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137. Han Credentials
- Yingzhong mode:2 1 3 5 6 1 2 3
- Also called 蘇武思君 Su Wu Thinks of his Lord 3
Han Jie Cao
Su Wu the shepherd listens to Li Ling (see text) 4            
According to the preface in Xilutang Qintong (1525), which has the only surviving tablature for the present melody, Han Credentials concerns the famous Han dynasty emissary Su Wu.5 Under the title the handbook states that an alternate title is Su Wu Thinks of his Lord (Su Wu Si Jun). Presumably this is the reason Zha Fuxi groups Han Credentials together with Su Wu Thinks of his Lord.6 However, the later pieces called Su Wu Thinks of his Lord mostly using the lowered third string tuning. Indeed, they seem to be more closely related to the melody in Xilutang Qintong called Li Ling Si Han.

Li Ling was a Han general captured in 99 BCE by the Central Asian people generally called the Xiongnu.7 Around the same time Li Ling's friend Su Wu, a Han scholar official and chief palace attendant, was given credentials (often depicted as a staff with a banner on it) by his "Lord", Han emperor Wudi, and sent out from Chang An as a Han emissary to the Xiongnu. His main responsibility was to return some Xiongnu emissaries to their home and bring back the Han ones then being held captive by the Xiongnu. However, while he was there some of the emissaries revolted, with the result that Su Wu was himself detained by the Xiongnu; he then spent almost 20 years in captivity.

In 99 BCE the Xiongnu brought Su Wu and Li Ling together, hoping to get both to work for them. Li Ling did cooperate after hearing that his family had been executed by Han Wudi. The Xiongnu then had Li Ling try to persuade Su Wu to work for them, but Su Wu steadfastly refused, trying at one time to commit suicide. Because of this steadfast refusal, the Xiongnu then subjected him to many hardships, including sending him off to a remote area with little sustenance, where he had to tend sheep.

In 86 BCE the Xiongnu and Han made peace, and the new Han emperor asked for Su Wu's return. The Xiongnu said he had died, but the emissary said the Emperor knew Su Wu was still alive because he had recently shot down a goose and found attached to its leg a message written by Su Wu. This may have been a trick by the emissary to get the Xiongnu to admit Su Wu was still alive, but later re-tellings have Su Wu actually fastening the message to the foot of a goose.

Finally in 81 Su Wu was able to return home to Chang'an. Here he worked on and off in the palace until his death in 60 BCE. Li Ling never did return. Their parting is the subject of several famous paintings.8

Su Wu's steadfast loyalty to Han is recounted in numerous songs, poems9 and plays.10 In painting he is most popularly depicted as a lonely shepherd tending his sheep, epitomizing his refusal to work for the enemy.11

Like Li Ling, Su Wu is said to have written poetry.12 Scholars are generally dubious of the attributions.

Original Preface13

Su Wu spent 19 years with the Xiongnu, a long period of great severity. Cold frost and hot sun, a desert court with ice and snow: how could he not have unfulfilled dreams of flying (home)? The thoughts behind the melody are quite mixed, singing once, then sighing three times.

Music (10 sections)14
Timings follow my recording 聽錄音 (preceded by Yingzhong Yi)

00.00   1. Receiving credentials in the Vermilion Hall
00.47   2. In the remote desert stopping the chariot
01.22   3. A grand nature reaches for the sky
02.15   4. His loyalty continues day after day
02.37   5. Chewing on a rug (to stay alive while in captivity at) Lake Baikal
03.30   6. Stretching out the neck to look south (towards home)
03.48   7. The banner has fallen from the credentials (a staff15; a passage called "the sound of geese" begins at 03.58)
04.37   8. The hair is all turning white
05.08   9. To die separated from Li Ling
05.50   10. While still alive, entering the Jade Gate (imperial palace)
06.24         harmonic coda
06.37         end

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Han Jie Cao references (III/230)
18531.xxx; 6/53 Han Jie 漢節 first discusses 符節 "tally used as credentials" by the emperor. It gives a number of quotes about Han credentials, but has no mention of Su Wu. The first example, from the Shi Ji #106, the biography of 吳王濞 Liu Pi, King of Wu, says, "I would not venture to ask for the post of general, but if Your Majesty would give me one of the credentials used by the Han envoys, I promise to bring you a fitting reward." (GSR I, p. 416; 中文/2823). These credentials were a physical object, and in the case of Su Wu they are often considered to have been a staff.

2. Yingzhong mode
Lower the first string, raise the fifth. The only pieces included with this mode are this one and #138 Zhaojun Yuan (Lament of Zhao Jun); all other pieces using this tuning are grouped in the Wuyi mode.

