Shishang Liu Quan; On a Rock by a Flowing Spring
 T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
XLTQT   ToC   /   碧澗流泉 Bi Jian Liu Quan Listen to my recording 聽錄音 with transcription
75. On a Rock by a Flowing Spring
- zhi mode:2 standard tuning 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
石上流泉 1
Shishang Liu Quan  
  Xiao Sihua on a rock playing qin 3        
A number of translations have been given for this title, perhaps the most common being Springs Flowing over Rocks. The translation I use here comes from connecting the melody with the image at right, which relates to a story told in the Book of the (Liu) Song Dynasty about the 5th century general Xiao Sihua, a famous qin player. According to the account, Xiao, while in the company of the founder of the dynasty, played qin on a large boulder by a clear spring on Nanjing's Bell Mountain.4 As he played he might naturally have thought of Bo Ya and his flowing streams.

The variety of translations for Shishang Liu Quan reminds us that qin music, like good poetry, can evoke a variety of images and meanings. Indeed, one can further enrich the imagery by comparing the present qin melody title to the title Sanxia Liu Quan (Flowing Springs in the Three Gorges),5) a title placed next to Shishang Liu Quan in several melody lists from as early as the 6th or 7th century CE.6 Sanxia Liu Quan is also mentioned in several Tang dynasty poems (see footnote). Further connecting them, both melodies have sometimes been connected in old sources to Bo Ya.

Because of the Bo Ya connection, and because springs in the Three Gorges can be very dramatic, it is tempting to imagine that a dramatic Sanxia Liu Quan was once contrasted to a calmer Shishang Liu Quan in the way the modern "72 gunfu" version of Liu Shui (said to describe the flowing streams of mountainous Sichuan) has been contrasted to earlier versions of Liu Shui said to be descriptive of tamer streams of eastern China.

Although this and the pairing of the titles on old lists may also suggest that there might have been a melodic relationship between the two, the fact that they are listed next to each other without comment may also be evidence against such a connection. In addition, no surviving qin melodies use Sanxia Liu Quan as a title or alternate title, and none of the extant commentaries or subtitles for Shishang Liu Quan mentions Sanxia. Also, only a few narratives seem to connect Bo Ya himself to the titles; and while some old writings say Sanxia Liu Quan was composed by Ruan Xian, no connection has been made between Ruan Xian and Shishang Liu Quan.

Of course, there is no evidence for or against any of the surviving versions of Shishang Liu Quan, the earliest of which is the present one published in 1525, having any melodic connection with the melodies indicated in the old melody lists or the people now associated with it.

The second section of the 1525 tablature is called Bijian Lingling. Perhaps not coincidentally the title of the Guangdong school version of this melody, said to date from 1836, is Bijian Liu Quan,7 This version of the melody seems to be newer.

Tablature for Shishang Liu Quan has survived in at least 20 handbooks (see Appendix 8) from 1525 to 1894, plus two where it is called Bijian Liu Quan. Only the earliest, Xilutang Qintong, attributes the melody to Bo Ya. More common is the attribution to a supposed 4th century CE Daoist practioner named Liu Juanzi. The connection of Shishang Liu Quan with Liu Juanzi can perhaps be traced to a Song dynasty source, but the attribution does not appear in any handbook with the melody until the eighth one, dated 1670.9

A tentative study of tablature for the melody as it developed from the 16th century to the present suggests that, although all the later versions seem to remain clearly related to the earliest ones, at least at the beginning, there are so many changes throughout that my performance based on the 1525 tablature will probably not be recognizable to those familiar with the modern version.10

There are a number of available recordings of the modern Shishang Liu Quan.11

Original Afterword 12

This melody was created by Bo Ya. It seems to have feelings for mountains and rivers, allying them with springs and rocks, as if they were hanging cliffs and cold streams, dancing pearls cascading in strips, capturing peoples' imagination. If you continually pay attention to the meaning of the melody, you can tell it has the beauty of the natural sky and earth flowing together.

8 sections, titled;
13 see transcription; timings follow my recording 聽錄音.

