Pei Lan
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73. Fragrant Orchids
- Yu mode,2 standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6
佩蘭 1
Pei Lan 3

Pei Lan is one of the most commonly seen pieces in early handbooks, found in at least 42 handbooks from 1525 to 1893 (13 before 1644).5 The version I have learned is the second, published in 1539.6

Several aspects of this melody are puzzling, including its late but then common attribution to the famous 13th century qin player Mao Minzhong, its varying versions and associated stories, and its modality.

The earliest handbook to attribute Pei Lan to Mao Minzhong is Yuwu Qinpu (1589), the eighth one to contain the piece. By this time there were already two stories connected with the melody. The earlier one, from 1525, concerned someone called Xulingzi (Clear Thinker7) playing the qin in the mountains of what is today Henan province. The second, from 1552, told a Confucian parable that suggests that if you are always with good people you yourself become a better person.8 More stories were added later, in particular one from 1670 that connected the melody to Qu Yuan; but the attribution to Mao Minzhong is not connected to any of the particular stories used to introduce the theme of the piece.

Xilutang Qintong (1525) and several other handbooks preface Pei Lan with a melody called He Wu Dongtian (Cranes Dance in the Grotto-Heaven). The connection is not explicit, but the mention of dancing cranes makes it seem quite natural. Some commentary with He Wu Dongtian says the melody may go back to the famous Song dynasty collection Zixia Dong Pu (now lost).9 This is particularly interesting in light of the occasional attributions of Pei Lan to Mao Minzhong.

The afterword to Pei Lan in Xilutang Qintong is also the one to tell the story of Xulingzi. As the version in Fengxuan Xuanpin has no commentary at all, the commentary from Xilutang Qintong is paired to it below. So far I have not been able to trace the source of this story.

Xilutang Qintong (1525) is also the only version of Pei Lan to have section titles. These titles clearly connect the melody to the Xulingzi story, mentioning the Luo River,10 which flows along the northern side of the Songshan range, then specific places within the Songshan range itself, such as Shaoshi peak,11 and also mentioning an immortal connected to Songshan, (Master) Fuqiu.12 The section titles are given below, arranged to show their connection to the music of the Fengxuan Xuanpin version.

Other early handbooks, beginning with Taiyin Chuanxi (1552-61), introduce the piece by quoting a brief parable from Kongzi Jiayu (Confucius' Household Sayings), which compared good people with fragrant plants.13

Living together with virtuous people is like going into a hall of fragrant plants; for a while you do not notice the fragrance, but it gradually has an influence on you. The room may be far away but your body is always near, so you can garland yourself (with the fragrant plants) and thus not lose (the good influence). A garland of orchids can supply the body with this influence, and it is not necessary to go into the room (?).

Qinyuan Xinchuan Quanbian (1670), which also attributes the piece to Mao, is the only handbook to connect the story with the line in Qu Yuan's Li Sao that says he "took autumn orchids to make a garland". Here Pei Lan might be translated Pendant Orchids, or Garland of Orchids.14

This latter story is of particular interest because the modality of the earliest versions of Pei Lan suggest a possible connection to the qiliang mode used by melodies associated with the ancient state of Chu.15 Although included within the standard yu mode, the modality is different from other early surviving versions of pieces in this mode. In this context it should be noted that the afterword for the version in Xilutang Qintong refers to a melody in qingyu, a mode also associated with Chu.16 Specifics of the modality of the Pei Lan in Fengxuan Xuanpin are discussed in a footnote.17

The complex modality of this Pei Lan is perhaps one reason for the many differences in various early tablatures for the piece. A somewhat new tradition begins with the version in Songxian Guan Qinpu (1614), the handbook of Yan Cheng, founder of the Yushan qin school. Earlier versions all began with a pluck on the open fifth string, but this new version begins on the open seventh; it also seems to have fewer non-pentatonic tones. The preface to Pei Lan in the Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722) says there there are two prevailing versions, the Shu and the Jin. "Shu" suggests "Southern", as Shu refers to Changshu, home of the Yushan school; Jin perhaps implies "Northern", as Jin was the name of the northern kingdom opposing the Southern Song. The version starting on the open 5th string would be the northern, the one starting on the open 7th would be the southern.18

Two other early melodies concerning orchids are You Lan (Secluded Orchid), surviving in both a 7th century handcopy and in later handbooks; and Yi Lan (Flourishing Orchid), first surviving in Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425). The theme of the latter concerns Confucius comparing himself to a solitary orchid flourishing alone in a field. The former may also have the same theme, or it may be more generally comparing rare beauty and virtue with what is more commonly found in society.

