Scenic District in Hunan province. Hengshan is the name of the southern sacred mountain range, said to have 72 peaks extending along the Xiang River from Hengyang in the south to Changsha about 100 miles to the north. The southernmost peak, called Returning Geese Peak (Huiyan Feng),9 is a rather low one now within the modern city of Hengyang. This was long considered to be the southern end of the winter migration of geese. The expression Geese arrive at Hengyang10 refers to this idea.

The Yan Guo Hengyang in Fengxuan Xuanpin has no preface or section titles. The earliest preface is in Xilutang Qintong (1525), which has a somewhat different melody. The preface describes a desolate landscape then mentions Song Yu; the titles of its 11 sections also connect the melody to that region.11

The version of Yan Guo Hengyang in Taiyin Chuanxi (1552-61) is almost identical to the version in 1539, but it adds titles to each of the 12 sections. The preface does not mention Song Yu, but the section titles are quite similar to those of the 11 titles of 1525. Because the music in Taiyin Chuanxi is almost identical to that in Fengxuan Xuanpin, translations of these 12 titles are included below. Taiyin Buyi, apparently related to Taiyin Chuanxi, organizes the melody into 11 sections, with the titles the same as the titles of the first 11 sections of the version in Taiyin Chuanxi. However, the music is rather different from that of both Taiyin Chuanxi and Xilutang Qintong.12

Xilutang Qintong precedes Yan Guo Hengyang with a related short melody (prelude) called Frosty Evening Snowgoose;13 it does not have a separate preface. The identical prelude is found with the title Frosty Evening Intonation in both Taiyin Chuanxi and Taiyin Buyi.14 The preface to Shuangye Yin in Taiyin Chuanxi says, "Frosty evenings occur as geese go south in formation." This suggests that the writer is in the north thinking of geese going to Hengyang rather than in Chu seeing them arrive.

This is worth pointing out for the following reason. Most melodies associated with the ancient Chu region use a non-standard tuning, specifically one involving raising the 5th string a half tone. Yan Guo Hengyang, with its standard tuning, seems to be an exception. This makes the northern connection provided by the above-mentioned preludes rather interesting. The later connection with Su Wu, also mentioned above, has a similar significance.

The preface in Taiyin Chuanxi begins by saying the guo in the title means "zhi".15 Guo most commonly means "go past"; zhi may mean arrive at or go to. Bo Yi and Tai Gong, used by the preface to compare the natural migration of geese to people who avoid bad government, were famous recluses. Bo Yi and his brother Shu Qi16 became recluses and starved to death to maintain their loyalty to Wen Wang, father of the first emperor of the Zhou dynasty. Tai Gong (Lü Shang17) left the service of Zhou, the evil last Shang ruler, and became a recluse; later he allowed himself to be recruited by Wen Wang.

Original preface
(None; the following is from Taiyin Chuanxi

Guo means "arrive at". It is the guo of xiangguo (go towards?) and guowo (? pass me). Hengyang district has a Returning Geese Peak: geese arrive at Hengyang and end (their migration). This saying, that the geese leave the distant sandy deserts in order to arrive at Hengyang, leaving the cold for the warm, is used to illustrate "understanding opportunity". The gentleman leaves a disorderly country to go to one that is properly ruled; like Bo Yi and Tai Gong leaving Zhou in order to join with Wen Wang.

12 sections (titles from Taiyin Chuanxi

00.00 1. Reed stems warn of the cold
          2. Emotions like love
          3. A formation arises from the duckweed sandbank
          4. The bird cries mourn autumn
          5. Southward following the Xiang River
          6. In the warmth thinking of the desert
          7. At dawn crossing the clouds of Heng(yang)
          8. Returning from the peak to ask about floating
          9. Northward looking at the purple frontier
        10. Distant descending on a sandbank
        11. The emptiness extends 10,000 miles
        12. Nature's cold becomes warm
              closing harmonics

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Yan Guo Hengyang references
42894.112 yan guo references three poems, but none mentions Hengyang. 34898.69 衡陽雁斷 At Hengyang Geese Stop and .70 衡陽歸雁 Heng Yang Returning Geese give some literary references, the former to the opera Pipa Ji, the latter to a poem by 高適 Gao Shi (716-765) and to 唐詩訓解 Explanation of Tang poems. There is nothing about music. A Du Fu poem mentions 衡陽雁 Hengyang geese. An inscription on a painting by 董其昌 Dong Qichang mentions 雁過衡嶽 Geese arriving at Heng Peak. (Return)

2. Zhi mode (徵調 zhidiao)
Standard tuning can also be considered as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 . For more information about zhi mode see Shenpin Zhi Yi. For modes in general see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature. (Return)