00.00   1.   Go to the source of a flowing stream
00.47   2.   Tinkling sound of a green torrent
01.19   3.   Pine trees all have the same musical sound
01.51   4.   Quietly listening through an imaginary window
02.15   5.   Sounds follow the flow as it changes direction
02.40   6.   Winding cliffs embrace torrent beds
03.16   7.   Floating flower blossoms fly about (harmonics)
03.45   8.   Streams as pillows and rocks to rinse clean14
04.35         harmonic coda
04.57         end
Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 石上流泉 Shishang Liu Quan (On a Rock by a Flowing Spring)
24574.18 only shishang; 7/980xxx; 17762.130 流泉 Liu Quan does not mention shishang. See the text above and the footnote below concerning its possible connection to Sanxia Liu Quan. I have not found any references connecting it to Xiao Sihua, as I do below.

Shishang Liu Quan is also written Shi Shang Liu Quan and Shishang Liuquan. Other translations used for this title include Springs Flowing over Rocks, Springs Flowing over Rock, A Spring Flowing over Stones, Mountain Stream Bubbling over Rocks, and more.

2. Zhi mode (徵調 zhi diao)
For more on zhi mode see Shenpin Zhi Yi.

3. Image: Xiao Sihua on a rock playing qin (see next footnote)
This image comes from a webpage called 彈琴石 Playing Qin Rock. There are several more good ones at Panoramio. See also next footnote.

4. 蕭思話 Xiao Sihua plays qin on a rock
In the 宣武 Xuanwu district of Nanjing, on the North Peak of Bell Mountain (鐘山北嶺 Zhongshan Beiling), there is a statue of the 5th century qin player Xiao Sihua playing qin on a rock. Images of this can easily be seen online (see above). The depictions follows an account in 《宋書》 History of the Song Dynasty (420-479), which is as follows:

Xiao Sihua was becoming General Supervising the Left (in the imperial guard). He once accompanied the first ruler (of the Liu Song dynasty) as he climbed the north peak of Zhongshan Mountain. Along the road there was a large boulder by a clear spring. (The first ruler) told him to play the qin on top of the boulder, and as a result he gave him a silver wine cup and said, It makes me think of elevated thoughts I have had of pines and rocks.

This account is quoted almost verbatim in Xiao Sihua's Qin Shi biography. Connecting this story to the melody suggests translating the title as something like (Playing Qin) on a Rock by a Flowing Spring. However, as yet I have not found any references suggesting a specific connection between Xiao and Shishang Liu Quan.

As can be seen in some of the online pictures, when the trees lose their leaves one can indeed see a nearby spring; but although it may be a 清泉 clear spring, it does not seem to be a 流泉 flowing spring. On the other hand, the water flow from a spring can be seasonal, as its water usually comes from rain in the surrounding area.

5. 三峽流泉 Sanxia Liu Quan (Flowing Springs in the Three Gorges)
The pairing of Sanxia Liu Quan with Shishang Liu Quan in a number of old melody lists (see below) might suggest a connection between the two titles, but there is no direct mention of this in the lists, and Sanxia Liu Quan does not seem to be mentioned in connection with any of the surviving versions of Shishang Liu Quan.

The Sanxia Liu Quan entry in Yuefu Shiji, Folio 60, #6, quotes Qin Ji saying it was created by Ruan Xian. It then has lyrics by Li Ye (see below; they are also in QSDQ, Folio 19) about listening to the melody. Poetic references to Sanxia Liu Quan on this site include poems by

Xu Jian, in his discussion of Liu Shui (QSCB, p.177 [Chapter 9]), says that Tang poetic references suggest a connection between Liu Shui and Sanxia Liu Quan. Both melodies have been attributed to Bo Ya, and Xu Jian suggests that the Sanxia Liu Quan attributed to Ruan Xian was actually a version of Liu Shui. But while he finds connections between Sanxia Liu Quan and Liu Shui, he makes no mention of Shishang Liu Quan.

Dictionary references:

6. Grouping of Sanxia Liu Quan and Shishang Liu Quan
For this see the following:

  1. Tang dynasty You Lan manuscript, Melody List #39
  2. Song dynasty list in Qinyuan Yaolu, First Section #29/30
  3. Song dynasty list of Seng Juyue, Most Ancient, #41/2

7. 碧澗流泉 Bi Jian Liu Quan (Green Torrent from Flowing Springs)
24916.231 only "碧澗 bijian". The Zha Guide (40/--/--) lists Bi Jian Liu Quan as a separate melody, giving two occurences: 1828 and 1836. However, this is clearly a mistake: Bijian Liu Quan is apparently the Guangdong school version of Shishang Liu Quan. Members of the modern Lingnan School say it was originally in the supposedly lost Ming handbook Gugang Yipu (1836). The 1884 preface to Shishang Liu Quan says it was by Liu Juanzi, attributing Bijian Liu Quan to Zhu Xi. There are a number of modern recordings: do a net search for "Bi Jian Liu Quan". The most popular translation of this title seems to be "Flowing Spring Of The Green Brook", but I have also found A Spring Flowing in a [Jade] Green Valley.

