He Wu Dongtian
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091. Cranes Dance in a Grotto-Heaven
- Yu mode,2 standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6
鶴舞洞天 1
He Wu Dongtian
Dancing cranes 3       
Fifteen handbooks from 1525 to 1894 include a melody called He Wu Dongtian.4 In the first four handbooks, all published in the mid-16th century, it is a short melody in three sections. Of these, the versions in Wugang Qinpu and Qinpu Zhengchuan (identical to each other) have the following statement underneath the title: "This was said to be seen in Zixia Dong Pu. Xiao Weng analyzed and edited it."5 "Xiao Weng" (Old Xiao) may refer to Xu Xiaoshan, a teacher of the Xumen qin school. The Xumen school dated from the Song dynasty;6 Zixia Dong Pu, the Handbook of the Purple Haze Cave, was a famous collection of qin melodies compiled in Hangzhou during the Southern Song dynasty.7

Also from this period Taiyin Chuanxi has a version of this melody but calls it Ganhuai Yin (Intonation of Strong Feelings). It is the only version with a full preface. The preface concerns disaffection from the world, adding that He Wu Dongtian Yin is an alternate title.8

Although the melodies in these early handbooks are all in three sections and are clearly related musically, there are also significant differences, suggesting the melody was actively played at the time (see outline). The great expansion of the melody begins with the version of 1589, which has seven sections, all with lyrics.9

Later published versions of He Wu Dongtian seem to have been expanded from these early ones.10 In at least two handbooks the melody is attributed to Su Shi (Su Dongpo, 1037-1101).11 The connection with him is so far unclear to me. He has poems mentioning cranes, but I haven't found one concerning cranes dancing.

As for dancing cranes, Section 6 of the melody Cranes Cry in the Nine Marshbanks begins with the comment "The cranes dance", while Section 7 of Spring Thoughts is called "Coming out of the forest a pair of cranes dance". Related to this, there are a number of stories of cranes dancing when someone plays the qin well (or with the right attitude). A story about the poet Zhang Zhihe (730-782) says that when drunk he would play the qin all night. On one such evening a crane came down and danced. Zhang then got on the crane and rode off. Cranes are also said to have danced when Lin Bu (967-1028) and Ye Mengde (1077-1148) played.12 And the preface to Pei Lan (Fragrant Orchids) mentions cranes dancing when a "Clear Thinker" (Xulingzi) plays the qin.

Like Xilutang Qintong, Buxuxian Qinpu (1556) and Huiyan Mizhi (1647) put He Wu Dongtian just before Pei Lan. Only Xilutang Qintong clearly indicates that He Wu Dongtian should be considered as a prelude to Pei Lan: they share the same preface. This preface to Pei Lan says,

"A Clear Thinker, while wandering in the Song Mountain range (Henan), met an immortal playing the qin below a stone window. Cranes danced in the courtyard, the fragrance of orchids filled the room."

The version I play of Pei Lan comes from Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539). That handbook has no preface before Pei Lan, and it does not include He Wu Dongtian, but the version of He Wu Dongtian in Xilutang Qintong works quite well musically with the Pei Lan in Fengxuan Xuanpin.13 It also works quite well was a prelude to #96 Yao Tian Sheng He, though that melody concerns flying on a crane rather than cranes dancing.

Grotto-heaven (Dong Tian14) also appears in the title one of the most popular melodies from the 17th to the 19th centuries, Dongtian Chunxiao (Spring Dawn in a Grotto Heaven).15 Grotto-heavens are also depicted in many traditional landscape paintings.

Original preface


Music (see transcription; timings follow my recording 聽錄音)
Three sections, untitled

  1. 00.00
  2. 00.36 (harmonics begin; harmonics end at 00.59)
  3. 01.15
    02.08 Harmonic coda
    02.28 End

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. He Wu Dongtian references
48157.164 鶴舞 He Wu tells the story of cranes dancing when 師曠 Shi Kuang played the qin for Duke Ping of Jin (see Van Gulik, Lore of the Chinese Lute, pp.143/4: during the first melody 16 dark cranes alight, call out, then dance; when he continues playing it brings catastrophes to Jin. Van Gulik also gives some other stories about the qin and cranes, plus references to Chinese literature on the raising of cranes). He Wu was also the name of a dance. 12/1151 鶴舞 doesn't seem to add anything. 17777.9 洞天 dong tian doesn't mention anything about cranes. The melody list of 僧居月 the Song dynasty monk Ju Yue includes a 鶴舞松 Cranes Dance in the Pines among the late early melodies, but I have no further information on this.

