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五音琴譜 Wuyin Qinpu (1579)   ToC   /   Silk Zither Dreams Listen to my recording 聽錄音 with transcription   /   首頁
18. Water Immortals' Melody
Shang Mode:2 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
水仙曲 1
Shui Xian Qu
Playing qin for a listener who understands (full image)3    
Creation of the present melody was most likely inspired by the Daoist idea of learning musical expression from nature.4 However, as there was no accompanying commentary with it here in Wuyin Qinpu (1579; its first and only publication), probing the full significance of the title requires one first to consider the possibility that it refers simply to shuixian (literally, "water immortals") in a way not connected to other qin melodies with shuixian in the title.5 For this see, for example, stories or associations such as those mentioned below as well as some of the dictionary entries in this footnote.

Then, and presumably more significantly, one must consider at least three different stories found in melodies that do have "shuixian" as the main title or an alternate title. These stories are:

  1. The legendary qin master Bo Ya learns the significance of nature in qin music
    The most appropriate melody titles connected to this are those that mention shui xian (water spirits), as these titles directly connect to the story of Cheng Lian taking his student Bo Ya to an island, leading him to create a shui xian melody. However, as will be explored further below, all of the melodies discussed on this page (other than the 1425 Huangyun Qiusai) have at times had shuixian in the title.
  2. The poet Qu Yuan (339–278 BCE) at the river's edge laments injustice in society
    Although this story is perhaps most logically attached to the melody named Sao Shou Wen Tian (Scratch the Head and Ask Heaven), two of the melodies discussed here have had this as their title or alternate title.
  3. The fabled beauty Wang Zhaojun (Mingfei; 1st c. BCE) laments having to spend her life on the frontier
    This story was originally connected to the melody Huangyun Qiusai, also called Qiu Sai Yin, but in 1722 a new Qiusai Yin melody was introduced using the same story. Once again, though, at least three of the four main melodies that will now be outlined came to use this title. (Although there may be some logic in having Zhaojun scratch her head and ask heaven, there seems to be no logical connection between this story and shui xian)

Next it is necessary to consider four main melody titles (and the melodies themselves as relayed through the relevant surviving qin tablatures) that are connected to these stories. After this there will be a discussion that shows the complexity of trying to align them with the three stories just mentioned, whether it is by examining the melodies themselves or by tracing all their main and/or alternate titles.5 As will be seen, the confusion in connecting these three stories to the following four musically unrelated melodies dates back at least to the 17th century.6

  1. Shui Xian Qu; this is the most ancient of these melody titles, but prior to here only the introductions survive7
    Standard tuning, shang mode; this melody only here in Wuyin Qinpu (1579; QQJC IV/220)

  2. Sao Shou Wen Tian;8 also called Quzi Tian Wen 9 or Qiusai Yin, but sometimes associated with Shui Xian Qu and Shui Xian Cao
    Raised 5th string tuning (ruibin); the earliest is in Chengjiantang Qinpu (1689; XIV/333)

  3. Qiusai Yin; also called Shui Xian Qu, Shui Xian Cao or Sao Shou Wen Tian (especially with the Mei'an version) 10
    Standard tuning, zhi yin; still played; earliest is in Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722; XIV/495).

  4. Huangyun Qiusai; at least two versions are called Qiu Sai Yin
    Lowered first, raised fifth string tuning (huangzhong); this melody survives first from Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425)

Of these only a version of the third of these melodies seems to have survived into the modern repertoire; the first and fourth are today found only in reconstructions. One related footnote traces the source tablatures in greater detail, while this one mentions transcriptions and recordings.11

Coming back to the present melody, it survives only through its inclusion in a qin handbook (Wuyin Qinpu) published in 1579 by a Ming prince who lived in what is today southeastern Shanxi province.12 None of the melodies in his handbook has any commentary, perhaps suggesting the handbook was originally intended for his own personal use. However, as wil be seen, it does seem most likely that here the title Shui Xian Qu alludes to the story about Bo Ya and Cheng Lian.

