Pu An Zhou / Pu'an Zhou
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Incantation of the Monk Pu'an
- standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 2
Pu'an Zhou 1

The Incantation of the Monk Pu'an4 (Pu'an Zhou; Pu An Zhou) is one of the most popular qin melodies today. As a qin melody title it is first mentioned in 1609 as an alternative name for the Buddhist chant Shitan Zhang (Siddham Stanzas). The 1609 tablature of this original Shitan Zhang chant, like the printed versions of almost all of those after it, has a basic structure of short opening invocation, lengthy chant of Sanskrit syllables, then short closing prayer.5 For these full versions the lyrics rarely changed. The melody itself, however, came to be interpreted in differing ways. In particular, as the solo qin version became independent of the chanted version it became more like a traditional qin melody; as such it is difficult to hear its connection to the original chant. And, perhaps because of the popularity of this qin melody version, the old versions that were seemingly adapted directly from the chants seem to have disappeared. Today these versions based on the chant are very rarely heard, and when done so they are likely reconstructions from the tablature.6

These chanted versions, in both the guqin and other repertoires, are discussed further under Shitan Zhang. In particular, for a village performance see this footnote.

As for the popular modern form for guqin, it seems to have developed out of the central section of Shitan Zhang; as such it was first published under the title Pu'an Zhou in the Wuzhizhai Qinpu of 1722. At first it kept an abbreviated version of the original chant, but eventually it became a purely instrumental melody.7

The origin of Shitan Zhang itself is not clear. Its earliest publication is in the 1592 Paired Music for Three Religions (Sanjiao Tongsheng [Qinpu]), but there are conflicting accounts of its source. After this the transmission of all these versions is outlined in the Chart Tracing Shitan Zhang / Pu'an Zhou). Highlights from the chart include:

Versions of Shitan Zhang and Pu'an Zhou survive in almost 50 handbooks from 1592 to the present. Handbooks right up to the 20th century include versions clearly related to the original Shitan Zhang, but their connection with the Pu'an Zhou played today is hidden much more deeply.

Thre are several distinct modern versions of the purely instrumental qin melody. The first listed is by far the most common:

  1. The version transmitted by the Peng family of Jiangxi (Pu'an Zhou)11
    Almost all players today follow this tradition through the version taught to Zha Fuxi by Peng Qingshou.
  2. The Guangling School version (Shitan Zhang)10
    This can be traced at least to the version in Yi Liu Zheng Wuzhizhai Qinxue Mishu (1875)
  3. The Mei An school tradition (Shitan Zhang)12
    I have not heard any recordings, nor have I found anyone who plays it today.
  4. Others I have not yet identified.13

For the Peng family tradition of Pu'an Zhou there seem to be at least two available transcriptions into staff notation.14

  1. The version in Guqin Qu Huibian (Guqin Melody Collected Edition, 1956), which follows the melody as played by Xia Yifeng (1883-1963); there are modern recordings by Cheng Gongliang;15
  2. The version in Volume One of Guqin Quji (Guqin Melody Collection, 1962), which follows Pu Xuezhai (1893-1966).16

These two versions are very similar - identical in many passages; the commonly played one is often shorter than the Xia Yifeng version, but that is usually a result of omitting a long repeated passage at the end. The relationship of these two within the original Peng family tradition is not clear.

In his Lore of the Chinese Lute, R.H. van Gulik has extensive commentary on Pu'an Zhou (see also his translation of the 1609 preface). After writing that Buddhists attributed magical powers to the qin, that there were many famous Buddhist qin players especially in the Song dynasty, and that Indian instruments introduced into China were studied by Chinese scholars, he writes:

"(p.51) A curious result of this direct 'Buddhist influence' is the fact that among the better known qin tunes there is one entitled Shi Tan 'Buddhist Words', which is nothing but a mantrayanic magic formula, a dharani. The music of this tune is decidedly Indian, vibratos and glissandos reproducing the frequent melismas used in Buddhist polyphonic chant in China and Japan up to this day. The words are also given, for the greater part in transcribed bastard Sanskrit, the usual language of dharani, and starting with the stereotyped opening formula 'Hail to the Buddha! Hail to the Law! Hail to the Community!'

