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Bright Virtue Prelude / Sacred Confucian Canon
- Biyu mode: 6 1 2 3 5 6 1 1
明德引 / 孔聖經
Mingde Yin 2 / Kong Sheng Jing 3
Original tablature4 (see complete .pdf)
The lyrics for the short qin melody Ming De Yin are extracted from the commentary by the neo-Confucian scholar Zhu Xi (1130-1200)5 on the Da Xue (Great Learning), attributed to Confucius. Mingde Yin serves as a musical prelude to the longer Kongsheng Jing, the lyrics of which are the beginning of the canonical text of the Da Xue itself.6

Though few of them are played today, there is actually a long tradition of setting philosophical essays to qin melodies.7 Not all of these have survived,8 but in the qin repertoire there are several other surviving settings of the Da Xue.9 However, Ming De Yin and the present Da Xue melody are preserved only in Paired Music for Three Religions (Sanjiao Tongsheng; 1592),11 a qin handbook with a melody from each of China's great religions (or ways of thought), Buddhism, Confucianism, and Daoism.

Da Xue is one of the texts collected in the Li Ji (Book of Rites). According to tradition it was written down by one or more of Confucius' disciples. Modern scholarship, however, says they were written several centuries later. In the 12th century Zhu Xi proposed that four ancient texts -- the Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean (another chapter of the Book of Rites), the Analects, and Mencius -- represented the core of Confucian philosophy. As a result of Zhu Xi's arguments (but about a century later), these four books became what might be called the core curriculum for people studying for the government exams. The books continued in that role from 1313 until 1905, almost the end of the Qing dynasty.

The lyrics of Mingde Yin (from Zhu Xi's commentary on the Great Learning) are given below under "Music". The original was an essay, not verse. However, it is arranged below as though it were verse because that is the effect when it is sung. It begins by saying that it is quoting the Zhengzi brothers (Zi Chengzi 12).

The lyrics of Kongsheng Jing, which are the same as the text of the Great Learning, are also given below under "Music". The translation was adapted from those by Patrick Moran13 and Wing-tsit Chan.14   Once again, the original is an essay, not verse; it is arranged below as though it were verse because that is the effect when it is sung.

Original Prefaces


Music and text (see transcription [.pdf]; timings follow my recording 聽錄音)
Includes both pieces; I am singing the texts accompanying both.

明德引 Mingde Yin: Bright Virtue Prelude (One section)15

1.             00.00
Zi Chengzi said,
The Cheng brothers said,

Da Xue , Kong shi zhi yi shu ,
"The Great Learning is a text bequeathed by Confucianists,

er chu xue ru de zhi men ye .
and beginning its study is the gate through to virtue.

Yu jin ke jian gu ren wei xue ci di zhe ,
Today we can see how the ancients, in order to study it, proceeded sequentially,

du lai ci pian zhi cun , er Lun , Meng ci zhi .
And only because this text was preserved could the Analects and Mencius follow it.

(1)             00.50       (harmonics)
Xue zhe bi you shi er xue yan ,
Students must begin study from here,

ze shu hu qi bu cha yi .
then they will have the best chance to avoid making errors."

End           01.07

孔聖經 Kongsheng Jing: Sacred Confucian Annal (Four sections) 16

1.             01.09   (i.e., this is continuing with the same recording)
Da Xue zhi Dao, zai ming ming de ,
The Way of the Great Learning lies in brightening clear virtue,

zai qin min, zai zhi yu zhi shan .
in loving the people, and in remaining in the greatest good.

Zhi zhi, er hou you ding ,
Knowing where to remain, one can then have certainty.

ding er hou neng jing, jing er hou neng an .
Having certainty one can then be tranquil; being tranquil one can then be at peace.

An er hou neng lü, lü er hou neng de .
Being at peace one may then deliberate; having deliberated one can then get it.

Wu you ben mo, shi you zhong shi .
Things have roots and branches; affairs have endings and beginnings.

Zhi suo xian hou ,
Knowing the sequence of things

ze jin Dao yi .
will bring one closer to the Dao.

2.             02.03
古之欲明明德于天下者,先治其國 。
Gu zhi yu ming ming de yu tian xia zhe, xian zhi qi guo .
In antiquity, those desiring to brighten clear virtue
            throughout all below Heaven first brought order to their states.

Yu zhi qi guo zhe , xian qi qi jia .
Those desiring to put their countries in order first made shipshape their own families.

Yu qi qi jia zhe , xian xiu qi shen .
Those desiring to make their own families shipshape first cultivated themselves.

Yu xiu qi shen zhe , xian zheng qi xin .
Those desiring to cultivate themselves first rectified their hearts.

Yu zheng qi xin zhe , xian cheng qi yi .
Those desiring to rectify their hearts first made sincere their thoughts.

Yu cheng qi yi zhe , xian zhi qi zhi .
Those desiring to make sincere their thoughts first perfected their knowledge

Zhi zhi zai ge wu .
Perfecting knowledge lies in investigating things.

3.             02.51
Wu ge er hou zhi zhi , zhi zhi er hou yi cheng .
After one has investigated things, knowledge is perfected.
            After knowledge is perfected, one's thoughts become sincere.

Yi cheng er hou xin zheng , xin zheng er hou shen xiu .
After one's thoughts become sincere one's heart is rectified.
            After one's heart is rectified one's person is cultivated.

Shen xiu er hou jia qi , jia qi er hou guo zhi .
After one's person is cultivated, one's family is regulated.
            After one's family is regulated, one's state can be brought to order.