According to this story Bo Ya, already quite a skilled player, learns that the way to understand, and thus express, the true significance of qin melodies is to feel their connection to nature. The earliest surviving version of the story may be the one found with the entry called Shui Xian Cao in Qin Cao, a text attributed to Cai Yong (133 - 192). As also related in the biography of Boya in Qin Shi, the story tells of Cheng Lian taking his student Bo Ya to an island in the Eastern Sea (sometimes identified as Penglai) and leaving him there, saying that a master will soon come to teach him the true significance of qin music. Bo Ya, after waiting some days and hearing only the sounds of nature, finally realizes that it is these sounds that the true qin music will evoke. Perhaps attributing these sounds or this understanding to immortals living in the surrounding waters, Bo Ya then creates a melody called Shui Xian.

A later version of this story has Cheng Lian taking Boya into the mountains to learn about the relationship between qin music and the sounds of nature. Then Shui Xian is one of the melodies Boya plays for Ziqi when they meet on a boat near what is now Hanyang in the modern city of Wuhan.13

The only commentary accompanying a surviving melody with the title Shui Xian Qu is that in Jiaoan Qinpu,14 a handbook published in 1868. The commentary there connects this other melody to the Boya and Cheng Lian story related above.15 As for the surviving melodies that use the title Shui Xian Cao or simply Shui Xian, those that have prefaces invariably relate a version of the Cheng Lian story. Thus, although each of these later melodies is also known by completely unrelated titles, it is logical to conclude that in the qin tradition, no matter what the actual source melody is, the use of "shuixian" in the title is always intended to evoke the story of Cheng Lian teaching qin to Bo Ya.

As for other uses of the word "shuixian", today it most commonly refers to a flower, the narcissus. It is fragrant and the color of gold, and so in Chinese tradition is particularly popular at New Year, symbolizing fortune and good luck. If kept in water it can last a long time, hence its name.16 It is thus possible for people who play qin melodies with shuixian in the title to feel they are simply evoking this flower. However, whereas as a qin melody title Shui Xian Cao is very ancient, the narcissus was evidently introduced into China at a rather late date, perhaps by Arab traders around 1000 CE.17

Before this the words "shui xian" more commonly referred to immortals who lived in the water. It is thus the nickname of any of a number of famous people in antiquity. In particular, though, it refers to the "immortal" sage Qu Yuan, whose suicide by drowning in a river is commemorated at the Dragon Boat Festival.18 Qu Yuan is evoked by a number of existing qin titles, and so it would not be surprising for qin melodies to use shui xian in the title to evoke him. This is also probably one reason for some of the confusion concerning this title, as will now be discussed further.

The next associated melody, usually called Sao Shou Wen Tian (Scratch the Head and Ask Heaven), was first published in 1689, over 100 years later. It uses a raised (tightened) fifth string tuning. The earliest surviving melodies using this tuning call it ruibin mode, but later it seems more generally to have been called shang yin (not to be confused with the standard tuning shang mode used, for example, in the 1579 Shui Xian Qu). Although this melody is first called Sao Shou Wen Tian, and this title is usually associated with Qu Yuan, it was also called Qiu Sai Yin and even Shui Xian Cao. It does not appear in modern recordings or transcriptions, the latest surviving tablature I have found for any ruibin version having been published in 1876, or perhaps 1894.19

Regarding the raised fifth string tuning, as I have noted elsewhere titles commonly associated with this tuning usually have some connection of the Chu region (loosely the modern Hubei and Hunan provinces). It is thus tempting to suggest that it is only melodies using a raised fifth tuning that should be associated with a Qu Yuan story, as Qu Yuan was perhaps the most famous ancient representative of Chu culture. This may have once been the case, but there are also stories that connect Bo Ya to the Chu region (see, e.g., the Hanyang reference). In addition, the Shui Xian titles and the title Sao Shou Wen Tian, as well as the two tunings used for these melodies, have been so totally mixed together since the 18th century that it is not possible for me to make such an assertion at present.

The situation is further complicated by the continuing use of the third associated title Qiusai Yin, originally used as an alternate title for the earliest of these melodies (but fourth listed above), Huangyun Qiusai, which which concerns Wang Zhaojun captured by Central Asian nomads.