8. Tracing Shishang Liu Quan
Zha's Guide 17/173/-- and 40/--/--; the former misses 1623.

9. Attribution to Liu Juanzi
Several attributions are mentioned in the Appendix below. The late Qing dynasty biographical dictionary Qin Shi Bu also says that Liu Juanzi composed Shishang Liu Quan. Its source for this attribution is not clear but if it is the Gu Qin Shu by Yu Ruming it could be Song dynasty. (Return)

10. Comparing available tablatures
The tentative results of my examination of the available tablatures are in the Appendix below; I have carefully examined only a few of these, so the details of development of Shishang Liu Quan remain quite uncertain. One of the most notable characteristics of the modern version is the passages with left hand plucking in Sections 2 and 3 (帶起 daiqi; see the available transcription). Hints of these can also be found in Section Three of the 1525 edition, but the modern ones centered on lower positions in the 7th and 5th strings seem to date back only to <1509. There is quite a lot of variety between the versions in different handbooks. (Return)

11. Modern silk string recordings of 石上流泉 Shishang Liu Quan
A recording of a silk string performance said to by 詹澄秋 Zhan Chengqiu on the CD An Anthology of Chinese Traditional and Folk Music, Vol. 7 as transcribed in GQQJ looks strangely inaccurate, apparently because it is mislabeled: GQQJ says it is from 1864 but it is actually a performance from Yuhexuan Qinpu, and apparently by 吳兆基 Wu Zhaoji. Jue Xiang has two recordings by Wu Zhaoji of Shishang Liu Quan, this one from 1864 and this one with source not given but apparently from Yuhexuan Qinpu). Unfortunately, Yuhexuan Qinpu was not included in Qinqu Jicheng and I have not yet seen a copy.

The differences may be instructive in someway. The most easily heard are at the beginning of Section 3, one of the most distinctive passages in the entire piece (at 02.03 of the CD track): the original tablature shows clearly that left hand plucks (帶起 daiqi) from lower positions on the 5th and 7th strings are to be preceded by 逗吟 dou yin: slides interpreted in the recording as quick upwards slides. However, the tablature and transcription as written in GQQJ (i.e., the melody as played by Wu Zhaoji) omits these slides.

The same can be heard on a recording of a metal string performance by Wu Zhaoji as well as on a YouTube recording of a silk string performance by Yuan Jung-ping (2016: seems to have been removed).

12. The original Chinese afterword is:


13. The original Chinese subtitles are:

  1. 泝源徂流
  2. 碧澗泠泠
  3. 松籟同音
  4. 虛窗靜聽
  5. 聲隨流轉
  6. 縈崖抱壑
  7. 浮泛飛花
  8. 枕流漱石

14. 枕流漱石 14832.18: suggests the lofty and pure inclinations of a recluse. (Return)

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

Chart Tracing 石上流泉 Shishang Liu Quan
Based mainly on Zha Fuxi's
Guide, 17/173/-- (plus Bijian Liu Quan 40/--/-- ).