"As far as I know the first printed text of this tune was published by Yang Lun in his qinpu, Boya Xinfa (sic; see a translation)....

"(p.52) "The priest Pu-an lived from 1115-69, and was famous for his magical powers.... He left a book in three chapters, entitled Pu-an Yin Su Chanshi Yulu17

"(p.53) Qinpu of the Qing period usually include this tune, Shi Tan, always adding the remark that the musical notation was drawn up by the (early Qing dynasty) poet and (qin) expert Han Jiang18....As the music of the tune Shi Tan is doubtless of Indian origin, I am inclined to believe that he heard it somewhere in a Lamaist temple.

It was around the time of Han Jiang that the Kangxi emperor (r.1662 - 1723) is reported to have played Pu'an Zhou on the harpsichord.19

There have been numerous recordings of the modern Pu'an Zhou, perhaps the earliest being the one made by Zha Fuxi at the Library of Congress.

Original Preface
For a listing of prefaces see
chart 20

Music 21
Comments here concern the modern version.

Footnotes (Numbers refer to entries in Zhongwen Dacidian)

1. Pu'an Zhou (see also Pu'an, below)
14293 普 has no 普庵 Pu An or Pu'an Zhou. Much of the information on this webpage, as well as for Shitan Zhang, is based on information from François Picard, who wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Shitan Zhang (since published, in French), showing its connection with the modern Pu'an Zhou as well as related melodies in the Jiangnan Sizhu and Nanguan repertoires. Also helpful is the article Shitan Zhang 釋談章 and Puan Zhou 普庵咒 by 陳松憲 Chan Chong Hin (Mandarin: Chen Songxian).

2. Mode of the modern Pu'an Zhou (compare the old Shitan Zhang)
The earliest modal indication, in 1618, was shang, which uses standard tuning but makes 1 = do. However, the main note of Pu'an Zhou is clearly the equivalent of the open third string, and later handbooks also use various other mode names. I do not know why it was originally said to be shang mode.

4. Pu An (普菴、普庵), style name of Yin Su ( 印肅, 1115-69 CE)
普菴 Pu An (14293.84; Bio/xxx): "the given name of a Song dynasty monk named 印肅 Yin Su (2902.xxx; Bio/xxx), later called 慧慶禪士 (Bio/xxx) Chan master Huiqing. He was a 12th generation descendent of 臨濟 Lin Ji [= 義玄?) and a 法嗣 fasi (Buddhistic inheritor?) of 牧菴忠禪士 Loyal Chan Master Mu'an. In the late 12th century he resided at 袁州之南泉山 Nanxuan Shan in Yuanzhou (apparently southwest of Nanchang)...." (No connection made to any incantations.)

5. Comparing sections of the old Shitan Zhang with those of the 1722 Pu'an Zhou (see also full lyrics)
The structure of the full Shitan Zhang is generally as follows:

The relationship between the two sub-sections of the middle section (1 + 6 parts, or 2 + 18 lines), which altogether could be called Qi Zhou, is outlined further here. In the full version this text is intended to include all the different sounds found in Sanskrit. Their recitation in this order is said to have powerful effects.

As mentioned above, the 1722 version omits the opening and final sections. Its lyrics are then an abbreviated form of those in the full Qi Zhou, as follows:

One of the striking aspects of the 1722 Pu'an Zhou is that it often diverges from the standard pairing method for qin songs by adding a number of unpaired right hand strokes.