This third melody, first called Qiu Sai Yin and first surviving from a handbook published another 33 years later (the earliest version being dated 1722), returns to standard tuning, the mode here being called zhi yin (see zhi diao). However, this earliest version has Sao Shou Wen Tian as an alterate title, and it soon also appears with the title Shui Xian Cao (or even Shui Xian Qu). After this the titles connected to this melody seem generally mixed, and so do the stories. Mention of Wang Zhaojun becomes less common, the melody instead being associated either with the story of Boya and Cheng Lian, or with a story related to Qu Yuan. This melody is still in the active repertoire today.20

As has been mentioned, the confusion over these titles was noted in some of the early commentaries. However, I have not yet seen a suggestion that the three titles (not counting Huangyun Qiu Sai, the last related melody to which dates perhaps from 1557 or perhaps 1585) and three title-types connected to three stories, should be correctly aligned as mentioned above, with the Bo Ya story settled on one melody (using Shui Xian in the title), the Qu Yuan story on another (best title Sao Shou Wen Tian), and the Wang Zhaojun story on the third (call it Qiu Sai Yin). Perhaps one reason for this is that the only one of these melodies associated with only one title is the present one, Shui Xian Cao, was published in only one early handbook.

Further regarding this confusion, it should also be seen as evidence that, as with poetry, perhaps one should not demand that the meaning of a melody be simple and straightforward.

Original preface 21
None here, but see versions of the Bo Ya - Cheng Lian story in:

Bo Ya entry in Qin Shi
Yu Boya of Chu article in picture book
Other introductions to this title, as outlined below

Seven Sections, untitled
22 (see transcription; timings follow my recording 聽錄音)

00.00   1.
00.50   2.
01.37   3.
02.25   4.
02.48   5.
03.22   6.
03.48   7.
04.21       harmonic coda
04.36       end

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Shui Xian related titles
17458.118 is 水仙 shuixian; no 水賢 or 水僊. Shui Xian can also be transliterated Shui Xian. The shuixian terms used as melody titles have links to the footnote tracing the titles, below. There is more on the translation of 仙 xian under Transcendant Venerable One. For related titles see also the early prefaces below. This 1579 version is the only shuixian melody I actively play.

Shui Xian Qu (; 水仙曲) See Qinqu Jicheng, Vol. IV/220. Although this is the melody title here and in various other qin handbooks, it is not mentioned in ZWDCD.

Shui Xian Cao (17458.123 水仙操)

This ZWDCD entry describes Shui Xian Cao as 樂府琴曲名 the name of a qin melody in Yuefu, written because of Boya's hearing the sound of water on an island. It then quotes Yuefu Jieti (as below). The beginning of Yuefu Shiji Folio 57 mentions Shui Xian Cao as part of its list of Cai Yong's melodies (see in Qin Cao), but it does not have a separate entry for the melody itself, nor can I find any further commentary there.

Shui Xian (or shuixian; 17458.118 水仙)

  1. "An immortal in the water"
    - Quotes 5961.1266 天隱子 Tianyinzi (Tang dynasty) on 天仙,地仙,水仙,神仙.
  2. The name given a number of people in antiquity, including:
    - 河伯馮夷 Hebo Pingyi (Hebo became an ancient deity of the Yellow River after tying a boulder to his back and jumping into the river to stop the flooding; he rode a dragon called Pingyi [sometimes called "Fengyi"]);
    - 春秋伍子胥
    Wu Zi Xu;
    - 屈原 Qu Yuan (he became an immortal after jumping in the water);
    - 晉郭璞 Guo Pu; and
    - 唐陶峴 Tao Xian (Bio/2051: Tang dynasty scholar recluse).
  3. Ancestor's corpse placed in the water
  4. The narcissus flower.

Shui Xianzi (17458.119 水仙子)

In the Song dynasty this could refer to a female entertainer on West Lake; in addition it could be a 樂府 yuefu name or the name of a 曲牌 qupai. It does not appear as a qin melody title (though see this reference).