2. Yu mode (羽調 yu diao)
For more on yu mode (standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 ) see Shenpin Yu Yi as well as Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Image
Above image borrowed from Cranes Cry Out from the Nine Marshpools.

4. Tracing He Wu Dongtian
Zha Fuxi's Guide 17/175/368 includes 15 pieces of this title, from 1525 to 1894. In addition, handbooks of 1552 and 1557 have this melody under the title Ganhuai Yin. I found problems with the 1546 tablature and so learned the second published version, 1525. The versions published prior to 1600 are as follows:

  1. Xilutang Qintong (1525; QQJC III/177; 3 sections, untitled);
    Discussed above: perhaps the simplest; a characteristic phrase in the first section is repeated twice in the third. The 2nd section is in harmonics but with two closing phrases in stopped sounds. Precedes Pei Lan
  2. Wugang Qinpu (1546; 3 sections; I/439; and
  3. Qinpu Zhengchuan (1561; identical to 1546; II/451)
    Related to 1525 but more complex; the third section has two passages that perhaps suggest the sound of cranes calling (two notes repeated five times). Precedes a yu modal prelude then Zhi Zhao Fei.
  4. Taiyin Chuanxi (1552-61; 3 sections; IV/136)
    Called 感懷吟 Ganhuai Yin; preface; Section 2 has only harmonics, with earlier stopped sound phrases now incorporated into Section 3. Precedes Zhi Zhao Fei
  5. Taiyin Buyi (1557; 3 sections; III/372)
    Ganhuai Yin; preface and music almost same as 1552. Precedes Zhi Zhao Fei
  6. Buxuxian Qinpu (1556; 3 sections; QQJC III/290)
    Related; Section 2 again only harmonics; comes before Pei Lan
  7. Qinshu Daquan (1590; 3 sections; QQJC/516);
    Almost identical to 1546: it omits one passage from section 3 (the first of the passages apparently imitating the crane sounds)
  8. Wenhuitang Qinpu (1596; 4 sections QQJC VI/244)
    Section 2 only harmonics; still related, but particularly expanded after Secion 2
  9. Yang Lun Taigu Yiyin (and 1609; 6 sections; VII/117)
    Further comment; expanded throughout; only version with lyrics; attributed to Su Dongpo

Later versions may have even more sections. As for the early versions, a comparison of these, combined with comparisons of the various versions of other popular melodies from this period, may eventually help assign certain musical characteristics to certain schools or periods. Those published after the 16th century are discussed below.

5. Comment under title of 1546 He Wu Dongtian
The original text says, "說見紫霞洞譜曉翁詳刪".

6. Xumen School
The preface to Wugang Qinpu says the transmission of the school was from 郭沔 Guo Mian's student Xuejiang (雪江,徐天民 Xu Tianmin, original name 徐宇 Xu Yu) to 徐秋山 Xu Qiushan to 徐曉山 Xu Xiaoshan. This Xu Family tradition is said to be part of the Zhe school of qin playing.

7. For more about the qin in 13th century Hangzhou see Xu Jian's history. Xu Jian puts the Xumen as part of the Zhe (Zhejiang) school.

8. Intonation of Strong Feelings (感懷吟 Gan Huai Yin 感懷吟 11215.xxx; 11215.113 感懷 Gan Huai is the title of several poems. No connection is made to cranes. Zha Guide lists this melody as found only in 1552 and 1557 (identical), but as stated in their prefaces, these are versions of He Wu Dongtian. The preface in Taiyin Chuanxi is as follows,

Mountain Friend (Li Ren, compiler of the handbook) examined the tablature and says, the Ming brought good circumstances and so the situation of families was in good order. Mu Duzi (who sought a wife) and Baili Xi (who had left his) had peaceful relations. But with age they had no use for the world. Their feelings were sad regarding society, and so this melody was written to set the situation. It is also called Cranes Dance in the Grotto-Heaven.

9. Lyrics of 1589
The original Chinese lyrics begin:

Individual phrases (such as 鶴之為物也) can be found elsewhere, but an internet search has not turned up this combination of lyrics elsewhere.