3. Su Wu Thinks of his Lord (蘇武思君 Su Wu Si Jun)
蘇武思君 Su Wu Si Jun (33250.xxx) might also be translated as Su Wu Thinks of a Gentleman, referring to Li Ling, who shared Su Wu's captivity but eventually worked for the enemy. 33250.107 蘇武 Su Wu /.108 節 Su Wu Jie tell the story of Su Wu's sojourn and include a picture of him as a shepherd, but they do not mention a melody. The earliest source of the Li Ling story is Shi Ji 110 (Watson II, p.160). Interestingly, although Su Wu Si Jun is here given as an alternate for Han Jie Cao and connected to the Su Wu story, Su Wu Si Jun is later almost always applied to a melody using the lowered third string tuning and melodically related to Li Ling Si Han (see "Tracing Han Jie Cao" below).

There is a recording available of Zha Fuxi playing his reconstruction of Su Wu Si Jun from 1589.

4. Illustration: Su Wu listens to Li Ling
This image came from the internet. Compare the image Su Wu parts from Li Ling. For more on relevant illustrations see under Li Ling Si Han and below.

5. Su Wu 蘇武
蘇武字子卿 33250.107. Su Wu, style name Ziqing. In addition to Han Jie Cao He is also sometimes connected to the melodies Yan Guo Hengyang and Saishang Hong. For information beyond what is there and above, see his biographies in Loewe (which gives virtually no geographic information concerning his time in Central Asia) and Wikipedia. Shi Ji mentions him only once, in Annal 110 (Watson, RGH II/160).

6. Tracing 漢節操 Han Jie Cao / 蘇武思君 Su Wu Si Jun / 李陵思漢 Li Ling Si Han (see in tracing chart)
Zha Guide 22/194/380 Han Jie Cao has seven entries, with Su Wu Si Jun given as an alternate title. However, Su Wu Si Jun is the main title in all the listed later versions. In addition, all the latter but one refer to a melody or melodies in lowered third string tuning and seem to have a closer relationship to the melody Li Ling Si Han.

The melody and lyrics of the Su Wu Si Jun in 1585 and 1589 seem in particular to be related to those of the Li Ling Si Han in 1539 (also see the tracing chart under the 1525 Li Ling Si Han [which has no lyrics]).

7. 匈奴 Xiongnu

8. Su Wu in the desert
Apparently his life there was not totally bleak: Lowe, op.cit., p. 495, says that he had a wife and fathered a son while in captivity. The son, 蘇通國 Su Tongguo, was able to go to Chang'an.

9. Su Wu in poetry
For example, QSDQ, Folio 20B has such a poem by Yun Ruo.

10. Su Wu in plays
33250.109 蘇武廟 Su Wu Miao: 二簧劇之一種,李陵碑之別名。 (Another name for Li Ling Bei: "Tragedy at the Li Ling Monument", set during the Yuan dynasty. See Tom Gee. Stories from Chinese Opera, p.211.)

11. Su Wu the Shepherd in art (see also Su Wu and Li Ling)
For a discussion of the meaning of the painting "Sheep and Goat" by Zhao Mengfu (趙孟頫,二羊圖, in the Freer Gallery; they currently have the full image (online) see Michael Sullivan, The Three Perfections; George Braziller 1974 revised 1999, pp.42-44. The main point is that, just as Su Wu was forced to work for the Xiongnu, Zhao was forced to work for the Mongols but could not overtly complain about this; it was up to later colophons, written after the Ming restored Han control of China, to say that in the painting Zhao Mengfu was making a personal connection with Su Wu's having to work for the Xiongu.

12. YFSJ, Folios 16 and 17 has three poems (中文, pp. 233, 234, 350; all are [5+5] x 4). Folio 29 of Wen Xuan has four (中文, pp. 1298-1303 all are [5+5] x 8, 9 or 10). Owen, Anthology of Chinese Literature, p. 251, translates Wen Xuan's third then second. He translates the third in the voice of a woman saying farewell to a husband leaving for battle, but Xu Yuanzhong (trans.), Song of the Immortals, pp.21/303, translates the same poem in the voice of the husband. For Li Ling see Li Ling Si Han. Also see Burton Watson, Courtier and Commoner in Ancient China, pp.24-33.

13. The original preface is:


14. The original titles are:

1. 彤庭授節 (Tongting: 3/1121: also 彤廷, named of a Han palace, the named coming from the color)
2. 絕塞停車
3. 浩氣摩空
4. 精誠貫日
5. 吞氈北海 Tun zhan Bei Hai (Lake Baikal ["north sea"], north of modern Mongolia, was still in Xiongnu territory)
6. 引領南望
7. 節旄俱落
8. 鬚髮盡改
9. 死別李陵
10. 生入玉關

15. Su Wu's biography in Han Shu 54.2463 says, "Grasping the Han staff (Han Jie) Su Wu tended sheep, holding onto the staff whether awake or asleep, so that the staff's banner became consumed and undone." The title of this section suggests that it was at this low point, with his banner in tatters, that Su Wu tied his message to the leg of a goose flying south, hoping the message would make it way back to Chang An. This section includes an evocative passage described as 雁聲 "the sound of geese", perhaps suggesting that it was when his banner was in tatters that Su Wu as a last resort tried to send a message attached to the foot of a goose.

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