Shitan Zhang
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SJTS   Pu'an Zhou   Chant text   1592 opening   1609 opening   Buddhism and the qin   Heart Sutra for qin 錄音、五線譜 Recording with transcription / 首頁
Stanzas of Siddham
- standard tuning: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 2
釋談章 1
Shitan Zhang
The opening of the melody, 1592 3      
What is today called "Pu'an Zhou" apparently originated as a chant; as such its presence has been documented in many parts and strata of China, from north to south and from courts to villages to private homes.4 It can still be heard in numerous villages, particularly in north China (though often separated from its original ritual context).5 It is also recited in Buddhist temples and/or monasteries but at present the historicity of this seems to be less well documented.6

Additionally, or separately, there are versions of this chant or melody played on string instruments, either solo (especially on the pipa lute) or in ensemble (perhaps most notably jiangnan sizhu. As with the guqin version, these versions played on strings are usually not accompanied by the text.7

How this Buddhist chant came into the guqin repertoire is not known, but about 50 versions, both with and without the chant text, survive in qin handbooks from its first known publication 1592 up to the present.8 The second handbook, dated 1609, gives Pu'an Zhou as an alternate title, and this eventually became the common title of the solo guqin version popularly played today (see appendix below). This modern version, which actually developed from central sections of the long original versions, is introduced separately.

The doctoral dissertation of François Picard9 shows in detail how the modern melody Pu'an Zhou developed out of the central sections of the chant. It further details how this melody is found in a number of genres of Chinese music (earlier footnote).

Was the original composition the result of a qin player trying to transcribe a Buddhist chant as he actually heard it, as is suggested by Zheng Bangfu's preface to it in its earliest surviving publication, the one in the qin handbook called Paired Music for Three Religions (Sanjiao Tongsheng)? Or was this a chant actually created by a qin player, as is suggested in the handbook Taiyin Xisheng (1625). Here Chen Dabin attributes it to his teacher Li Shuinan,11 claiming that Li, a scholar recluse in the Hangzhou area, created it around at the request of a religion-loving friend, then Chen himself had copies printed early in the Wanli period (1573-1620).

If this is true, then this version might be the earliest. However, by 1625 there were already seven earlier publications of this chant, and none of them mentioned Li Shuinan. Analyzing the tablature has not so far revealed clues determining which is most likely the earliest. My own transcriptions into staff notation are for the two earliest known versions, in Sanjiao Tongsheng (1592) and Boya Xinfa (1609, part of Zhenzhuan Zhengzong Qinpu) shows that they are very similar to each other, but also that there are many significant differences.12

The following are thus some possible scenarios for the creation of the surviving early version(s) of Shitan Zhang. Which one is selected is of some significance in trying to use dapu methods to re-create any particular early version.

Van Gulik in Lore, p.51, says the music (here presumably referring to the modern instrumental version) "is decidedly Indian". His further comments are included under Pu'an Zhou. He speculates that the melody came from something heard in a Lamaist temple. There not being any chants today that (to my ears) even remotely resemble the qin melody, this speculation does not help in trying to recover the early qin versions.

The text of the chant, after the opening invocation, consists of seemingingly meaningless Sanskrit syllables.13 Texts listing and/or arranging such syllables have an ancient history in China. The syllabiles by themselves are sometimes considered to have spiritual value, and the way in which they were spoken or chanted was also said to have given the chant iself mystic power. On the other hand, just as the syllables could have mystic power by themselves, without actually being spoken, presumably by playing the melody without actually singing or reciting the syllables one could still gain spiritual benefits or insights.

On the other hand, Picard reports that when he discussed making a recording with monks who actually chanted these syllables they expressed great reluctance at making a recording that could be played at just any time: without sincerity, the chant could cause damage.

Both early versions begin with an invocation calling on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, as well as others. They then have the syllables arranged into an opening, three groups of six sections each, then a syllabic closing. The piece ends with a harmonic passage to the words, "Pu'an comes here, so everything is fine."

