Liu Shang
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12. Floating Wine-Cups
- Gong mode, standard tuning:2 5 6 1 2 3 5 6
流觴 1
Liu Shang
Pavilion for floating wine-cups in the Forbidden City 3 
"Liu Shang" is short for "Qushui Liushang" (Floating Wine-cups on a Winding Stream).
4 The title "Liu Shang" itself is found only here in Xilutang Qintong (1525), but its written score shows that it is clearly a version of the well-known melody generally referred to by its apparently earlier title Jiu Kuang (Wine Mad). This is discussed further below.

The original commentary with this version of the melody connects it to the spring ceremony5 called a Xiuxi that took place at the Lanting (Orchid Pavilion6) near Shaoxing,7 around the beginning of "muchun": the 3rd xu (10 day period) of 3rd lunar month of that year (April or May of the year 353 C.E), as scholars relaxed along a stream with laden wine-cups floating by, each was expected to compose an appropriate poem; if anyone failed to do so the "penalty" was that he had to drink a rather large quantity of wine. More details about this are given with the 3rd melody in this handbook, Xiuxi Yin.

This Orchid Pavilion xiuxi was particularly famous, immortalized by the famous calligrapher Wang Xizhi through his calligraphy for his preface to poems written at the gathering (see rubbing; Lin He Xiuxi, a musical setting of the preface for qin, was published in 1664, but it is not clear that it was ever intended for singing). Somewhat oddly, although Xiuxi Yin sounds very appropriate as a prelude to Liu Shang, none of the handbooks that include Xiuxi Yin makes this connection. And Xilutang Qintong itself connects Xiuxi Yin with the melody Yang Chun.

As mentioned, Liu Shang is clearly a version of the melody occuring in at least eight other qin handbooks under the title Jiu Kuang (Wine Mad).8 However, although the musical relationship is immediately obvious, the music of Liu Shang is also quite evocative in its own way. Thus, the opening passage of ascending and descending leaps changes a few notes in a way that seems to soften them somewhat, making them perhaps more like the bobbing of wine cups in a stream rather than the stumbles of a drunken man walking on the ground. And the passages at the end of each of these ascending and descending phrases creates a feeling of swirling: wine-cups swirling in a stream rather than a drunk continuing to stumble along. In Liu Shang one can indeed imagine the wine-cups bobbing up and down in the stream in front of an attentive scholar. It also adds two new sections at the end; their calmness, suggesting that the cups are no longer floating along, is in sharp contrast to the abruptness at the end of Jiu Kuang.

Evidence suggests that Jiu Kuang was not actively played at the time of its earliest known publication: in the Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425) it was included in a section designated for melodies for which no players were found. This conclusion is also supported by the fact that this second occurrence, Liu Shang, did not appear until 1525.9 As for other versions, the 1585 version with lyrics is as usual very different musically. The others seem more closely related, though all have different endings. Those with section titles name their last section "Bend over and exhale",10 but none of these is musically related to the Shen Qi Mi Pu coda, "The sound of the immortal exhaling his wine."

The explanation of Jiu Kuang in Shen Qi Mi Pu connects it with Ruan Ji (210-263), a famous drinker said also to have been a good qin player and one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. With over 15 recordings, today Jiu Kuang is one of the most commonly played qin pieces. Most of them use the triple rhythms devised by Yao Bingyan in his 1950s reconstruction, though perhaps making the tempo irregular, so as to represent the idea of drunkenness. To explain his use of triple rhythms Yao wrote that traditional poetry has them, that the Tang qin master Chen Zhuo describes music that can be played triple rhythm,11 and that this music sounds good in triple rhythm. Yao thus felt that this was a correct interpretation.

However, triple rhythms are not found elsewhere in Chinese music, and it should be noted that it would be difficult to adapt Liu Shang, or any of the other versions of Jiu Kuang, to triple rhythms. Their structures are all similar at the beginning, with the biggest changes coming at the end. None of the versions with lyrics can be sung in a natural manner with triple rhythm.

Ding Chengyun12 has done his own reconstruction of Liu Shang; there is a recording linked here.13 As for other versions of Jiu Kuang, I am not aware of any others having been published.

Original afterword14

"During the Yonghe period (345-357) all the sages had a xiuxi at the Orchid Pavilion. It was mellow and sophisticated pleasure, a feast such as might occur once in a thousand years. Later people commemorated it with this piece. With the high flavor of the region along the north bank of the (Yangzi) River, one can broadly imagine it."

Music of Liu Shang15 (看五線譜 see my transcription; timings follow 聽錄音 my recording)
Eight sections, untitled (also listen together with this Lanting scroll; compare Jiu Kuang: instrumental and sung)

00.00   1.
00.31   2.
00.53   3.
01.20   4.
01.46   5.
02.26   6.
02.56   7.
03.16   8.
03.45       Coda
04.03       end

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Liu Shang references
17762.316 流觴 Liu Shang describes the custom associated with the spring ceremoney called a 修禊 Xiuxi, but it has nothing about music. "觴 shang" is also sometimes translated as "goblet", but these floating shang are generally depicted more like cups, not as vessels with stems.