Original Preface
None in Fengxuan Xuanpin so, as mentioned
above, the commentary used here is from Xilutang Qintong:19

During the Warring States Period, a certain Clear Thinker, while wandering along the Songshan mountain range (in what is now Henan province), met an immortal playing the qin below a stone window. Cranes danced in the courtyard, the fragrance of orchids filled the room. He was invited into a conversation, and in this way received a melody in a qingyu mode, called Fragrant Orchids.  
16 sections, untitled; the 14 section titles below are arranged according to the music in the 14 sections of Xilutang Qintong:

00.00   1. Looking for a hidden isle on the Luo (River in Henan) (XLTQT 1)
00.37   2. Picking herbs on Songshan (in Henan) (XLTQT 2)
01.41   3. Clouds unfold at Shaoshi (a western peak of the Songshan range) (XLTQT 3)
02.22   4. Resting ones' feet on a great rocky cliff (XLTQT 4)
02.56   5. Heavenly crane at the jade bridge (XLTQT 5)
03.36   6. In the footsteps of (Master) Fuqiu (XLTQT 6)
04.13   7. An Elysian field where jade grows (XLTQT 7)
04.43   8. Azure dragon and blue-green phoenix (XLTQT 8, first half)
05.12   9. Azure dragon and blue-green phoenix (continued) (XLTQT 8, second half)
05.30   (Ascending) cloud steps to an unexpected meeting (XLTQT 9, first half)
05.44 10. (Ascending) cloud steps to an unexpected meeting (continued) (XLTQT 9, second half)
06.15 11. Qin melody by a stone window (XLTQT 10)
07.08 12. Orchid fragrance by the Jade River (XLTQT 11, first half)
07.35 13. Orchid fragrance by the Jade River (continued) (XLTQT 11, second half)
07.55 14. Cooked in the Daoist's golden alchemical container (XLTQT 12)
08.27 15. Spirit infatuated by strange countryside (XLTQT 13)
08.54 16. Turn one's head to look at the misty landscape (XLTQT 14)
09.39   (Closing harmonics)  
09.50   (End)  

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Pei Lan references
佩蘭 peilan: fragrant orchids, pendant orchids (an alternative translation of the title);

  1. 草以為飾以喻身懷美質也。 Plant used as an ornament so as to illustrate a body longing for beauty;
    (Tao Yuanming, Rhapsody on ?? ); Although ___ .
  2. 香草之名,薰蕙草 xunhuicao, name of a fragrant plant (no Latin name given)

1/1343: 佩系蘭草。以蘭草為佩飾,表示志趣高潔 Wear linked orchids. Use orchids as a garland to show lofty and pure aims.
  1. 楚辭,離騷,Chu Ci, Li Sao (line 9), 紉秋蘭以為佩 Took autumn orchids to make a garland
  2. 唐,韓愈,孟郊《遣興聯句》 Han Yu (768-824) and Meng Jiao (751-814), Banish Cares Linked-Verse, 郎鑒諒不遠,佩蘭永芬芳。 A clear mirror brings things close, the orchid garland is forever fragrant (?).

2. Yu mode (羽調) yudiao)
For further information on yu mode see Shenpin Yu Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Image
Not yet selected

5. Tracing Pei Lan
The tracing chart below, based on Zha's Guide (17/170/367), shows 41 occurences: 13 from 1525 1647; 28 from 1660 to 1893. I reconstructed the 1539 version based on erroneous information that it was the earliest published edition; the earliest surviving publication is actually the one in Xilutang Qintong (1525; III/179).

6. I generally learn the earliest version of any particular melody, but in 2013 I learned that Xilutang Qintong must have been published in 1525, not in 1549 (details).

