Geng Ge
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Ploughman's Song
- also the prelude 耕莘吟 Geng Shen Yin 2
- Zhi mode: standard tuning played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2 3
耕歌 1
Geng Ge

Ploughing is an occupation highly esteemed in Chinese literary tradition. Consequently the ploughman is sometimes grouped with persons having other rural occupations similarly esteemed, such as the fisherman, woodcutter and herdsman. There are songs for each of these in the qin repertoire, though those for the ploughman and herdsman came later and were less common than those for the fisherman and woocutter.5

Versions of this melody, called Song of the Airs of Bin (Bin Feng Ge6) in Qinpu Zhengchuan7 (1561) but Song of the Ploughman (Geng Ge) elsewhere, survive in 15 handbooks from Taiyin Xupu (1559) to 1876.8 Two handbooks, Taiyin Xupu and Wenhuitang Qinpu (1596) give it preludes called Geng Shen Yin (Melody of Ploughing at [You]shen).

Taiyin Xupu also has the earliest preface, connecting this melody with a story of Yi Yin9 plowing fields in the wilds of Youshen before Cheng Tang asked him to help overthrow Jie Gui, the corrupt Xia ruler. After Yi Yin was asked three times11 he agreed and eventually became first chief minister of the new Shang dynasty. The 1559 preface to Geng Shen Yin has the same story, adding that a later person wrote Geng Ge to explain this rather obscure matter.

Later prefaces, beginning with Yang Lun Boya Xinfa, in the 1609 edition of Zhenchuan Zhengzong Qinpu, say that Zhou Gong wrote Geng Ge to teach young Cheng Wang about agriculture, and that someone later turned it into a song to be accompanied by a string instrument. The story mentions other people in the Zhou clan lineage, such as Hou Ji and his great-grandson Gong Liu (see also under Tai Wang). Both were famed for farming, the former so much so that he became the patron deity of agriculture.13

Bin, in present day Shaanxi, was the ancestral home of the Zhou royal family, so Hou Ji is also said to have come from Bin. Poems in the section of the Book of Poems called Poems for the Airs of Bin (Bin Feng; Shi Jing, 154-160) are sometimes attributed to Zhou Gong himself. The first of these poems, called Seventh Month, became a popular theme in Chinese art. Paintings would depict activities of the entire agricultural year.12

Original Preface14
(Not yet translated)

20 sections (untitled)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 耕歌 Geng Ge (QQJC III/422); geng means simply to plow, so this could also be called Ploughing Song, but in this context it seems to refer to the person who does it. It is one of four occupations for which there are qin melodies (see footnote below.

2. 耕莘吟 Geng Shen Yin
This is clearly a prelude for Geng Ge, but it is not clear what its title is meant to convey: "Ploughing by the (You-)Shen clan" signifies carrying out government responsibilities?

Zha Guide 24/202/-- and Appendix; 耕莘吟; 莘 is also pronounced Xin, which would make it Geng Xin Yin, but the reference here is to the ancient clan name 有莘 You-Shen (to further confuse things this name is also written 有櫬 You Shen). This clan was significant in establishing Zhou rule. This title is only here and in Wenhuitang Qinpu (1596).

耕莘釣渭 Geng Shen Diao Wei (Ploughing by the Shen (Clan) and Fishing at the Wei)
This is another melody with a similar theme, but it seems to have no musical relation to either Geng Ge, Geng Shen Yin or
Wei Bin Yin. Zha Guide 42/273/-- lists this melody in three handbooks, dated 1875 (XXVI/251), 1907 (XXIX/14), and 1914 (not in QQJC). The only commentary is in the third, which I have not seen. It says there were these two earlier versions, but that it originated with 寧王秘譜 Ning Wang's Handbook of Mysteries. This seems to be a reference to the "神奇秘譜 Handbook of Spiritual and Marvelous Mysteries" of Zhu Quan, who was Ningwang: Prince of Ning, but this is clearly incorrect. Elsewhere it is said that the melody concerns the work of 伊尹 Yi Yin and 姜子牙 Jiang Ziya in establishing the Zhou dynasty.

The commentary says nothing about the melody's significance: presumably, though, it is referring to actions by the Zhou clan in establishing the Zhou dynasty. There have been modern recordings of the qin melody of this title, e.g., this one by Xu Tonghua. The 1875 tablature has one section, the 1907 has two, with the second one largely repeating the first. Without close examination the recording seems to present a melody then repeat it twice, each time with some small variation.

3. 徵調 Zhi mode
For more on this mode see Shenpin Zhi Yi. Note that 1=do, 2=re, etc.; in my transcription do is written as c, but the exact pitch depends on such things as the size and quality of the instrument and strings.

5. Four occupations
The four melody titles for these four occupations are
    漁歌 Fisherman's Song,
    樵歌 Woodcutter's Song,and
    牧歌 Herdsman's Song as well as
    耕歌 Ploughman's Song.
These four occupations have been combined as a group (漁、樵、牧、耕), but if there is a term for it, I have not yet found it. Compare the 四民 four classes: 士、農、工、商 scholar, farmer, artisan, merchant. And see also 漁樵耕讀 a type of 徽墨 inkstick from Huizhou, or "fisherman, woodcutter, and agriculturist who read (?)", a general name for 士人 [! "scholar": person of knowledge, though it may not be from books?]).

