Feng Qiu Huang 鳳求凰
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155. A Phoenix Seeks his Mate
- Wumei tuning:2 4 5 6 1 2 3 5 (compare standard tuning versions)
鳳求凰 1
Feng Qiu Huang
Grouped with #153 Wumei Yi and #154 Linqiong Yin Illustration of the seduction      

"Feng Qiu Huang" is a famous title, said to be an ancient song that the poet Sima Xiangru (179-113 BCE) used to seduce the beautiful Zhuo Wenjun. . However, although this is the earliest surviving melody with this title, the music and lyrics of this Feng Qiu Huang are unrelated to all the later versions, which are introduced under the melody Wenjun Cao.3 The lyrics of the present setting can be traced to the ancient collection of song lyrics Yuefu Shiji, where they are attributed to the famous poet Sima Xiangru. However, all later qin versions use newer lyrics ("There is a beautiful lady; once seen she cannot be forgotten....") that are associated with a seduction scene in several Chinese operas but particularly in West Chamber Romance.4

The present Feng Qiu Huang is also exceptional amongst melodies of this title in that it is primarily an instrumental melody, with lyrics in only two of its 10 sections. It also uses a quite uncommon tuning, called Wumei Diao. This version, as well as its wumei modal introduction and its prelude #154 Linqiong Yin, are found only in Xilutang Qintong (see tracing chart). The title Linqiong Yin occurs only here; the title Feng Qiu Huang, as mentioned, is elsewhere always applied to qin melodies accompanying a different set of lyrics. The earliest of these, called Wenjun Cao, was published in Fengxuan Xuanpin (1539). The next, in 1585, has a new melody. The version played today in the Mei'an School can be traced to a version first surviving from the 1589 edition of Yang Lun Taigu Yiyin.

The original story, of Sima Xiangru playing qin in order to seduce Zhuo Wenjun, is one of China's best known romantic tales. Sima Xiangru (179-113 BCE) was a well-known but impoverished poet;5 Zhuo Wenjun was the widowed daughter of a wealthy man of Linqiong (today called Qionglai), a town about 50 miles south of Chengdu. One day during a social event in the wealthy man's home Xiangru played the qin, by expressing himself through it (qin xin6), seduced Wen Jun, who was listening from the next room; later versions of the story say he sang the lyrics given below. They then eloped, running a wine shop and living in poverty until her father finally forgave them and gave them money.

The present Feng Qiu Huang has 10 sections in all; the lyrics are in sections 3 and 8. The original Chinese lyrics, attributed to Sima Xiangru himself, were included in both Yuefu Shiji7 and Yutai Xinyong.8

A. (sung during section 3) This male phoenix has returned to his old home,
from roaming the four seas searching for his mate.
Time was not yet ripe, there was no way to meet her;
then what a surprise: this evening I come up to this hall,
and there's a dazzling maiden in the women's quarters.
The room near but she far: this poisons my guts.
How can we entwine our necks like mandarin ducks?
How can we flutter about, and together soar?

B. (sung during section 8)

Lady phoenix, lady phoenix: come with me and nest,
be supported, breed with me, forever be my wife.
Exchanging affection in a physical way will harmonize our hearts;
at midnight if you follow me who will know?
Our wings together will rise, fluttering as high we fly.
If your are unmoved by my feelings, it will cause me misery.

The qin melody entitled White Hair Melody (Baitou Yin) tells a related story.9 Some years later, as Wenjun's hair was turning grey, Xiangru decided to take a concubine. Wenjun then wrote a Baitou Yin reminding Xiangru of his previous vows; he relented.

Original preface 10

Sima Xiangru wandered into Linqiong, where he met Wenjun, the daughter of Zhuo Wangsun, who was recently widowed. He wrote these (lyrics) to seduce her. So she eloped with him and they both went back to Chengdu. Later this was made into sa qin melody.

Music of the 1525 Feng Qiu Huang 11     (contrast others called Feng Qiu Huang)
Ten sections, untitled; timings follow my recording 聽錄音
Transcription includes #153 Wumei Yi (modal prelude) and #154 Linqiong Yin (melody prelude)

00.00     1.
00.35     2.
01.06     3. (harmonics; lyrics)
01.54     4.
02.20     5.
02.57     6.
03.33     7. (at 3.40 a passage begins called "a big crab walk"12)
04.04     8. (harmonics; lyrics)
04.48     9.
05.20    10.
06.02           harmonic coda
06.18           end

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a
separate page)