7. 虛靈子 Xulingzi (Xu Lingzi)
As yet I have found only one reference suggesting this could have been the name of an actual historical person but the dates are all wrong. The reference is in a story about a meeting and conversation, said to have taken place at 華山 Huashan, between the first Ming emperor's chief strategist 劉伯溫 Liu Bowen (Liu Ji, 1311 - 1375) and another "prognosticator" Zhang Zhong (張中 10026.138), also known as the "Iron-Capped Daoist" (鐵冠道人 Tieguan Daoren). In this story Zhang Zhong is said also to have been called Xulingzi, but the source for this might be Qing dynasty.

虛靈子 Xulingzi is not in the dictionaries I have seen. 33515 虛 Xu says that it can be a surname. 33515.349 虛靈 Xuling says, "虛、不渧也。靈、敏覺也。狀心之辭謂明德靈妙也。 Xu means not stagnant; ling means sudden realization; an expression saying that a heart has almost impossibly high virtue." It then refers to 33515.359 虛靈不昧 xuling bumei (not hidden; not confused), which quotes 大學章句 Zhu Xi's commentary on the Great Learning. 8/835 #1 says "指心靈 refers to xinling (heart, soul, spirit, mind; psyche; clever)", then gives a quote that also mentions xuling bumei. 8/835 #2 adds "空靈 open mind", the first reference being to a book by 張世南 Zhang Shinan of the Song dynasty (giving a quote). 子 zi can mean sage, or just anyone.

8. See footnote below.

9. 紫霞洞譜 Zixia Dong Pu

10. Luo River (雒=洛:洛河; Wiki)
The Luo River, mentioned on this site in connection to several melodies, is often associated with female river dieties such as Fu Fei. See also river goddesses and 洛浦 Luo river banks. And see in particular 洛浦操 Luopu Cao, an old melody title (also mentioned here).

As for the actual Luo River, this is somewhat confusing as there are several rivers with this name, two of which on modern maps are quite near each other, one ending on the north side of 華山 Hua Shan (Mount Hua), the other originating on its south side, then flowing east through Luoyang city. The two are:

It is not clear to me why there are two rivers having the same name so close to each other.

11. Shaoshi (少室)
Shaoshi (少室 7634.107; now often 少室山 Shao Shi Shan) refers either to the western range of 嵩山 Songshan or to a specific mountain within that range; 太室 Taishi is the eastern range of Songshan. Shaoshi includes Shaolin. A net search gives numerous references.

12. 浮丘 Fuqiu (or Fu Qiu)
浮丘 Fuqiu ("Drifting Mound") refers to 浮丘公 Master Fuqiu. The preface to the melody Yao Tian Sheng He suggests he was a teacher of Wangzi Qiao. I have not found the name Fuqiu connected to a specific place in the Songshan Range, but there is a Fuqiu Peak in the Huangshan range.

13. Pei Lan: connecting fragrant plants and good people
31398.96 芝蘭之室 A Room of Zhi and Lan Plants﹕(孔子家語,六本 Kongzi Jiayu Volume Six) quotes the opening sentence of the story. The introduction as found in Taiyin Chuanxi (1561), given below, begins with the same sentence so the whole introduction is presumably from the same source:


Not directly translated, but see the translation of the source.

14. Li Sao reference
See Li Sao, line 12, and the Complete Illustrations of Li Sao (footnote 2), p.5. The orginal commentary in 1670 is as follows,


15. Based on my transcription of the version in Xilutang Qintong, the modality there is either more complex or there are more errors in the original tablature. A more complex modality might suggest an older version; more errors might suggest an earlier attempt to change a melody from one tuning to another.

16. 清羽之調 Qingyu zhi Diao
Xilutang Qintong actually has a Qingyu Modal Prelude (清羽意 Qingyu Yi) but its tuning is the same as ruibin (raised 5th string) and it thus cannot be used with Pei Lan. Note that the themes of many ruibin melodies are connected to the ancient state of Chu.