Perhaps also worthy of mention is the following poem, as it might connect shuixian to guqin:

Shui Xian Yao ( 水仙謠)
This is the name of a 謠 ballad by 溫庭筠
Wen Tingyun in Yuefu Shiji Folio 100. Its lyrics are as follows:

水客夜騎紅鯉魚,赤鸞雙鶴蓬瀛書。 (Could "蓬瀛書 report on Penglai and Yingzhou" refer to the Boya story?)
露魄冠輕見雲發,寒絲七柱香泉咽。(魄 "form" also written 冕 "cap"; 柱 "pillar" also written 炷 "incense stick")
夜深天碧亂山姿,光碎平波滿船月。 (平 "flat" also written 玉 "jade")

A guest on the water at night rides a red carp;
      a fabulous red luan bird and a pair of cranes report on Penglai and Yingzhou.
Light dust does not rise as the fresh rain ends and the sky clears;
      for 10,000 li a solitary radiance fills the empty blue sky.
Fog patches lighten at top revealing clouds issuing forth;
      (the sound of) cold silk (strings) on seven posts (mimic) a fragrant spring blocked.
Deep into the night the sky obscures the mountain shapes;
      bright fragments and flattened ripples by a boat filled with moonlight.

In this tentative translation note that the third line mentions 七柱 seven posts or 七炷 seven incense sticks. A qin has two soundposts (天柱 and 地柱) but seven 寶軫 precious pegs. Whether or not "七柱 seven posts" means there is a confusion of number or terminology, 七 can go with the preceding 絲, thus alluding to qin; on the other hand, "七炷 seven incense sticks" could connect 七 with the following word 香 "fragrance": 4.277 七香 refers to seven types of incense.

2. Shang mode (商調 Shang Diao)
For further information on shang mode see Shenpin Shang Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature.

3. Playing qin for a listener who understands (撫琴聽者知音) (full image)
Painting by 上官周 Shangguan Zhou (1665-ca.1750) from an album of 12 leaves; copied from Scent of Ink, the Roy and Marilyn Papp Collection of Chinese Painting. Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, 1994; pp. 69 and 70. Here nature is the discerning listener, a corollary to nature as teacher. The inscription "撫琴聽者知音 Playing for a listener who understands" refers to one of the 十六樂事 16 Enjoyable Matters outlined by Su Shi (thanks to 孫小青 Sun Xiaoqing for identifying this).

Just for fun, compare Playing qin for an ox.

4. Learning from nature (more Daoist themes)
In the qin tradition this Daoist ideal originates in the story of Boya learning from nature. A personal experience connected to this concept is presented with Silk Zither Dreams.

The Confucian attitude also connects music and nature, but is perhaps best known for connecting it the same way it connects nature to rites: if rites are performed correctly then society (including nature) will be in order; likewise if music is performed correctly (and the music is proper) society (including nature) will be in order. For an account of what improper music can do see the pure jue melody.

5. Tracing the titles:
      Shui Xian (plus Shui Xian Qu, Shui Xian Cao
      Qiu Sai Yin (earliest; modern version)
      Sao Shou Wen Tian
Zha Fuxi's Guide is organized according to title or story, which does not always correspond with melodic affiliation; this seems particularly true of the various melodies connected to the term "Shui Xian". Thus, in order to group the four distinct melodies with overlapping titles, listed above, one must collate information from at least six separate entries in the Guide. Note also that some of these are related to the earliest melody, Huang Yun Qiu Sai (huangzhong tuning). However, as can be seen from this chart, although two later publications of that melody changed the melody name to Qiu Sai Yin, the modern melody of that name did not emerge until over 150 years later.

  1. 24/201/-- 秋塞吟 Qiu Sai Yin (9 handbooks from 1551 to 1914)
    Zha's Guide lists Sao Shou Wen Tian as an alternate title.

    1. 1551 (Taiyin Chuanxi, IV/152); = Huang Yun Qiu Sai
    2. 1557 (Taiyin Buyi (III/389); identical to previous

    3. 1722 (Wuzhizhai Qinpu, XIV/503); "also called Sao Shou Wen Tian"; mentions only Ming Fei, but title later may concern Qu Yuan or Bo Ya
            Earliest of what today may be called Qiu Sai Yin, Shui Xian Cao or Sao Shou Wen Tian (see Mei'an version)
            "徵音,凡九段,金陵派 zhi mode (standard tuning), 9 sections; Jinling School"; begins w/3 ascending doublestops (in harmonics)
    4. 1820 (XX/114); gong mode; 10 sect.; "一名屈子天問,一名水仙操,宮調 also called Quzi Tian Wen and Shui Xian Cao"; afterword (like 1722
    5. 1830 (XXI/48); 10 sect.; like 1722
    6. 1844 (XXIII/320); like 1722, with same commentary
    7. 1875 (XXVI/239); like 1722, with same commentary
    8. 1878 (see XXVI/365); like 1722, with same commentary, but called Sao Shou Wen Tian and also listed there
    9. 1914 (not in QQJC); 9 sections; Zha Guide has commentary saying "from 1907", but this melody is not there