6. Shitan Zhang today
For performances of the 1722 version that led the transition to the modern form see under the Rong Family Tradition. For a reconstruction of the earlier version, in addition to my own see

7. Tracing Pu'an Zhou (see also the Chart Tracing Shitan Zhang / Pu'an Zhou)
Zha Fuxi's Guide includes Pu'an Zhou with Shitan Zhang, 27/219/421. The earliest version resembling the modern one seems to be in Wuzhizhai Qinpu, which has a full length Shitan Zhang (QQJC XII, p. 444) followed immediately by a Pu'an Zhou (ibid., p. 452) that seems largely extracted from the central section of Shitan Zhang and starts rather like the modern version, but still has lyrics.

小普庵咒 Xiao Pu'an Zhou
Zha's Guide (43/--/--) also has a Small Pu'an Incantation. It has two entries, published in
1884 and 1907. According to Julian Joseph, who has done research on the 1907 handbook (q.v.), it is apparently a qin version of the pipa lute piece of the same name, as it occurs in the Ju Shilin Pipapu, and its connection to the common qin version is not apparent. Picard's dissertation suggests that the versions of this melody from different repertoires may seem completely different, but if one studies the underlying structure one can see that they are all related.

8. 松絃館琴譜

9. 自遠堂琴譜, see QQJC, XVII, p. 547 ff and 555 ff.

10. Peng family version, called Pu'an Zhou
As described above, with further detail below, the two available transcriptions show that the versions transmitted via Xia Yifeng (q.v.) and Zha Fuxi (q.v.) are quite similar, but there are some distinctive differences (in particular the first note). I have not yet seen any commentary tracing the source of their differences.

11. Guangling School versions: Shitan Zhang then Pu'an Zhou
The Guangling School is sometimes said to have originated with Xu Qi of Yangzhou. The handbook of Xu Qi, Wuzhizhai Qinpu (1722), has one version of each of these titles, both with lyrics:

  1. Called Shitan Zhang, it seems to have characteristics mainly of the older versions.
  2. Called Pu'an Zhou, it seems to be the first version with some of the characteristics of the melody of this title most commonly played today (see above).

A study of the transmission of these versions of Shitan Zhang/Pu'an Zhou might shed some light both on the development of the modern form of the melody and on the development of the Guangling School itself.

Although the 1722 Pu'an Zhou is said in particular to be the source of modern versions as played in the Guangling School, the fact that Wuzhizhai Qinu has both titles seems to have caused some confusion, leading the newer version often to be called Shitan Zhang. On the other hand, the recording of the Guangling School version that Hammond Yung (容克智 Yung Hak-Chi) posted in 2011 on YouTube clearly reveals that it has elements of both the original Shitan Zhang chant and the commonly played instrumental melody. The commentary with the YouTube recording says it comes from 慶瑞老師李澄宇先生 Qing Rui and (his teacher) Li Chengyu (see comment with 琴瑟合譜 Qinse Hepu, 1870). Specifically, Hammond says the tablature he follows is this Qinse Hepu version, as compiled by Qing Rui, but without the se part. That version, in turn, is very similar to the one in Yi Liu Zheng Wuzhizhai Qinxue Mishu (1875), compiled by 孫寶 Sun Bao, a student of both Qing Rui and Li Chengyu. The 1875 commentary says the melody comes from

"韓子十耕原稿, 莊子蝶菴譜同參
examining both an original draft by Master Han Shigeng and tablature by Master Zhuang Die'an."

This is exactly the same attribution found in the Shitan Zhang from Wuzhizhai Qinpu, an attributation also found in a number of versions after 1722. Some seem to copy 1722, others are quite different. The 1870 version is very different from 1722, but the attributions apparently connect all these versions with the Guangling School.

The 1870 version has been passed down to the present through five generations of players, as follows: 李澄宇→慶瑞→李芝仙(wife of 慶瑞)→容心言→容思澤→容克智. Its open string beginning (XXVI/170) and (XXVI/252) , "6 1 3 2 1 ; 61 1 then doublestops....", is different from previous ones. 1870 and 1875 are somewhat different, but share many similarities.