    (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/157)
8 Sections, titled; 徵 zhi mode; Attributed to Bo Ya
Harmonics in Sec. 7 and at end; daiqi in Sec. 3 not like today's
  2. 琴譜正傳
      (1547; II/437)
6 sections; 徵 zhi mode; not in 梧岡琴譜; Sec. 1-2 rather like 1525 Sec. 1-3, then very diff.;
Harmonics only in middle of Sec. 6 and at end; left hand plucks (帶起 daiqi) in Sec. 1 not like today's
  3. 太音續譜
      (1559; III/439)
6 sections; no mode indicated; preface mentions only nature
Like 1547
  4. 文會堂琴譜
      (1596; VI/248)
6 sections; 徵 zhi mode
Like 1547
  5. 真傳正宗琴譜
      (<1609; VII/207)
8 Sections; 徵音 zhi yin; Sec. 3: earliest daiqi but they come after a 撞 zhuang (up down slide) instead of the upwards slide used today;
Most like 1547, but quite elaborated (N.B.: top and bottom pages switched in QQJC)
  6. 樂仙琴譜
      (1623; VIII/408)
8 Sections, section titles similar to 1525; 徵音 zhi yin; preface has general comments
Compare <1609; daiqi in Sec. 3 but plian, i.e., without slide or zhuang
  7. 徽言秘旨
      (1647; X/172)
8 sections; 徵音 zhi yin
Plain daiqi in Sec. 3
(7a.) 徽言秘旨訂
      (1692; not included)
Presumably identical to previous
  8. 琴苑新傳全編
      (1670; XI/384)
7 sections; 徵調 zhi diao; begins as above; preface has first attribution to Liu Juanzi
Plain daiqi in Sec. 3; pu re-copied in 1876
  9. 澄鑒堂琴譜
      (1689; XIV/268)
10 Sections; 徵音 zhi yin
Begins as above but then quite different; daiqi mainly in Sec. 1; harmonics Sec. 8
10. 琴書千古
      (1738; XV/416)
5 sections; 徵音 zhi yin
Section 3: daiqi preceded by unclear and unexplained ornament (岩吟?)
11. 裛露軒琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/270)
8 Sections; 徵音 zhi yin; "德耕堂譜 Degengtang tablature" (? not in 1691)
Section 3: daiqi preceded by 綽猱 (upward slide with slow vibrato?)
12. 琴學軔端
      (1828; XX/402)
5 sections; 徵音 zhi yin; attrib. Zhu Xi; QQJC copy is unclear;
Called 碧澗流泉 Bijian Liu Quan
13. 悟雪山房琴譜
      (1836; (XXII/358)
7+1 Sections; 中呂均商音 zhonglü jun, shang yin; "碧澗流泉 Bijian Liu Quan"; "from 古岡遺譜 Gugang Yipu";
Daiqi are in Section 4: usually preceded by vibrato
14. 琴學尊聞
      (1864; XXIV/265)
7 sections; 商音宮調 shang yin, gong diao
Daiqi Section 4: often with vibrato
15. 琴學入門
      (1864; XXIV/308, Qin Fu/610 or facsimile)
5 sections; 中呂均商音; zhonglü jun, shang yin; related to earlier;
Modern interpretations seem to come from here and the GQQJ I/197 transcription is clearly from here. However, versions recorded by Zhan Chengqiu and Wu Zhaoji seem actually to come from a different source (further detail)
16. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/465)
8 Sections; 羽音商調 yu yin (!), shang diao;
"琴苑譜 Qin Yuan" (1670), and daiqi as there, but 1876 seems to add a section (its #5) and expand the last section (#8).
17. 天籟閣琴譜
      (1876; XXI/181)
8 sections; 徵音 zhi yin
Does not seem to have the daiqi
18. 希韶閣琴譜
      (1878; XXVI/372)
8 sections; 徵音; zhi yin; attrib. Liu Juanzi
"此清之商音用變宮"; Section 4 has 吟 with daiqi
19. 希韶閣琴瑟合譜
      (1890; XXVI/440)
9 sections, including 尾聲 coda; 徵音 zhi yin; has preface.
Like 1878? Hard to follow
20. 雙琴書屋琴譜集成
      (1884; XXVII/338)
11 sections, including 尾聲 coda; 徵音 zhi yin; seems rather diff; no daiqi passage?
Preface attributes it to Liu Juanzi, says Bijian Liu Quan was by Zhu Xi
21. 琴學初津
      (1894; XXVIII/257)
6 sections; 商音 shang yin; afterword
Section 3 has daiqi preceded by a variety of ornaments
22. 古琴曲集 I
      (1962; p. 197)
5 sec. plus coda; said to be from 1864 as played by 詹澄秋 Zhan Chengqiu. Some have said that the recording (see in Lao Ba Zhang) is actually by 吳兆基 Wu Zhaoji. In any case, neither one follows the transcription here. It has been said that both of their versions are actually coming from the proto-Meian handbook 玉鶴軒琴譜 Yuhexuan Qinpu. Wu Zhaoji's versions, which can also be heard here and in more modern recordings, seem to be basically the same as those by Zhan Chengqiu, which can be heard here. I have not yet heard a recording that actually follows the 1864 score/transcription. Further recordings are mentioned here and here)

Return to top, or to the Guqin ToC.