  2. 25/211/-- 水仙曲 Shui Xian Qu (7 handbooks from 1579 to 1890)
    Zha's Guide lists Sao Shou Wen Tian as an alternate title.
    The only preface (see Guide, p.[455] 211 and 1868 below) connects the melody with Boya/Chenglian; see also
    Shui Xian Cao below.

    1. 1579 (this melody only here in Wuyin Qinpu, QQJC IV/224); standard tuning, shang diao (no commentary)

    2. 1755 (XVI/251), standard tuning, zhiyin; like 1722 Qiu Sai Yin, but only opening double stop is 3rd note; "吳官心傳 from Wu Guanxin"; no other attribution
    3. 1760 (XVII/104), zhiyin; 10 則 sections; like 1722 and 1755 but begins w/2 doublestops; "same as Sao Shou Wen Tian"; otherwise no commentary
    4. 1785 (XVIII/402), zhiyin; 10 則 sections; begins like 1755 above; "same as Sao Shou Wen Tian"; otherwise no commentary
    5. <1802 (XIX/316); zhiyin, 7; like 1755 above; also has Sao Shou Wen Tian (RB; see below); no commentary
    6. 1849 (XXIII/365); begins like 1755 above, but 15 sections; also has Sao Shou Wen Tian (RB; see below); no commentary
    7. 1868 (XXVI/64; shang; 7; attrib. Boya (Zha also lists under Shui Xian Cao); begins like 1755 above; this handbook also has Sao Shou Wen Tian (RB; see below)
    8. 1878 (XXVI/352); zhiyin, 11; begins like 1755 above; no commentary
    9. 1890 (XXVI/453); zhiyin, 10; like 1722/1755 but notes 4-6 are the ascending double stops; no se part; no commentary

  3. 37/262/-- 搔首問(青)天 Sao Shou Wen (Qing) Tian (15 handbooks from 1689 to 1931; 12 are in ruibin tuning; recording on BiliBili)
    Zha Guide gives Qiu Sai Yin and Shui Xian Qu as alternate titles; commentaries mostly connect to Qu Yuan.

    1. 1689 (Chengjiantang Qinpu (XIV/339); 7 sections; no commentary; ruibin: raised 5th; earliest to use this tuning
    2. 1739 (Qinxue Lianyao; XVIII/154); shang; 12 sect.; like 1722 Qiu Sai Yin but begins w/1 doublestop; afterword concerns Qu Yuan
    3. 1760 (Qinxiangtang Qinpu; XVII/174); ruibin; 7 sections; related to 1689 (no commentary)
    4. 1802 (Ziyuantang Qinpu; XVII/498); zhi diao, shang yin, but = ruibin; 7 sections; like 1689; no commentary
    5. <1802 (Yiluxuan Qinpu; XIX/116); ruibin, 7, "= 1689"
    6. 1833 (Erxiang Qinpu; XXIII/168); "yu yin" but = ruibin; like 1689; 8; afterword mentions Shui Xian Cao, etc.; seems to prefer Qu Yuan story
    7. 1833 (Lü Hua; XXI/456); 無射均 = ruibin; 8; notes/pitches are named; rel. to but quite diff. from 1689; beginning at XXI/459 is an extended phrase by phrase explanation of the whole melody
    8. 1836 (Wuxue Shanfang Qinpu; XXII/414); 無射均商音 raised fifth; 8 sections; related to 1689; short preface
    9. 1849 (Zhiyin Qinpu; XXIII/450); ruibin; 7; only comment a brief one with Sec. 6
    10. 1868 (Jiaoan Qinpu; XXVI/100); ruibin; 7; no commentary
    11. 1876 (Tianwenge Qinpu; XXV/573); = 1802; 8 sections; ruibin; attrib. Qu Yuan
    12. 1876 (Tianlaige Qinpu; XXI/244); ruibin; 7 sections; rel. 1689
    13. 1878 (Xishaoge Qinpu; XXVI/365); zhi yin; 10 sections; "also called Qiu Sai Yin"; like 1722 including attrib. to Zhaojun
    14. 1894 (Qinxue Chujin; XXVIII/377); shang yin (= ruibin); 8; rel. 1689; long afterword does not attribute
    15. 1931 (Meian Qinpu; XXIX/216); 林鐘調,徵音 linzhong diao, zhi yin (standard tuning); 9 sections; this is the most popular modern version; still related to 1722 (further comment)
    16. 2015 (Xiangjiang Rongshi Qinpu; Handbook of the Rong Family Tradition pp.99-102); (無射均商音 raised fifth tuning); 8 sections; two recordings; also one on bili)

