神人暢 Shen Ren Chang: Rhapsody on a Celestial
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132. Rhapsody on a Celestial
- Linzhong mode2; standard tuning, using only five strings: 5 6 1 2 3
神人暢 1
Shenren Chang
Longshan period "jade celestials" 3
The title of this qin melody is elsewhere most commonly translated as "Harmony Between Gods and Men", i.e., chang between shen and ren. Although this translation may be possible by itself, the preface here and other early commentary on this title suggest that it is more accurate to consider shenren as a specific type of individual (also translated as "god man", "spirit man", and so forth
4), and chang as a type of melody, one that expresses joy.5

As a qin melody title Shenren Chang survives in some ancient melody title lists,6 generally attributed to the legendary Emperor Yao.7 However, tablature for an actual qin melody survives only from this 1525 handbook.8 In addition, although various ancient lyrics for Emperor Yao's rhapsody survive, specifically in Yuefu Shiji9 and with an account of melodies attributed to Xue Jixuan,10 no tablature survives setting them to a qin melody.

The theme here is the joy of Emperor Yao at being given a suggestion with regard to solving the problem of floods, which periodically destroyed the crops. The most famous myth in this regard has Emperor Yu finally controlling the floods. However, there are several other related stories. The present account is perhaps related to one of these earlier stories.11

According to the preface here, after a celestial came to Emperor Yao to warn him about the potential dangers of flooding he created this music to express the happiness he felt at this event. Related to this, some ancient sources say that whenever a qin piece expresses pleasure it is called a "chang": Yao was happy to have seen the celestial, so he wrote a chang. This particular story is not in the Shi Ji accounts of Yao or his successors, but it is in several other ancient sources.12 The only other surviving qin melody directly related to the flooding is Xiangling Cao, also only in the present handbook.

According to these sources, as quoted in entry 3 of the qin melody lyrics section in the Yuefu Shiji,13 the celestial being appears before Yao while he is conducting a sacrifice.14 In one of the sources, Qin Lun, Yao is said to have been playing a qin, thus perhaps suggesting that it was his playing that brought the celestial. After the celestial tells Yao of the danger from floods, Yao composes a song to commemorate this event. In the lyrics Yao says he has obeyed the deity by inviting Yu to the palace

However, the Shenren Chang introductions all end the story before this, with no mention of Yu. In the more complete accounts, it is Gun that Yao summons to the palace; Gun, however, is not successful in solving the problem of the floods. It is not until Yao's successor Shun has appointed Yu to the task that the flooding is brought under control. Shun eventually names Yu as his successor.15 Yu, commonly known as the Great Yu, has his own associations with the qin.16

According to tradition the earliest form of the qin was a five string qin, and this was the instrument played by Shun. It is presumably for this reason that this piece, ascribed to Shun's predecessor, appropriately uses only the lower five strings.17

There are many recordings of Shenren Chang. Peiyou Chang plays it with silk strings in an online video during which she also recites The Mountain Spirit, a poem from the Nine Songs.18 However, most recordings other than my own use metal strings, such as those by Dai Xiaolian, Ding Chengyun, Ding Yang, Gong Yi (with ensemble), Xu Junyao, and Zeng Chengwei.

Original commentary:19

Xie Xiyi, Qin Lun, says:
Shenren Chang was created by Tang Yao. Yao played the qin and a celestial came down into his room. Thus we have this composition.
Gujin Yuelu says:
As Yao was sacrificing to earth and heaven, a celestial sat there looking at Yao, saying, There is danger from flooding. I order you to provide a solution.

The introduction in Yuefu Shiji quotes the same sources, but somewhat differently.19

Eight sections (untitled)
Shenren Chang is preceded by Linzhong Yi; my transcription combines the two.
-- Both are set for five string qin. Timings follow my recordings.

Linzhong modal prelude (listen 聽錄音)

00.00   1.
01.01       harmonic coda
01.22       end

Shenren Chang (listen 聽錄音)

00.00   1. Harmonics
00.47   2.
01.21   3. Stopped sounds
01.55   4.
02.31   5. Harmonics
03.01   6.
03.31   7. Stopped sounds
04.01   8. Stopped sounds, then harmonics; end with stopped sounds
04.36       end

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Shen Ren Chang 神人暢 (QQJC II/226)
25211.4 神人暢 Shenren Chang says "qin melody name", then quotes Yuefu Shiji as below. See separately below for shenren and chang.

2. Linzhong Mode 林鐘調 (and #131 Linzhong Modal Prelude 林鐘意)
For more on Ming dynasty modes see Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature. "Linzhong" appears in a qin modal prelude title only here in 1525 (as a mode title I have also found it once associated with the Fenglei Yin in Meian Qinpu). Linzhong ("forest bell"; 14856.409 林鐘 refers to .381 林鍾, which discusses notes but not a melody) is the 8th of the 12 tones. In both the modal prelude and Shenren Chang itself the main tonal centers are 6 and 3 (la and mi), shifting sometimes to 1 and 5 (do and sol); in addition, both end on 1 and 5. In both the modal prelude and Shenren Chang there are two common non-pentatonic notes. Here, however, there is a diffence between the two:

On the other hand, the similarity of the phrases at the end of both the prelude and the melody itself clearly show that they were intended to go with each other.