1. 鳳求凰 Feng Qiu Huang references (QQJC III/264) Image from ZWDCD 47631.120  
47631. 鳳 says "鳳凰,神鳥也 (same as fenghuang, a sacred bird"; but see 47631.120 鳳凰 below
  1816. 凰, no image; says female; 爾雅 Erya reference
47631.120 鳳凰 has the image at right (source identified as 古今圖書集成 Gu Jin Tushu Jicheng)
This latter entry does not clearly state that the image is of a feng and a huang, not two fenghuang. It quotes (古今)韻會 (Gu Jin) Yun Hui (44272.49-> 3308.73) a dictionary of rhyhmes said to date from the 13th c.) saying the feng is male and the huang female, but then quotes the Shi Jing poem 252 (卷阿)慢 and other early sources, none of which seem clearly to distinguish between the two. As a result I have not yet learned the history of a romantic use of the feng huang.
47631.56 鳳求凰 says Feng Qiu Huang is a qin melody about Sima Xiangru (司馬相如) meeting Zhuo Wenjun (卓文君) at Linqiong, then quotes the opening of the Yuefu Shiji poem used here. The title Feng Qiu Huang survives in 16 handbooks from 1539 (where it is called 文君操 Wenjun Cao) to 1961, All use standard tuning except 1525, 1931 and 1961 (the latter two have a lowered 3rd string). See also Fred Lieberman, A Chinese Zither Tutor, p.75ff.

2. Wumei tuning (無媒調 Wumei diao)
From standard tuning lower the third and sixth strings (details).

3. Tracing Feng Qiu Huang
Although Zha Guide 22/196/-- lists this title only in the present handbook (omitting the lyrics), the title is also used for some unrelated melodies of the same title: see table.

4. Wen Jun Cao
These lyrics, "有美人兮見之不忘;一日不見兮思之如狂..." (You meiren xi, jian zhi bu wang; yi ri bu jian xi, si zhi ru kuang...."), are included under Wenjun Cao). These lyrics, which are found in all the versions of this title after 1525, have also been attributed to Sima Xiangru, but this claim is without foundation.

These subsequent musical settings use a number of differing melodies for these same lyrics. There are details in the Wen Jun Cao Appendix.

5. At the death of 梁孝王劉武 Prince Xiao (Liu Wu; r. 168-144) Sima Xiangru lost his position at the Liang court, which was based in what is today 商丘 Shangqiu in Henan province, near the border with Shandong province. Its modern website claims to have been the "family home" of Confucius (it is just over 100 miles SW of Qufu) and the home town of Zhuangzi. (Return)

6. 琴心 Qin Xin
The earliest version of this story, from the biographical entry for Sima Xiangru in the Shi Ji, mentions only qin xin, not lyrics.

7. glissandi, Qin Song Lyrics, Folio 60,

8. Yutai Xinyong
Compare the translation by Birrell, Chinese Love Poetry, p.272.

9. Baitou Yin 白頭吟
See further details under Zhuo Wenjun and Wumei Yi.

10. Original Preface (西麓堂琴統原解題)
The original 1525 Chinese afterword is as follows:

11. Music and lyrics
The recording was made after the transcription was completed and so there are some differences between the two. Playing time is about 6 1/2 minutes; when played together with Wumei Yi and Linqiong Yin playing time is about 10 minutes.

The original 鳳求凰歌詞 Feng Qiu Huang lyrics, also in 樂府詩集 Yuefu Shiji, 琴曲歌詞 Qin Song Lyrics, p.881, are as follows:
   (聽錄音 listen to my recording; 歌詞在第三、第八段; lyrics are sung in sections 3 and 8)


Feng xi feng xi gui gu xiang, ao you si hai qiu qi huang.

Shi wei yu xi wu suo jiang, he wu jin xi xi sheng si tang.

You yan shu nü zai gui fang, shi er ren xia du wo chang.

He yuan jiao jing wei yuan yang? Hu xie hang xi gong ao xiang?


Huang xi huang xi cong wo xi, de tuo zi wei yong wei fei.

Jiao qing tong ti xin he xie, zhong ye xiang cong zhi zhe shei?

Shuang yi ju qi fan gao fei, wu gan wo si shi yu bei.

(Zha Fuxi's Guide seems to have missed these lyrics.)

12. A big crab walk (大蟹行 da xie xing)
The passage, near the beginning of Section 7, begins with a technique whereby a string (here the fourth string in the ninth position) is plucked consecutively three times inward, first by the second finger, then the third, then the fourth (i.e., the right finger strokes 抹勾打); meanwhile the left finger stopping the string is done also in order by the second, third then fourth strings, requiring a sort of sliding motion by these left fingers.

Clearly the technique 大蟹行 da xie xing (or perhaps just 蟹行 xie xing) is supposed to imitate the movement of a crab walking, but the significance of applying it here is not clear. Note also these other references:

Does "crab walking" essentially suggest an amorous image? 34525.15 蟹行 gives 夢溪筆談 Dream Pool Essays as its first reference ("郭索,蟹行貌也").

See the Appendix tracing Feng Qiu Huang or go to the Guqin ToC.