  4. 39/--/-- 屈子天文 Quzi Tian Wen (Qu Yuan's Questions of Heaven; 2 handbooks, 1744 and 1884)

    1. 1744 (XXVIII/255); ToC says also called Shui Xian Cao; 中呂均,商音; 10 sect.; like 1722 Qiu Sai Yin but begins with two doublestops; afterword
    2. 1884 (not available) 商音,中呂均,又名水仙操 also called Shui Xian Cao; like 1722 but same as 1820?

  5. 39/--/--    水仙     Shui Xian

    Only 1738 (Qinshu Qiangu; XV/405); zhiyin; 10 sections; compare 1722 Qiu Sai Yin but begins with two doublestops; no commentary

  6. 40/269/-- 水仙操 Shui Xian Cao (14 handbooks listed from 1802 to 1910, but #8 & #9 seem to be mistakes).

    1. 1802 (Ziyuantang Qinpu, XVII/414); shangyin; 10; like 1722 Qiu Sai Yin but only third note is the harmonic doublestop; no commentary
    2. 1825 (XX/324); zhiyin; 9; like 1722, beginning with three ascending doublestops; no commentary
    3. 1828 (XX/408); zhiyin; 10; "also called Quzi Tian Wen"; like 1722, beginning with one doublestop; no commentary
    4. 1833 (XXIII/134); shangyin; 10; like 1722, but 3rd and 4th notes are the doublestops; first comment to connect melody to Boya/Chenglian story
    5. 1821 (XX/324); 9; like 1722, beginning with three ascending doublestops; no commentary
    6. 1836 (XXII/331); 11; like 1722, beginning with three ascending doublestops; commentary mentions Qinyuan Yaolu!
    7. 1839/ (XXIII/66); 9; like 1722 but 3rd and 4th notes are doublestops; attrib. Boya
    8. 1864 (XXIV/__); this attribution on QQJC p.165 must be a mistake as Qinxue Rumen does not have this title.
    9. 1868 (XXVI/64); this must also be a mistake, as 1868 actually calls it Shui Xian Qu (and so listed above). Does Zha list it here because the preface tells the Boya - Cheng Lian story?
    10. 1876 (XXV/448); "yu yin shang diao"; otherwise = 1802 (no commentary)
    11. 1884 (XXVII/340); gong diao shang yin; 12; "also called (!) 湘妃怨 Xiangfei Yuan, 秋塞吟 Qiu Sai Yin, 昭君怨 Zhao Jun Yuan, 搔首問天 Sao Shou Wen Tian, 屈子天文 Quzi Tian Wen; begins 3 harmonic double stops then stopped double stop (i.e., related to 1722 but more differences?
    12. 1893 (XXVIII/78); zhiyin; 7; like 1722, but only third note is doublestop; preface connects it with Boya/Chenglian
    13. 1894 (XXVIII/273); 黃鐘均商音 huangzhong jun shang yin, 10; like 1722, but only third note is doublestop; preface connects it with Boya/Chenglian; "By Zhong Ziqi, traditionally attributed to Cheng Lian."
    14. 1910 (XXX/227 and QF/977); "1802"; gongdiao shang yin; 10; adds rhythmic indication; no attribution

There may be more not mentioned in Zha's Guide.

6. Confusion of titles
One commentary of Shui Xian Cao (see 1884) even suggests that some versions could also be called Xiangfei Yuan!