3. Kuian Qinpu illustration (QQJC XI/41)
There is no inscription; presumably this illustration is intended to evoke the Hengyang mountain range in Hunan. Compare the illustration for Yan Luo Pingsha. (Return)

4. 風宣玄品 Fengxuan Xuanpin
Compiled by 朱厚爝 Zhu Houjiao, (Prince of the) 徽 Hui Region, central Henan province about 75 km southeast of the 嵩山 Songshan mountains. (Return)

5. Tracing Yan Guo Hengyang
Because the Zha Fuxi Guide listing (16/168/--) has 20 handbooks from 1539 to 1946, some years ago I reconstructed the 1539 version. However, this turned out to be erroneous information and in fact the earliest one is the one in Xilutang Qintong (1525; III/170). I have been planning to do the tracing chart when I reconstruct that earlier version.

Yan Guo Hengyang was quite popular during the Qing dynasty, to the extent that the 10th handbook having it is the 1722 Wuzhizhai Qinpu. However, in spite of gthe popularity of that handbook, there do not seem to be any other modern recordings.

6. 宋玉 Song Yu is sometimes said to have been a nephew of 屈原 Qu Yuan. (Return)

7. There is no apparent musical connection with 蘇武思君 Su Wu Thinks of his Lord (also called 漢節操 Melody of Han Credentials). (Return)

8. The general introduction to Fengxuan Xuanpin says its melodies were collected from various schools (Return)

9. 迴雁峰 See ? (Return)

10. 34898.66 衡陽雁斷 Hengyang yan duan; no apparent musical connection (Return)

11. Commentary in Xilutang Qintong (1525)
The 1525 afterword says:

This melody also comes from a solitary elevated person on a high perch, with a surpassing spiritual outlook, who uses this to reveal his ideas: a solitary boat and rustic lodge, cold frost and white moon. Played with the sound of crickets and pounding of laundry, can this not be used for Song Yu's sad life

No apparent musical connection to Song Yu Bei Qiu". (Return)

12. Zha Fuxi's preface in Qinqu Jicheng, Vol. IV, says the melodies in 太音傳習 Taiyin Chuanxi were collected by 李仁 Li Ren from old family sources; though printed after 1557/9, prefaces show Li Ren's ancestors to be the source for much of that music. It seems to be related to 太音補遺 Taiyin Buyi (1557) compiled by 蕭鸞 Xiao Luan, of a Nanjing family. Zha suggests that Li Ren's was a northern tradition adopted by Xiao Luan in Nanjing. Li Ren refers to himself as 友山 You Shan, "friend of the mountains" (3180.4: nicknames of six other people). (Return)

13. Shuangye Hong/Yin 霜夜鴻/吟 43311.49 shuangye gives a reference to a poem by 顏延之 Yan Yanzhi in 文選 Wen Xuan. There is no mention of birds. (Return)

14. 霜夜鴻 Shuangye Hong and 霜夜吟 Shuangye Yin. Taiyin Chuanxi and Taiyin Buyi, published between 1552 and 1561, always pair longer melodies with related shorter ones. These titles survive nowhere else. Shuangye Yin has a short preface, "Frosty evenings means it is time for the geese to proceed southward." (霜夜,鴈南征時也 .) (Return)

15. It begins, "過、至也。如相過、過我(?)之過 ." 39874.0/IV 過 guo has 猶至也 "guo is like zhi"; this seems to suggest going to rather than coming to. However, the other examples add no clarification: the character here written 我 is in fact oddly written, and 相過 xiangguo is not in any of my dictionaries. (Return)

16. 伯夷、叔齊 . See Alan Berkowitz, Patterns of Disengagement. (Return)

17. 太公(呂尚). The introduction by Cai Yong (133-192) in Qin Cao to the melody Wen Wang Si Shi (occasionally an alternate title for Si Shun, though the theme is closer to that of Shi Xian in Zheyin Shizi Qinpu) tells the story of Wen Wang and Lü Shang. (Return)

18. Preface from Taiyin Chuanxi (1552-61)
The original preface begins,


Translated above,

19. Section titles from Taiyin Chuanxi (1552-61)
The original titles from there are:

  1. 蘆箭驚寒
  2. 情同友愛
  3. 陣起蘋汀
  4. 悲秋嘹嚦
  5. 南依湘水
  6. 暖懷沙漠
  7. 曉度衡雲
  8. 回峰問汎
  9. 北望紫塞
  10. 遠落平沙
  11. 當空萬里
  12. 天寒就暖

Translation above. The 11 section titles in Xilutang Qintong are the same, except as follows:

  2. 漸進于磐 Gradually approach the rocks
  6. 遠懷朔漠 From a distance thinking of the northern deserts
  9. 北投紫塞 Northward submitting to the purple frontier
10. 散落平沙 Scattered descending on the sandbank

Return to the annotated handbook list or to the Guqin ToC.