12. Mei'an School tradition of Shitan Zhang/Pu'an Zhou
It was not included in Longyinguan Qinpu. A transcription (without the tablature) can be found in Fred Lieberman's A Chinese Zither Tutor; Hong Kong, HK University Press, 1983, pp.119-124. The tablature is in 梅庵琴譜 Mei An Qinpu.

13. Other versions of the instrumental melody
Several more versions can be heard on the internet but I have not traced them yet.

14. Modern transcriptions of Pu'an Zhou
In addition to those discussed below, Wu Wenguang's Ph.D. dissertation has a transcription of his father Wu Jinglue's version, but there is no tablature.

15. Pu'an Zhou in 古琴曲彙編 Guqin Qu Huibian (pp.44-51)
Guqin Qu Huibian collects 17 melodies as played by Xia Yifeng, but the only available recordings of his version of #9 Pu'an Zhou are by 成公亮 Cheng Gongliang, who recorded it in Autumn Aria (Pu-'An Incantstion [sic]) and Chant of the King Wen/Lonely Bamboo (Pu-an's Exorcism). Timing for the former is 15.00, for the latter 16.29 (as of 2010 it can be heard online); both seem to be almost identical to the melody as transcribed in Guqin Qu Huibian. According to Cheng (information from Luca Pisano), he did not learn this version from a teacher, instead working out his version from a handcopy of Xia Yifeng tablature that he had obtained about 30 years ago; it was in a very bad state and does not exist any more. He guesses that Xia may have learned it from 楊子鏞 Yang Ziyong, but says that this is just a supposition.

The introduction on page 7 of Guqin QuHuibian says,

This piece is also called Shitan Zhang. It is earliest seen in 楊倫伯牙心法 Yang Lun's Ming dynasty handbook Boya Xinfa (sic.; in fact it seems only to have been in the later 1609 edition, thus later than 1592). What this passes on is the incantation of the Chan master Pu'an. Pu'an, one suspects, was the famous monk Pu'an (普安!! 130 - 609 !! the period of division between north and south [?] of the 梁 Liang dynasty, 502-557). This piece was originally sung to the accompaniment of (instrumental) music. The verses all came from Han dynasty transcriptions (文釋成) of Sanskrit letters, and the words actually have no meaning. An example of this is 吒吒吒但那,波波波梵摩 zha zha zha dan na, bo bo bo fan mo, etc.

It seems as though this was a kind of tune designed to help in the practice of properly pronouncing Buddhist Sanskrit texts (or using rhymes?), or the pronunciation method, and it contains not the slightest bit of secret spiritual meaning. Buddhist followers during the first century, in order to practice Sanskrit texts, had already constructed a pronunciation (rhyming?) syllabary. This (later) influenced the construction and development of the science of pronunciation in our country. One could say that this type of piece was an instrument used at the time of the earliest study of pronunciation. But that later this tune gradually discarded the textual portion and became a purely instrumental piece. Qin players made it into a solo qin piece, and pipa players made it into a long pipa melody. And Buddhist followers during the early Qing dynasty had already used this piece for string and wind ensembles (see 大藏瑜伽施食儀, ca 1750).

16. Pu'an Zhou in 古琴曲集 Guqin Quji, Vol. 1 (pp. 203-210)
This transcription of a performance by 溥雪齋 Pu Xuezhai is said to come from a Beijing Qin Society Handbook. The introduction (Volume One, page 9) says,

Also called Shitan Zhang, its earliest notation is found in the late Ming Sanjiao Tongsheng Qinpu (1592). In the Qing dynasty a long (大套) pipa piece and a Buddhist instrumental tune (絲竹曲) both included this piece as a title. According to the Han characters indicating Sanskrit syllables, found in the columns alongside the qin tablature, this was apparently a tune designed to help study the pronunciation of Sanskrit writing. In ancient times there was already a Chan master named Pu'an; perhaps he is the author of this piece. The piece utilizes a relatively large number of chordal sounds, which help create the atmosphere of listening to a meditative (chant) in an old Buddhist monastery, imposing and majestic. The style of the tune is different from the average qin piece. It has the form of several melodic styles in the string ensemble repertoire.