Original Preface
None in 1593; the following is from 1609

I find that this tune is a magic formula by the Chan Master Pu'an, which later people set to music. Originally Sanskrit has the sounds erhe, sanhe and sihe, each represented by a letter. In Chinese script only the notation for the qin has these letters. Therefore the Mirror of the Rhymes of the Seven Sounds originated in India, answering to the seven strings of the qin. This is the origin of (the Seven Sounds). Those tones which formerly were sung by the monks in the garden of Anathapindada are now adapted to the qin. The music wherewith Gautama Buddha could subdue a mad elephant and cure the bites of venomous snakes can now be used to make cranes dance and for taming pheasants. Although Confucianism and Buddhism fundamentally originate from different sources, their music mysteriously forms a true bond between them, although at first sign one would be inclined to dismiss this idea with a laugh. (People who understand music can have discussions about this.)  
Music and Lyrics (看五線譜 See my transcriptions from 1592 & 1609 / 聽錄音 Listen to my recordings from 1592 & 1609) 15

In addition to the commentary here, see also the original chant texts alone;
Footnotes there have further commentary on the text;
Transcriptions and recordings are also linked there

This material is actually quite tentative awaiting a deeper understanding of the text, its origins, and its use in other contexts such as village and temple chanting. Some of these issues are discussed in the Picard dissertation as well as in Steven Jones: a blog. These issues range from a discussion of how the modern Pu'an Zhou (in the qin tradition now a purely instrumental melody) is connected to living chant tradition as well as to records of the earliest surviving chants. Also needing to be further considered are the methods as well as appropriateness of chanting the text.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Shitan Zhang 釋談章
釋談 Shitan:; also not in Soothill, A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms, which has xitan (悉曇,悉檀 and 悉談) for Siddham, "accomplished, finished" (p. 350). Literally Shi Tan means "Buddhist talk", but some of the qin handbooks call the melody 悉談章 Xitan Zhang Siddham Stanzas, so I use this translation.

悉曇 Xitan: 10951.32 (also .36 悉檀, which mentions 悉談; .33 is 悉曇章). Siddham Chapters ("悉曇章 Xidan Zhang) are mentioned in China as early as the fourth century CE. Copies apparently survive starting from the 8th c. (悉曇字記 of 智廣). For more on this early discussion of Sanskrit syllables and their relationship to the mantra that later used these syllables (including with versions of the qin melody) see Bill Mak, below.

The title Shitan Zhang being less common than that of the related modern melody 普庵咒 Pu'an Zhou, more detail is given with that entry. Sources for further information on these include:


2. Tuning and mode of the old Shitan Zhang (compare the modern Pu'an Zhou)
Not indicated here; the earliest modal indication, in 1618, was shang (1 2 4 5 6 1 2, i.e., standard tuning with the first string = 1 [do]). In shang mode the main tonal center is usually 1, with 2 and 5 as secondary tonal centers.

However, according to my understanding the main tonal center here is the open third string, the relative tuning being 5 6 1 2 3 5 6. The main tonal center is 1 with 5 as the secondary tonal center; 2 (shang) does not seem to stand out in importance.

(In my transcriptions do is written as c [Chinese system: do = 1, re = 2, etc.], but the exact pitch depends on such things as the size and quality of the instrument and its strings.)

3. Image: Music and lyrics for the 1592 Shitan Zhang
Photocopied from Qinqu Jicheng Vol. VI, p. 116. The tablature tells finger positions and stroke techniques, but does not directly indicate note values; the lyrics are written next to the appropriate tablature. Some ideas about trying to re-create early versions are mentioned above.

4. Shitan Zhang/Pu'an Zhou in other genres
François Picard, in Chapter 10 of Alan Thrasher, Qupai in Chinese Music: Melodic Models in Form and Practice (Routledge Studies in Ethnomusicology), p.206, writes,

This is probably the only piece of music that has been played within a temple context, at the imperial court, in teahouses, by literati in their studies and by peasants in open procession. Its different versions are found in most of the major genres of instrumental music since the 17th century, including guqin 古琴 zither music (Zhang 1592), xiansuo 弦索 string music (Rong 1814), pipa 琵琶 lute solos (Hua 1818), Sunan chuida 蘇南吹打 wind and percussion music, shifan 十番 and shifan luogu 十番鑼鼓 wind and percussion music, and Buddhist music from Hebei Province and Wutaishan 五台山 (Shanxi Province). A kind of suite in itself, with a basic structure of A B C D C D C D C E (each letter representing a section), Pu'an Zhou has been adapted to each genre where it was played, and its form has been changed in detail to fit the local tradition. When adapted to opera, such as Kunqu 崑曲, it was simply used as a 'labeled melody,' a single qupai 曲牌, thus losing its original extended structure.