Listen above.

3. Longshan period jade celestials
TYDQJ has no image of a qin connected to Emperor Yao. The figurines above, called 龍山文化玉神人 Jade celestials from Longshan Culture (Wiki; 24th-20th c. BCE, thus roughly corresponding with the legendardary dates of Emperor Yao), can be found on a variety of websites. They are described as carved from green jade, with the figure on the left from a museum, the one on the right newly made. The following is the typical online description of the newly-made figurine:
龍山文化 玉神人 新石器

4. Shenren 神人
25211.3 and 7/856 神人 shenren say "神與人也 "shen" and "ren" (deity/celestial and human), but then mention various specific shenren. However, it does not seem to include mention of anything that is clearly specific to the present story. Thus, for example, it is not clear how it might connect to myths discussed in Birrell.

The entry "shenren, 神人: divine man; spirit man", by Miura Kunio in Encyclopedia of Taoism, begins as follows,

Midway between man and deity, the shenren transscends human existence. The clearest picture of him is found in the first chapter of the Zhuangzi:

There is a divine man living in the distant Gushe 姑射 mountains. His skin and flesh are like ice and snow and his body is as supple as a girl's. He does not eat the five grains, but sucks the wind and drinks the dew. He rides the pneuma of the clouds and has the dragon as his steed, roaming beyond the Four Seas (sihai 四海, i.e., the bounds of the universe). With his spirit coagulated (ning 凝, i.e., concentrated and unmoving), he protects all things from injury and every year he causes the five grains to ripen. (See also trans. Watson 1968, 33) The Zhuangzi adds that the shenren does not drown if a flood comes, nor is he burned by heat that melts metal and stone, and that even the dust and grime of his body could produce sainted rulers such as Yao and Shun.

Prof. Miura goes on to discuss how the term shenren came to be used later with Daoism.

5. Chang
See for example 大周正樂 Correct Music of the Great Zhou Dynasty, "Whenever a qin melody is created as an ensemble piece, it is called chang. It speaks of the beauty of its Dao. Chang would never dare express self satisfaction. If it is successful, it helps to share things with others." Part of this is quoted in the biography of Yao in 朱長文,琴史 Zhu Changwen's History of the Qin (古之琴曲和樂而作者命之曰暢). The biography goes on to say that if it is a sad piece it is called a 操 cao.

6. Shenren Chang in old qin melody lists
This title is the first entry in the Qin Yuan Yao Lü melody list and in the Most Ancient section of the Seng Ju Yue list.

7. Emperor Yao (traditional dates 2356-2255)
In addition to Shenren Chang Emperor Yao is also mentioned with the qin melody Kangqu Yao. And the Qin Shi biography of Emperor Yao also connects Yao with music called Da Zhang

Great Statutes (大章 Da Zhang)
The Qin Shi biography of
Emperor Yao says, "When (Yao) created (the melody) Da Zhang, qin sounds certainly accompanied it." I have not seen this claim elsewhere. As for the title, which always seems to be associated with Yao, 章 has a number of meanings and I am not sure what is intended here. 5960.1032 大章 says Da Zhang is 堯樂名 the name of Yao's music, quoting 禮記樂記 the Music Annals of Li Ji as follows: "大章,章之也。(注)堯樂名也。言堯德章明也。周禮闕之。或作大卷. Da Zhang displays/completes them. (Note:) The name of Yao's music. It says Yao's virtue displayed brightly. It is not in Zhou Li. It is also called Da Juan."

The original Li Ji text, Yue Ji/23 says, "《大章》,章之也。《咸池》,備矣。《韶》,繼也。《夏》,大也。殷周之樂,盡矣。" This is translated online (modified from Legge) as: "The Da Zhang expressed the brilliance (of its author's virtue); the Xian Chi, the completeness (of its author's); the Shao showed how (its author) continued (the virtue of his predecessor); the Xia, the greatness (of its author's virtue); the music of Yin and Zhou embraced every admirable quality."

莊子天下 Zhuangzi, Tianxia says, "堯有大章,舜有大韶 Yao had Da Zhang music and Shun had Da Shao music." In general, Da Zhang seems always associated with Yao, just as Shao music, in various forms, is associated with Shun (e.g., Xiaoshao).

8. Tracing Shenren Chang
Zha Guide 22/194/-- includes only the 1525 melody. Although the title appears on earlier lists it is not possible to know whether the present melody is in fact an ancient one. The fact that it uses only five strings and extensively uses harmonics might mean only that it was intended to evoke antiquity. The fact that the melody itself survives only from here might suggest that this was someones unsuccessful attempt to revive an antique style, however its current popularity suggests perhaps it was successful after all. It is enjoyable to play and, when experienced in connection with the related information outline here, readily evokes antiquity.