The version that I learned from Sun Yü-ch'in is very similar to this version in Guqin Quji; it was commonly shortened by omitting a long reprise written at the end. The tablature we used said it was the version that was played by 彭慶壽 Peng Qingshou as transmitted via 查阜西 Zha Fuxi; reference is given to a 栩齋琴譜 Xuzhai Qinpu (no date), which apparently is in turn connected to a 理琴軒舊抄本 Li Qin Xuan Old Copybook dating from about 1880.

17. 普安印肅禪士語錄 Pu-an Yin Su Chanshi Yulu
Van Gulik does not mention whether he has seen this work: does it include the text of Shi Tan Zhang? If not, why does he identify Pu-An as the monk of the Song dynasty whose name is written with the characters 普菴 instead of 普庵 (not to mention 普安)?

18. Han Jiang: 韓畕,字經正,號石

19. The Kangxi Emperor and Pu'an Zhou
The reign of 玄燡 Xuan Yi (1655 - 1723) as the Kangxi Emperor (康熙 1662 - 1723; Wiki ) is the longest in Chinese history. During his reign he strengthened the empire but was also very much involved in cultural activities, perhaps most famously commissioning the Kangxi dictionary. He himself practised calligraphy, wrote poetry and presumably had studied the qin. At first he patronized the Jesuits, taking advantage of their skills in astronomy, surveying, and weaponry as well as music, but later he felt it necessary to limit their missionary activities.

Much mention has been made of Kangxi having had a Western music teacher and eventually playing melodies on the harpsichord. There is even an often-repeated story that Kangxi actually played the melody Pu'an Zhou on a harpsichord. In this regard one can read in Sheila Melvin and Jindong Cai, Rhapsody in Red, How Western Classical Music Became Chinese, p. 66, that "Pu Yen Zhou" is a "Daoist prayer" that was originally written for pipa in the Song dynasty.

In fact, the earliest known form of Pu'an Zhou (or Pu An Zhou), as discussed above and under Shitan Zhang, was in a qin piece in the form of a Buddhist chant whose Sanskrit syllables were perhaps intended to have magical properties. Although said to be the incantation of a Song dynasty monk, the earliest known music is that of the guqin transcription published in 1592. The abridged modern solo qin instrumental version apparently dates from 1722. Today it can be found in many regional instrumental ensemble versions, but it is difficult to trace the history of these. As an ensemble piece it would most likely have been played heterophonically (i.e., each instrument playing a somewhat different version of the same melody), but for a solo instrument there was only one line of music.

As for Kangxi playing Pu An Zhou, Father Matteo Ripa (Wiki) dismissively wrote that he played with only one finger. It has been suggested that this comment shows only that Ripa did not know that the original melody would have been only one line of music. However, given the general antipathy of the Jesuits towards Buddhism, it is difficult to imagine them saying anything positive about such a melody. It also seems unlikely that any of them would have made a harmonic arrangement of Pu'an Zhou for keyboard, much less taught the melody to Kangxi. This being the case, Kangxi's selection for performance of this particular melody makes one wonder whether he was trying to make a point.

20. Preface
See the Shitan Zhang preface.

21. Music
It is difficult to evaluate Van Gulik's comments on the "decidedly Indian" nature of this music. To my ears the Shitan Zhang" chants sound decidedly Chinese. Since, as Picard has shown, the Pu'an Zhou melody commonly played today actually developed out of Shitan Zhang, this would have to mean either that the nature of the Shitan Zhang music is in fact Indian, or that the Indian characteristics were added by Chinese as they developed the modern Pu'an Zhou from it.

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