Prof. Picard goes on to write that although the earliest printed version is for guqin he believes the guqin version was a transcription of an actual chant. The chant would not necessarily have been done exactly the same way each time, but the differences would be in what we might call ornamentation: the basic melody would have been the same. This is also largely true of the differences in most of the sung guqin versions that were published over the years (marked L below).

5. Village performance of "Pu'an Zhou" Pu'an Zhou in an arranged village event    
In north China (northern Hebei in particular) local music ensembles played (and to an extent still play) 笙管 shengguan (wind and percussion music), often combined with vocal liturgy. The most detailed and readily available accounts of this and other village music from north China are in Steven Jones: a blog; see in particular under Sects: Hebei. (Jones has done similar work in Shanxi: see, e.g., in Pacing the Void 2).

Connected to this repertoire is the image at right from a video on Bilibili (watch). Though perhaps done more as a performance than as an organic village event, it is particularly useful for its subtitles showing the text as actually sung by the villagers. As can be seen by comparing the text on the video to the text as copied here from a typical guqin version, the village performance consists of a short instrumental opening followed by the central chant, which has basically similar music and the same words as in the incantation section of the guqin version of Shitan Zhang, starting here. It omits the "Incantation beginning", and at the end instead of the "Buddhist closing" it has a chanting of the names of notes in the old Chinese gongche scale, as shown below.

The timings on the video are as follows:

    00.00 Credits, title and introduction

    00.48 Instrumental opening
    01.11 Incantation beginning
    03.12 Section 1
    05.00 Section 2
    06.43 Section 3
    08.40 Section 4
    10.25 Section 5
    11.59 Section 6
    13.33 Ending: sing "尺五六凡凡工   尺尺上尺工尺工凡工尺   尺六工尺六工尺上四工尺四合四四."

    14.02 Closing credits

The old "工尺 gongche" scale system (see "gongchepu") went through these notes:

shàng (1 do)
chě (2 re)
gōng (3 mi)
fán (4 fa)
liù (5 sol; a variant is 合 he)
(6 la; a variant is 四 si)
(7 ti)

The significance of singing these notes is not clear, including the use of variants and why the notes seem to be grouped into three parts (6+20+15 notes. Compare the three part grouping beginning here; these note names do not seem to correspond very well to the notes actually being sung.

6. Temple/monastery performances
Information needs to be added.

7. Versions for string ensembles and solo pipa
These should perhaps be considered separately as I do not know how they may be connected.

Further regarding historicity, while in Singapore I heard a local Fujian nanguan group do a performance of several sections of "Shitan Zhang". The text they were using was newly published, giving notes virtually identical to those of a guqin version of Shitan Zhang. This suggested that perhaps the way they were performing it had been "corrected" by looking at what was considered an authentic historical source, the guqin tradition. However, they were quite convinced this was the historically correct way to play this and I am certainly not an authority. For example, I do not know what documents there are to trace the actual historicity of Fujian nanguan versions of Pu'an Zhou.

As a disclaimer: this is very much an outsider's account, written here largely to help me better understand/appreciate the guqin versions.

8. Tracing Shitan Zhang
Zha Fuxi's Guide 27/219/421 includes Pu'an Zhou as well as Shitan Zhang.

9. In French. See also this earlier footnote.

11. 李水南 Li Shuinan
Li Shuinan is not in my dictionaries, so and I am not aware of any information about him beyond what is mentioned here from 太音希聲 Taiyin Xisheng (1625), which contains music as played (and/or taught) by Chen Dabin; Chen refers to Li Shuinan as his teacher. (The preface by Wu Zhao/Zha Fuxi to Sanjiao Tongsheng (QQJC VI/i) says only that Taiyin Xisheng says Li created the piece Shitan Zhang, while their preface to Taiyin Xisheng (QQJC/i) says only that he was a 浙派琴家 Zhe school qin master, without giving any reason for this other than that he lived in Zhejiang (near Hangzhou).

As for the information in Taiyin Xisheng itself, in its listing of qin masters (IX/113) it says of Li only as follows,

A man of Deqing, he wrote (versions of) Qingye Wenzhong, Cangjiang Yeyu (i.e., Canghai Longyin), Le Qin Shu (Enjoying Qin and Books; I have never before seen this mentioned as a melody title), Pu'an Zhou, (and? The character here is illegible) Feng Ru Song.