Guo zhi er hou tian xia ping .
After one's state is brought to order, all beneath Heaven becomes peaceful

4.             03.22     (harmonics)
Zi Tian Zi yi zhi yu shu ren ,
From the Son of Heaven all the way down to the common person,

yi shi jie yi xiu shen wei ben .
all should take cultivating oneself as fundamental.

其本亂,而末治者否矣 。
Qi ben luan , er mo zhi zhi fou yi .
For the root to be in disorder but the branches to be orderly: this has never been the case.

Qi suo hou zhe bo , er qi suo bo zhe hou ,
For what is substantial to be slighted, or what is slight to be given substance:

wei zhi you ye .
this has never happened .

End         04.05

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Biyu Diao (碧玉調)
Instructions are "(from standard tuning) raise the 2nd, 5th and 7th strings". Tuning is the same as that of the 1425 姑洗 Guxian mode, not the 1425 Biyu mode or the 1525 Biyu mode.

2. 明德引 Mingde Yin
14124.572 明德 mingde gives references to the Great Learning (Da Xue).

3. 孔聖經 Kongsheng Jing
7077.250 孔聖 kongsheng: respectful name for Confucius.

4. The original text of Ming De Yin and the first line of Kong Sheng Jing
From San Jiao Tong Sheng, QQJC VI/112.

5. Commentary by Zhu Xi (1130-1200)
Zhu Xi started an academy in Changsha called the 嶽麓書院 Yuelu Academy. With luck, one day I will play this melody there.

6. 大學 Da Xue
ctext.org the original text of the Da Xue is here (with translation by Legge here). The whole text is divided into 16 sections, with the lyrics of the present song being the text of the first two sections, minus two phrases at the end: "此謂知本,此謂知之至也。". These two phrases are not translated by Legge. In addition, the final 14 sections may be considered as commentary on what is written in the first two. The first two sections are thus sometimes attributed to Confucius himself, with the other sections attributed to students. Others say that the first two sections were also written later, paraphrasing Confucius' actual words.

7. Setting philosophical texts to qin music: surviving examples
Surviving examples, in addition to the ones here in Sanjiao Tongsheng, include:

Awakened Minds (1585) might be somewhat different from the others in that it is a setting of lyrics rather than of prose. With none of these, however, is there information about how and/or when, or even whether, the lyrics themselves might have been sung.

8. Setting philosophical texts to qin music: not surviving
The Qin Shi Xu biography of Yu Qian says he wrote a qin setting for Da Xue, which he called Sounds of Reading (讀書聲 Du Shu Sheng), and that his main disciple 汪一恆 Wang Yiheng did settings of such essays as 中庸 Zhong Yong, 論語 Lun Yu and 孟子 Mengzi. In fact there is a setting for Zhong Yong published in Japan.

9. Qin melodies using Da Xue as lyrics
In addition to the Kongsheng Jing setting traced below, the words of the 大學 Da Xue are also set for qin in several later handbooks. Zha Fuxi's Guide lists them under two general titles, but in fact none these seems to be musically related either to the present Kongsheng Jing setting or to each other. All seem to use standard tuning.

To my knowledge none of the above has been reconstructed.

11. Tracing Mingde Yin and Kongsheng Jing
Zha Fuxi's Guide 27/---/420 明德引 Mingde Yin and 27/---/421 孔聖經 Kongsheng Jing list only Sanjiao Tongsheng, but see the footnote above.

12. 子程子 Zi Chengzi: the Cheng Brothers (compare 程子 and 子程子 Zichengzi)
According to 7072.542 子程子 this refers to 宋程顥程頤兄弟也 the brothers Cheng Hao (25638.274; Wiki) and Cheng Yi (25638.49; Wiki) of the Song dynasty; the 子 zi at the end is an honorific given to a number of philosophers. Giles says Cheng Hao (1032-1085), after an official career, became a tutor to Zhu Xi, while Cheng Yi (1033-1090) also had his long career stifled by his opposition to Wang Anshi. Cheng Hao has been associated with the qin melody Jing Guan Yin.

13. Translation by Patrick Moran
See Three Smaller Wisdom Books, University Press of America, 1993. The original and Prof. Moran's translation are not divided into numbered sections.

14. Wing-tsit Chan, A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, Princeton, 1963.

15. Original text of the Bright Virtue Prelude
Zhu Xi's original text alone, here used for 明德引 Mingde Yin, is as follows (arranged as in the
qin setting):


See it arranged with translation and Romanization above.

16. Original text of the Sacred Confucian Canon
The original text of the Sacred Confucian Canon, i.e., the 大學 Da Xue, is by itself as follows (arranged according to the sectioning of the

  1. 大學之道.在明明德.在親民.在止於至善.知止而後有定.定而後能靜.靜而後能安.安而後能慮.慮而後能得.物有本末.事有終始.知所先後.則近道矣.
  2. 古之欲明明德於天下者.先治其國.欲治其國者.先齊其家.欲齊其家者.先修其身.欲修其身者.先正其心.欲正其心者.先誠其意.欲誠其意者.先致其知.致知在格物.
  3. 物格而後知至.知至而後意誠.意誠而後心正.心正而後身修.身修而後家齊.家齊而後國治.國治而後天下平.
  4. 自天子以至於庶人.壹是皆以修身為本.其本亂而末治者否矣.其所厚者薄.而其所薄者厚.未之有也.

See it arranged with translation and Romanization above. In addition, the original text and tablature of Ming De Yin and the first line of Kong Sheng Jing, from San Jiao Tong Sheng, are at top).

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