10. Details to be added.

11. Attribution of He Wu Dongtian to Su Shi
Zha Fuxi's index p.17 also makes the attribution to Su Shi. Yang Lun Taigu Yiyin (1589 and 1609; see above) and Qinyuan Xinchuan (1670 [QQJC XI, p.400]) make the connection through Su Dongpo's essay called 放鶴亭記 Fanghe Ting Ji (An Account of the Releasing the Cranes Pavilion). The essay and a related poem (see image and original text) are translated in Stephen Owen, An Anthology of Chinese Literature, pp.681-3. However, there is no mention of a grotto-heaven or of cranes dancing, and there seems to be no connection with the lyrics of the qin song mentioned above. However, it does mention that as the cranes return a man below them plays the qin.

There is a Releasing Cranes Pavilion (放鶴亭 Fanghe Ting; image below) on Gushan Island in Hangzhou's West Lake. However, in apparent contrast to this, sources mentioned in 13434.223 放鶴亭 say the Releasing Cranes Pavilion was built during the period 1068-1078 by 張天驥 Zhang Tianji in 銅山縣 Tongshan (Copper Mountain) County, modern 徐州 Xuzhou in northern Jiangsu province (then called 彭城 Pengcheng); it adds that in 1077 Su Dongpo, then administrator of Xuzhou, wrote the afore-mentioned essay about Zhang and his pavilion. There Su Shi describes the location, saying that Zhang had nurtured two cranes there. If in the morning he released them, in the evening they would return. Modern guidebooks to Xuzhou say that the Fanghe pavilion still stands on Yunlong Mountain, on the southwest side of the city. Su Shi's poem 過雲龍山人張天驥 Visiting Yunlong Mountain Man Zhang Tianji seems to be unrelated, with no mention of cranes. (See 蘇軾詩集合注 Su Shi Annotated Poetry Collection, p.723, or below.)

12. See Van Gulik, ibid. 張志和 Zhang Zhihe (730-872) is also mentioned in the introduction to Zui Yu Chang Wan. The recluse 林逋 Lin Bu (967-1028) is mentioned in connection with Xilutang Qintong #48 Meishao Yue (Moon Atop a Plum Tree). The biography of 葉夢得 Ye Mengde (1077-1148), #6 in 琴史續 Continuation of Qin Player's Biographies, does not mention cranes.

13. During that period of the Ming dynasty certain qin masters argued that all long melodies should have a preface. They asserted that this was the ancient way of organizing melodies.

14. Grotto-Heaven (洞天 dong tian)
17777.9 洞天 gives no references prior to the Song dynasty, but Daoist scholars trace the term much earlier. There is more information at Wikipedia and Heavenly Grottoes.

15. Spring Dawn in a Grotto Heaven (洞天春曉 Dongtian Chun Xiao)
Zha Fuxi's index 28/223/-- lists 29 pieces with this title from 1602 to 1946. The prefaces do not make its origins clear. The earliest version, in 藏春塢琴譜 Zangchunwu Qinpu (see QQJC VI, p.294), has it as the first full-length melody, after the gong mode preface and a prelude called 和氣吟 Heqi Yin (three sections; occurs only here). It has 18 sections.

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


放鶴亭記 Fang He Ting Ji by 蘇軾 Su Shi (Su Dongpo, 1037-1101) Releasing Cranes Pavilion, West Lake, Hangzhou (pre-1949)  
Original text; see comment (The pavilion at right is near the purported grave of Lin Bu on Gushan island in Hangzhou's West Lake)










過雲龍山人張天驥 Visiting the Mountain Man of Yunlong, Zhang Tianji
Zhang is said to have built a Releasing Cranes Pavilion on Yunlong Mountain in Xuzhou (
image from internet)
Original text

郊原雨初足, 風日清且好。
病守亦欣然, 肩輿白門道。
荒田咽蛩蚓, 村巷懸梨棗。
下有幽人居, 閉門空雀噪。
西風高正厲, 落葉紛可掃。
孤童臥斜日, 病馬放秋草。
墟里通有無, 垣牆任摧倒。
君家本冠蓋, 絲竹鬧鄰保。
脫身聲利中, 道德自濯澡。
躬耕抱羸疾, 奉養百歲老。
詩書膏吻頰, 菽水媚翁媼。
飢寒天隨子, 杞菊自擷芼。
慈孝董邵南, 雞狗相乳抱。
吾生如寄耳, 歸計失不早。
故山豈敢忘, 但恐迫華皓。
從君好種秫, 斗酒時自勞。