6. Bin Feng Ge 豳風歌
Bin Feng Ge is the 23rd melody in 琴譜正傳 Qinpu Zhengchuan (1561), compiled by 楊培掩 Yang Peiyan. Whereas melodies in 1561 that have the same titles as in 1559 are all identical (see outline), this is one of two melodies that are similar in both handbooks but have different titles: Bin Feng Ge is similar to Geng Ge; the other related pair is Qi Lin Bei Feng and Qing Ye Wen Zhong.

Bin Feng is a title used in a number of paintings. 37290.5 Bin Feng Tu discusses paintings on this theme. 37290.6-8 Bin Ya, Bin Song and Bin Ge discuss seventh month poems about Bin Feng. 37290.4 Bin Feng discusses it as part of the Shi Jing, mentioning 后稷 Hou Ji and 公劉 Gong Liu (more below). None mentions 伊尹 Yi Yin.

7. Boya Xinfa (1609 edition) says its Geng Ge is the same as Bin Feng Ge. (Return)

8. Zha Guide 24/202/--; Bin Feng Ge is listed separately as 18/--/--. See the Appendix. (Return)

9. 伊尹 Yi Yin (Wiki)
Yi Yin (417.11) is discussed in Shi Ji, Book 3 (see Nienhauser, The Grand Scribe's Records I, pp.42-44). To a great extent it was his assistance that allowed 成湯 Cheng Tang to found the Shang dynasty, but he is said originally to have worked as a servant for the 有莘 You-Shen clan because he knew their princess would marry into Cheng Tang's family, and so he would also join that family. Shi Ji does not mention a connection between Yi Yin and agriculture, saying he came to Cheng Tang's attention through gastronomy (滋味). However Mencius, in 萬章一 Wan Zhang Part 1, says that in fact Yi Yin gained attention through his skill in agriculture. Cheng Tang claimed to be a descendent of 契 Xie, who assisted 禹 Yu in overcoming the flood. 桀癸 Jie Gui was the last Xia ruler. The Xia were based in Shanxi, the Shang in Henan.

In the expression "伊周 yizhou", Yi Yin is paired with Zhou Gong to refer to capable and loyal advisors.

11. The Shi Ji actually says five times; Mencius says three. (Return)

12. 后稷 Hou Ji and 公劉 Gong Liu
The Zhou lineage is said to have begun as follows:

  1. Emperor Ku (帝嚳 Di Ku; Wiki)
  2. Hou Ji (后稷; Wiki)
  3. Buku/Buzhu (不窋; took the Zhou clan back to hunt in the "barbarian" regions)
  4. Ju (鞠)
  5. Duke Liu (Gong Liu 公劉; Wiki; returned the Zhou to Bin and developed agriculture)

Gong Liu is commemorated in Book of Songs 250 "Liu the Duke" (Waley). Heis lineage is given under the biography of Tai Wang.

13. See Julia K. Murray, Patterns of Evolution in Chinese Illustration: Expansion or Epitomization?, in Cary Liu and Dora Ching, ed., Arts of the Sung and Yuan, Ritual, Ethnicity, and Style in Painting (Princeton, 1999); pp.120-151. Murray discusses the various forms used for illustrations of the poem Seventh Month. (Return)

14. The original begins,
杏莊老人曰,伊尹惟知莘之可耕.... (Return)

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

Appendix: Chart Tracing 耕歌 Geng Ge / 耕莘吟 Geng Shen Yin
based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide, 24/202/-- and 18/--/--.

    (year; Vol/page)
Further information
(QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1. 太音續譜
      (1559; III/414)
20 sections; 徵 Zhi mode; preceded by 耕莘吟 Geng Shen Yin; both prefaces say it concerns 伊尹 Yi Yin (first chief minister of the Shang dynasty) plowing in the wilds of 有莘 You-Shen before helping overthrow Xia.
  2. 琴譜正傳
      (1561; II/444)
10; (徵); called 豳風歌 Bin Feng Ge but very similar to 1559; no preface or prelude. Not in 1546.  
  3. 文會堂琴譜
      (1596; VI/233)
20; (徵); has 耕莘吟 Geng Shen Yin as prelude; no preface.  
  4. 藏春塢琴譜
      (1602; VI/371)
18; (徵); no prelude or preface, but a note says, "古曲,王定安潤削" ("old melody enriched and sharpened by Wang Ding'an", one of the book's co-authors)
  5. 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1609; VII/192)
21; (徵); in 楊掄伯牙心法 Yang Lun Boya Xinfa, which says, "即豳風歌 same as Bin Feng Ge"; no prelude; preface says Zhou Gong wrote it to teach infant (襁褓) Cheng Wang about agriculture.
  6. 樂仙琴譜
      (1623; VIII/432)
21; (徵); no prelude; preface says Zhou Gong wrote it for Cheng Wang
  7. 徽言秘旨
      (1647; X/164)
20; (徵); no prelude or preface
  8. 徽言秘旨訂
      (1692; X/---)
should be identical to 1647
  9. 友聲社琴譜
      (early Qing; XI/139)
21; (徵); no prelude or preface, but a note says, "杭州汪洋子傳 follows tradition of Hangzhou's Wang Yangzi"
10. 琴苑新傳全編
      (1670; XI/371, 508)
22; (徵) for both; no preludes; related music and identical prefaces saying Zhou Gong wrote it for Cheng Wang
11. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/381)
18; (商音); no preface or prelude
12. 裛露軒琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/284)
(2 譜 tablatures? Zha's guide missing one: p. 144 mentions one in 13 sections called "金派")
13. 悟雪山房琴譜
      (1836; XXII/345)
14. 天聞閣琴譜
      (1876; XXV/270 & 460)
(2 譜 tablatures)
15. 天籟閣琴譜
      (1876; XXI/168)