17. Modality of Pei Lan (see also the related Mode Table)
All early handbooks group Pei Lan with yu mode melodies. The yu mode uses standard tuning considered as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 (sol la do re mi sol la. The main tonal center (main note) is the open second string, i.e., 6 (yu). The secondary tonal center is one fifth above it, at 3 (mi), and the third above 6 is 1 (gong), this interval being a flatted third. So if 6 is treated as the note A, this makes the yu mode rather similar to the Western A minor mode. Also, in the yu mode it is not uncommon for 1 (C) sometimes to be raised a half-tone (to C#), the result being somewhat comparable to changing the mode from A minor to A major, also not uncommon in Western music. Pei Lan generally shares the characteristics of other yu mode melodies. However, at least in this earliest surviving version of 1539 (top), Pei Lan more often than not sharpens the C. In addition, F is also commonly played as F sharp (F# / 4#). This means the mode can be said to have more the general feeling of a Western major scale, with occasional changes to minor, rather than being predominantly minor with occasional changes to major.

Because of this, perhaps one can say that in this way the yu mode here is similar to melodies in the shang mode and zhi mode. Most shang and zhi mode pieces from that time commonly use a whole-tones third, but then sometimes flatten the third.

Melodies in shang and zhi modes treat the first string as gong (1 = do), making the tuning of the seven strings 1 2 4 5 6 1 2. Because of the way Pei Lan treats the third, as described above, it is tempting to try to consider the first string as 1 (C) in writing out a transcription. Since the main note of Pei Lan would still be the note played on the open second string, now this note would be considered as 2 (re) and the secondary note would be 6 (la). The only early mode which has this characteristic is the qiliang mode. Qiliang tuning raises the second and fifth strings, giving 2 4 5 6 1 2 3; the main notes is 2, secondard is 6. The two Shen Qi Mi Pu Folio III melodies in the qiliang mode concern Qu Yuan. Although the earliest handbook to connect Pei Lan to Qu Yuan was not published until 1670, there is a temptation to wonder whether this connection of him with Pei Lan is actually quite older. This then brings up the possibility that the earliest versions of Pei Lan might have used qiliang tuning, but that this was changed to standard tuning some time before 1525. In this scenario Zhu Quan perhaps did not include the piece, in spite of the possible Mao Minzhong connection, because of some confusion about the tuning.

18. Shu and Jin versions: southern compared to northern?
The Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722) preface to Pei Lan (XIV/523) begins, "毛敏仲所作也。有熟、金二操;此金也 Created by Mao Minzhong. There are two versions, Shu and Jin. This is the Jin version."

The 1722 Pei Lan begins with the open fifth string; it is thus a Jin version. As with other "northern" melodies, this one tends to be less purely pentatonic than southern ones. Another melody with north/south distinctions was Yu Ge.

19. The original of the preface in Xilutang Qintong is:


One word for immortals was 羽人 yu ren (feather man), so called because they wore feather capes. Perhaps it is significant that Pei Lan was grouped with standard yu ("feather") mode pieces. As discussed below, the mode as used here has some distinctive characteristics.

20. Chinese for these 14 titles is:


Translated above.

Appendix: Chart tracing 佩蘭 Pei Lan
Further comment
above; chart based mainly on Zha's Guide (17/170/367)