7. Early Shui Xian Cao melodies and their Chinese introductions
See also the references above. The Chinese introduction quoted first below was copied from 17458.123 水仙操 Shui Xian Cao, so it should be the earliest published reference then known of the Bo Ya and Cheng Lian story. It is said to be from Explanations of the Music Bureau (樂府解題 Yuefu Jieti), the source of which seems to be somewhat uncertain: the original was lost, but it had comments that were later incorporated into Yuefu Shiji. Unfortunately, this does not explain why there is no separate entry for Shui Xian in YFSJ.

伯牙學琴於成連先生。 三年不成。至於精神寂寞。情志專一。尚未能也。 成連云:吾師方子春今年在東海中能移人情。乃與伯牙俱往,至蓬萊山。 留宿伯牙曰:子居習之,吾將迎師。刺船而去。 旬時不返。伯牙近望無人。但聞海水洞汩崩折之聲。山林窅冥。群鳥悲號。 愴然而嘆曰:先生將移我情。乃援琴而歌。 曲終成連回,刺船迎之而還。伯牙遂為天下妙矣。

This is almost the same as online versions giving as their source 樂府古題要解 Yuefu Gu Tiyao Jie:

舊說﹕伯牙學鼓琴於成連先生。 三年不成。至於精神寂寞。情志專一。尚未能也。 成連云。吾師方子春在東海中能移人情。乃與伯牙至蓬萊山。 留伯牙曰。吾將迎吾師。刺船而去。 旬時不返。伯牙近望無人。但聞海上汩沒漰澌之聲。山林窅冥。群鳥悲號。 愴然嘆曰。先生將移我情。乃援琴而歌之。 曲終,成連刺船而還。伯牙遂為天下妙耳。

Compare this with the one published by 朱長文 Zhu Changwen (1041-1098) in his 琴史 Qin Shi biography of Boya

(中文 / English).

The introduction to 水仙操 Shui Xian Cao in the edition of 蔡邕琴操 Cai Yong 's Qin Cao published in 琴學叢書 Qinxue Congshu (1910; see Lament #11) is incomplete.

水仙操者,伯牙之所作也。 伯牙學琴於成連先生。 先生曰﹕吾能傳曲而不能移情。吾師有方子春者,善於琴,能作人之情。 今在東海上,子能與我同事之乎? 伯牙曰﹕夫子有命敢不敬從,乃相與至海上,見子春受業焉。 闕。

However, there is added commentary saying Shilei Fu (事類賦 244.141 宋,吳淑撰 by Wu Shu of the Song dynasty),樂部注,引《樂府解題》,『水仙操』前段與此文略同, has a version from Yuefu Jieti. It then adds the continuation from that source, finally concluding that the similarity is 足證此文之闕 enough to prove it is the missing part. The continuation is:

乃與伯牙俱往至蓬萊山。留伯牙, 曰,子居習之。吾將迎之。刺船而去。 旬時伯牙延望,無人。旦聞海水通湧,山林沓冥。 愴然歎曰﹕先生移我情矣。乃援琴而歌,作水仙之操。 The essential element of these stories is that Boya must in his qin play 移情 yi qing the way nature does. As for 移情 yi qing, 25606.69 and 5/79 give several examples for its use, including one from the Shui Xian introduction. The ABC Dictionary translates it as "change one's mind/feelings" and "empathize"; Mathews has, "stir the emotions". This 1579 Shui Xian Qu is the only version I have so far reconstructed.

8. Shake the Head and Ask Heaven (搔首問天 Sao Shou Wen Tian)
12802.7 搔首 has nothing on Qu Yuan, its earliest reference being to Shi Jing poem 42, 靜女 Jing Nü (Waley: Of Fair Girls; narrator scratches his head when he cannot find girl). As for 問天 wentian, 3840.7 connects it only to Qu Yuan's Tian Wen. I have found no modern transcriptions or recordings of the raised 5th tuning melody. Instead Sao Shou Wen Tian is today best known as the title of the Mei'an version of Qiu Sai Yin.

9. Qu Yuan Asks Heaven (屈子天問 Quzi Tian Wen)
7845.5 屈子 Quzi = 屈原 Qu Yuan; nothing further. 5961.827 天文 Tian Wen refers to the poem of that name in the Chu Ci.