Further references are given in footnotes under Xiuxi Yin and Lin He Xiuxi.

2. Gong mode (宮調 Gong diao)
See Shenpin Gong Yi

3. Photo taken in Beijing, May 2008.

4. 曲水流觴 Qushui Liushang" (Floating Wine-cups on a Winding Stream)
14610.16 曲水流觴 gives Wang Xizhi then several other references for this phrase, which is quite well known. Wang's lyrics are used as a text for the melody Lin He Xiuxi (here the phrase is given as "流觴曲水 Liushang Qushui.

5. Spring ceremony
Floating wine cups could be included as part of a program on a more general spring theme.

Regarding the "暮春 muchun" mentioned here, it is important to differentiate this "spring ceremony" from the "spring festival" (春節 Chun Jie), a common name for Chinese New Year, over two months earlier. The relative solar calendar dates for the ten-day muchun must be calculated based on the solar calendar date of the Chinese new year. Thus in 2018, Chinese New Year begins on February 16th; so if 1/1 of the lunar calendar is February 16th, then 3/3 (also called 上巳節 shangsi jie - festival of shangsi, a name apparently based on the traditional calendar date called "上巳 shangsi" [details]) is April 18th and muchun (the more common system today calls this 立夏, i.e., beginning of summer) begins May 5th.

6. Orchid Pavilion (蘭亭 Lan Ting)
David Knechtges in "Jingu and Lanting: Two (or Three?) Jin Dynasty Gardens," Studies in Chinese Language and Culture: Festschrift in Honor of Christoph Harbsmeier on the Occasion of His 60th Birthday (Oslo: Hermes Academic Publishing, 2006), 399-403, argues that the Lan of "Lanting" was the name of the nearby stream, and the ting was actually a communal building, not necessarily a pavilion.

As for further popular accounts, there is an opera called Lanting Meeting (蘭亭輝 Lanting Hui, see LXS p.187) which tells the story of the famous floating wine-cup episode. As for orchids themselves, see Guqin and Orchids.

7. Shaoxing is about 100 miles southeast of Hangzhou.

8. Tracing Liu Shang
Zha Guide gives Liu shang a separate entry instead of correctly grouping it with Jiu Kuang, but it is included in this Jiu Kuang Tracing Chart.

9. Actively played?
It is possible that versions of this melody existed within the oral tradition between 1425 and 1525, including sung versions such as did not get published until 1585 and 1589. However, the rather archaic nature of the tablature for 1425 suggests these would likely have been, as in 1525, attempts to revive a long-lost old melody or song.

10. Bend over and exhale (低低吐酒 didi tu jiu)
For didi 539.18 says low sound. Tu (吐) is often translated as "retch", but TKW says it is more refined than ou (嘔). In this context tu might thus suggest a Daoist breathing technique for clearing the head.

11. Yao Bingyan on triple rhythms
The article was in Yinyue Yishu, 1981/5). For the Chen Zhuo reference see Qinshu Daquan (1590), Folio 8 (QQJC V/171). Presumably this is the first line on the bottom half of the page, where it writes, "有三聲急作 there three sounds played quickly" and "有三聲慢作 there are three sounds played slowly."

12. 丁承運 Ding Chengyun (Chinese Wiki)
Ding Chengyun is an associate professor at the Wuhan Conservatory of Music; further biographical details here.

13. Reconstruction of 流觴 Liu Shang by 丁承運 Ding Chengyun (listen)
Prof. Ding uses mostly double rhythms. Many of his note values are quite different from mine, but when I first heard him play his version some years ago I was struck by how familiar it sounded. When I mentioned this to Ding he said that he had actually heard mine when I played it at a CHIME conference in Europe a few years earlier. He said it inspired him to do his own (which is what I most like to hear!). In the end he agreed with most of my interpretations of the notes, but disagreed on one note in particular:

Prof. Ding thinks the "F" played on the third string (based on considering the open third string as do = "C") in the repeated last phrase of the first section (also at the end of section 5; see mm. 9 and 57 of my transcription) should be "A" played on the fifth string (i.e., he thinks the 三 for third string is a mistake: it should be a 五; he also interprets the 雙撞 [written 双立] in a different but equally valid way). My interpretation depends on the mistake being in the following slide: I interpreted "弓上八九" ("G#") as "弓上九" ("G"). His interpretation is certainly just as valid - more valid if you wish to adhere more to the standard Chinese pentatonic scale. So for my recording I changed the note to A on 3rd string, but I probably more often find it more satisfying to interpret the note as "F",

Although many of the rhythms are quite different, the two can instantly be identified as the same piece. I like very much his version and hope he teaches it to his student. (I do not yet know whether at the Xilutang Qintong conference at Huangshan in December 2013 anyone came up with a new interpretation of this piece.)

14. 流觴,西麓堂琴統解題 (English)

15. Music of 流觴 Liu Shang
See further comment about the Ding Chengyun interpretation above.

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