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
Further information
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1. 西麓堂琴統
      (1525; III/179)
14; afterword concerns Xu Lingzi ("clear thinker") meeting an immortal;
only version with subtitles
  2. 風宣玄品
      (1539; II/273)
16; no commentary
  3. 梧岡琴譜
      (1546; I/443)
13; no commentary; more like 1525 than 1539
  4. 步虛僊琴譜
      (1556; III/295)
13; no commentary; rather different from previous
  5. 太音傳習
      (1552; IV/143)
14; the preface seems to concern the idea that good surroundings lead to belief that all is good; it also mentions visiting a great hall
  6. 太音補遺
      (1557; III/382)
13; preface like 1552
  7. 琴譜正傳
      (1561; II/459)
13; no commentary; identical to 1546
  8. 玉梧琴譜
      (1589; VI/60)
13; earliest attribution to Mao Minzhong, otherwise preface like 1552
  9. 琴書大全
      (1590; V/483)
18; no commentary; compare 1525
10. 文會堂琴譜
      (1596; VI/255)
13; no commentary
11. 藏春塢琴譜
      (1602; VI/401)
13; attrib. Mao Minzhong; otherwise preface like 1552
12. 陽春堂琴譜
      (1611; VII/413)
13; no commentary
13. 松絃館琴譜
      (1614; VIII/144)
14; no commentary; starts on open 7th string (earlier all start on open 5th)
melody seems to have fewer non-pentatonic notes
14. 徽言秘旨
      (1647; X/200)
14; begins open 5th; no commentary
14a. 徽言秘旨訂
      (1692; fac/__)
Identical to 1647?
15. 愧菴琴譜
      (1660; XI/53)
14; begins open 7th; no commentary; no illustration!
16. 琴苑新傳全編
      (1670; XI/398)
12; begins open 5th; attrib MMZ
preface gives quote of Qu Yuan in Li Sao ("use autumn orchid as garland")
17. 大還閣琴譜
      (1673; X/404)
14; begins open 7th; compare 1614; no preface, but a poem at end: (4+4) x 12 ("仁菴榮題"; 仁菴 Ren An is the 字 of 蔡毓榮 Cai Yurong, who wrote a pu preface: he composed these lyrics?)
18. 澄鑒堂琴譜
      (1689; XIV/289)
14; begins open 7th; no commentary
19. 德音堂琴譜
      (1691; XII/567)
14; begins open 7th; no commentary
      (1692; XIII/105)
14; begins open 7th; "此曲冝緩不冝急 should be slow not fast"; has afterword
21. 誠一堂琴譜
      (1705; XIII/391)
14; begins open 7th; short afterword
22. 五知齋琴譜
      (1722; XIV/523)
13; begins open 5th; attrib. MMZ; preface and afterword say two versions: 金 Jin (open 5th start) and 熟 Shu (open 7th); version here is 金 but poem from 1673 is included
23. 臥雲樓琴譜
      (1722; XV/84)
14; begins open 7th; "should be slow not fast"; no further commentary
24. 存古堂琴譜
      (1726; XV/279)
14; begins open 7th; no commentary
25. 光裕堂琴譜
      (~1726; XV/358)
14; begins open 7th; no commentary
26. 春草堂琴譜
      (1744; XVIII/231)
14; begins open 7th; "商音,即用中呂均彈"; afterword speculates further on mode;
No attribution; this version recorded by Yu Shaoze (1903-1988)
27. 蘭田館琴譜
      (1755; XVI/256)
16; begins open 7th; no commentary
28. 琴香堂琴譜
      (1760; XVII/115)
18; begins open 5th; no commentary
29. 研露樓琴譜
      (1766; XVI/493)
14; begins open 7th; no commentary
30. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/452)
15; begins open 5th; no commentary
31. 裛露軒琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/338)
14; begins open seventh; "from 1689"; no other commentary
32. 響雪山房琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/393)
13; begins open 5th; no commentary
33. 琴學軔端
      (1828; XX/415)
14; begins open seventh; afterword
34. 二香琴譜
      (1833; XXIII/183)
14; begins open 5th; afterword begins by saying only two pieces 換調 change mode: this one and Li Sao, then discusses mode and makes comparisons with other versions
35. 律話
      (1833; XXI/395)
13; begins open fifth. It is followed by a 佩蘭釋 Pei Lan explanation, then basically a repetition of the melody with note names paired and considerable commentary on the music at the end of each section.
36. 悟雪山房琴譜
      (1836; XXII/264)
15; begins open fifth; preface has some discussion of mode
37. 張鞠田琴譜
      (1844; XXIII/307)
15; begins open fifth; adds form of gongche;
afterword attributes Mao then discusses mode
38. 蕉庵琴譜
      (1868; XXVI/79)
15; begins open 5th; attributes Mao, compares it to 九霄環珮 Jiu Xiao Huan Pei, but the connection to the short melody at XXVII/300 is not immediately apparent
39. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/477)
12; begins open fifth; source: "1670"
40. 天籟閣琴譜
      (1876; XXI/202)
14; begins open seventh; "Changshu School"; no commentary
41. 響雪齋琴譜
      (1876; ???)
      originally part of ≥1802?
42. 枯木禪琴譜
      (1893; XXVIII/96)
15; begins open fifth; short preface credits Mao

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