10. Autumn Frontier Intonation (秋塞吟 Qiu Sai Yin or Qiu Sai Yin; see listing.)
Although the earliest surviving tablature with this title dates from 1551, the earliest new melody with this title is the Qiu Sai Yin in Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722). Although historically the most common title for this melody is Shui Xian Qu (see in tracing list), it is best known today through either the interpretations from 1722 by Wu Jinglue ("Qiu Sai Yin; qp recording) or Wu Zhaoji (Sao Shou Wen Tian; recording); or through the Mei'an Qinpu School version also called Sao Shou Wen Tian (recording).

搔首問天 Sao Shou Wen Tian of the Mei'an school (recording)
As just suggested, in earlier handbooks (beginning with 1722) this melody was usually called either Qiu Sai yin, Shui Xian Qu, or Shui Xian Cao. However, in the absence of handbooks said to be Zhucheng (or proto-Meian), it is not clear when this melody became part of the Meian tradition, or why Meian Qinpu uses Saoshou Wentian as the main title (this is often given as an alternate title but as far as I can tell only the 1722 and 1878 handbooks previously used it as the main title.

A glance at the almost 50 entries grouped under five titles in the tracing melodies footnote above shows my preliminary attempt to categorize the approximately 40 earlier versions of the Meian Qinpu melody, based largely on the opening harmonic passage (specifically which notes are double stopped harmonics). A closer examination of these melodies should help further refine our understanding of how it was transmitted.

Perhaps because the most common title is concerns shuixian this melody is most commonly connected to the Boya/Chenglian. It is thus not clear why the Mei'an handbook attributes this melody to Qu Yuan, adding that it was inspired by the same idea as (Qu Yuan's) Li Sao.

Lieberman, A Chinese Zither Tutor (his translation of Meian Qinpu), p.143ff, has a transcription (no tablature). A silk string recording by Wu Zhaoji calls it Qiu Sai Yin, with Sao Shou Wen Tian as an alternate title.

11. Modern recordings and transcriptions
Significant recordings include the following:

  1. The earliest Shui Xian: to my knowledge there is only my recording
  2. The ruibin melody usually called Sao Shou Wen Tian: None
  3. The standard tuning Qiu Sai Yin also known as Shui Xian and Sao Shou Wen Tian: numerous online recordings
  4. Huangyun Qiu Sai: since my own (fifth CD) there have been a number of similar online recordings

In addition, Guqin Quji, Vol. I, has transcriptions for four versions of #3:

  1. Qiu Sai Yin, p.152; Wu Jinglue from 1722
  2. Shui Xian Cao, p.159; Guan Pinghu, from 1802
  3. Shui Xian Cao, p.165; 郭同甫 Guo Tongfu "from 1864", but this must be a mistake (begins w/3 ascending doublestops)
  4. Shui Xian Cao, p.171; Shen Caonong playing from tradition of 裴介卿 Pei Jieqing (begins two ascending doublestops).

The commentary on pp. 7-8 first mentions the Cheng Lian story, then mentions the other stories described above, concluding that the situation is indeed complicated.

12. Compiler of Wuyin Qinpu
See further.

13. Boya plays for Ziqi on a boat near Hanyang
This later version of the story can be found in many places online, but I have not found its source. According to this account, Cheng Lian took Boya to 泰山 Mount Tai in order to learn from nature. Meeting on the boat connects this story with the otherwise unrelated melody Jiang Yue Bai.

14. 蕉庵琴譜 See below (Return)

14. Celebrated each year on the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. (Return)

16. The actual melody is related to the one originally called Qiu Sai Yin. (Return)

17. Wolfram Eberhard, Dictionary of Chinese Symbols, p.204. It should also be mentioned here that none of the commentary associated with melodies with shui xian in the title makes any mention of the flower. (Return)

18. Eberhard, ibid. (Return)

19. Last two published ruibin versions
Both are called Sao Shou Wen Tian. Tianwenge Qinpu (1876) says its version is from Ziyuantang Qinpu (1802). The preface to the version in Qinxue Chujin (1894; shang yin) mentions Qu Yuan.

20. See footnote above regarding transcriptions and recording. (Return)

21. Chinese preface
None here, but see the early commentary included above.

22. See QQJC IV/220 (Return)

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