9. Shenren Chang in Yuefu Shiji
    樂府詩集 Yuefu Shiji (Chinese edition, p. 824) has commentary and lyrics as follows:

Gujin Yuelu says 《古今樂錄》曰﹕
As Yao was sacrificing to earth and heaven, from the altar there came a voice. It instructed Yao, saying, "The waters will come and be a great danger. I order you to provide a solution." Yao then wrote a song.

Qin Lun by Xie Xiyi (Xie Zhuang) says 謝希逸《琴論》曰:
Shenren Chang was created by Yao. Yao played the qin, inducing a celestial to come before him, so he wrote this piece.

Shenren Chang lyrics, attributed by Yuefu Shiji to Tang Yao himself :


In the solemn temple I worshipped my ancestors;
    100 officials were reverant in the inner hall.
As I poured out wine in prayer, to bring wealth and a prosperous year,
    a voice came from the area of the altar,
    warning me about the danger from the dark waters.
Very grateful to the magnanimous deity,
    I obeyed, asking Yu to come work in the palace.

These lyrics, which have the structure 7+7+7+4+7+7+7 , are not used with the tablature here, and do not fit by the normal pairing method.

10. Xue Jixuan and his Shenren Chang lyrics
In addition to the lyrics in YFSJ just mentioned above, there are also at least two more two poems (which also seem to be in the form of lyrics) with this title. The texts for these can be found in Qinshu Daquan, Folio 13 (QQJC V/278-9), where Shenren Chang is the first of 19 Melodies attributed to Xue Jixuan (1134 - 1173).

神人暢 Shenren Chang (Rhapsody on a Celestial)
Yao served heaven and regulated humans. Yao's people continually sang of his sacredness, so this was made.


You (Also:)


11. Ancient Chinese flood myths
Birrell, Chinese Mythology, identifies at least four myths related to the flooding. These are as follows:

  1. "Creatrix flood myth": Nü Gua repairs the sky and builds dams (pp. 69-71)
  2. "Failed hero flood myth": failed attempts by Gun, father of Da Yu (pp. 79-81)
  3. "Hero flood myth": successful attempts by Da Yu (pp. 81-13)
  4. "Marplot flood myth": the marplot (meddler) Gonggong (pp. 97-98)

This is also discussed under Emperor Yu.

12. Stories about celestials warning Yao
Perhaps most prominent are the accounts, mentioned here in the preface, from Gujin Yuelu (Old and New Records about Music) and Qin Lun (Qin Essay). As yet I have not found mention of the celestials in Birrell's discussions of floods.

13. No such sacrifice seems to be mentioned in Shi Ji.

14. Emperor Yao and the floods
In Shi Ji, both Annals 1 and 2 (Nienhauser, op. cit., pp. 8 and 21) tell of Yao assembling the 群臣四嶽 "vassals and chiefs of the Four Sacred Mountains" to ask about solving the problem of floods. They recommend 鯀 Gun, who fails; it is Shun who eventually choses Yu.

Some accounts say that 鯀 Gun used dykes to control the floods, and that at first this worked. However, eventually they failed and many died in the ensuing floods. As a result Gun committed suicide (or Shun executed him) and the task was turned over to Gun's son Yu (see further below).

Birrell, Chinese Mythology, pp. 79-81, discusses Gun and the flood, while pp. 81-83 discuss Yu and the flood.

15. Emperor Yao and his successors
唐堯 Tang Yao (r. 2358 - 2255; see in Wiki) is said to have passed over his unworthy son and granted the throne to 虞舜 Yu Shun in 2255 BCE. Shun in turn gave the throne to 大禹 Da Yu (Great Yu). The Shi Ji biographies are translated by Nienhauser in The Grand Scribe's Records, Volume I, p. 6ff. Yu is said to have worked for Yao and his successor Shun for many decades before finally succeeding the latter as first emperor of the Xia dynasty (2205-1766 BCE). For a later event in the life of Yu see the qin melody Yu Hui Tushan.

16. Emperor Yu and the qin
See in particular Yu Hui Tu Shan and Melody of Xiangling

17. Five String qin melodies
There are a number of melodies created for five string qin (see partial list).

18. Recording Shen Ren Chang by 張培幼 Peiyou Chang
See in her blog and on Facebook. The text and translation can also be found on this Nine Songs website.

19. Shenren Chang original Chinese text 神人暢中文解題
The original text of the Xilutang Qintong afterword is as follows:


20. Commentary in Preface compared to that in Yuefu Shiji
Although the preface here says it is quoting the same two sources used in the Yuefu Shiji introductions (in reverse order), the words are somewhat different; the melody also does not use the Yuefu Shiji (or any other) lyrics.

21. Music
Section timings are from my recording (listen).

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