The only one of these melodies that Taiyin Xisheng actually includes is Pu'an Zhou, which it calls Shitan Zhang without mentioning the alternate title. On the other hand, in the preface to its version of the piece Dialogue of the Fisherman and Woodcutter (Yu Qiao Wenda; IX/164) it says of the piece,

It was created by the reclusive Hangzhou scholar Li Shuinan (? its earliest surviving publication date is 1559) as a result of often observing fishermen and woodcutters while living in mountains of Deqing....

Deqing (德青 must be 德清, the Deqing area just north of Hangzhou.

Then the preface to Shitan Zhang (the next piece after Yu Qiao Wenda in 太音希聲 Taiyin Xisheng, IX/167) says the following:

(Chen Dabin) said, This piece was created by Li Shuinan. At first there weren't these (which I understand to mean notes structured in accord with religious forms, but could simply mean "there wasn't this melody"), but then Lü Xuanjun of Xizhou in Chongde (桐鄉 Tongxiang, northeast of Hangzhou), who had a fondness for Buddhism and Daoism, caused Shuinan to create music in accord with such structure. Before it was transmitted to society I (Chen) spent time learning it (from him), though not very fluently. Then in 1578 I cut up wood (to make printing blocks to print this piece), and in order to broaden its tradition. As expressed through guqin it reveals the beauty of Buddhist thought (菩提[bodhi]同遊三昧[sanmei: samadhi0), so that sensitive people will better appreciate this great treasure from the west (i.e., India)....(translation incomplete; the rest seems to praise the melody and the thoughts it expresses.)

Taiyin Xisheng also mentions Li Shuinan in connection with a piece that takes its lyrics mainly from a text in the Daoist Canon, A Quiet Evening Talk on Metaphysics (靜夜談玄 Jingye Tan Xuan; IX/197; see in particular the afterword.

It might also be noted that Taiyin Xisheng also includes another piece on a Buddhist text, the Heart Sutra. It calls the piece Canon of Form and Emptiness (Se Kong Jue). No connection is mentioned between this piece and Li Shuinan.

12. Differing versions
Compare the transcriptions of page one of 1592 and of 1609.

13. Sanskrit syllables (see further)
One suggestion is that they are intended to show all the different Sanskrit sounds. It could also be that it was their arrangement that had meaning, rather than the individual syllables.

Others, however (e.g., see Van Gulik), have said that each of the characters (and/or the Sanskrit syllables they represent) do also have their own religious/mystical significance. This opinion might also be accompanied by the admonition that those who chant the syllables should have a specific purpose in mind, and intoning the chant without focusing on that purpose can lead to unexpected or even catastrophic consequences.

14. Preface
The original Chinese is not yet online. The translation here is from R. H. van Gulik, Lore, p. 52. Van Gulik, who says the melody is decidedly Indian, also adds some further commentary. His translation has a footnote that includes the original Chinese (see also VII/179), but for some reason it omits the last phrase: "知音者其辯之". Van Gulik points out some errors in Yang Lun's understanding, e.g., regarding 二合,三合,四合 er he, etc. He says he could find no further information on 七音韻鑑 Mirror of the Rhymes of the Seven Sounds, and thus could only guess it was a book title (4.231xxx).

15. Music
More recently there have been other recordings. These include ones by:

The one from Japan would have been a reconstruction; Hammond Yung learned his version from his father.

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

Appendix: Chart Tracing Shitan Zhang / Pu'an Zhou;
based mainly on Zha Fuxi's Guide, 27/219/421.

    (year; QQJC Vol/page)
 Further information
 (QQJC = 琴曲集成 Qinqu Jicheng; QF = 琴府 Qin Fu)
  1. 三教同聲
      (1592; VI/114)
 but gaps
 I have transcribed and recorded my interpretation
  2. 真傳正宗琴譜
      (1609; VII/187)
 C; L as 1592
 but *
 I have transcribed and recorded it; "also called Pu'an Zhou" (* extra line in 佛頭)
 (pu often called 楊掄太古遺音 Yang Lun Taigu Yiyin, but it is in Boya Xinfa)
  3. 陽春堂琴譜
      (1611; VII/467)
 L, as 1592
 the 5 sections are like 佛頭 (includes 起咒); 三迴; 佛尾
  4. 松絃館琴譜
      (1614; VIII/166)
 C; L as 1592,
 Not clear:
 some spaces
 *Lyrics: 普菴祖師神咒 Pu'an Zushi Shenzhou (** parts missing)
 *Music (p. 164): 譜菴咒 Pu'an Zhou
  5. 理性元雅
      (1618; VIII/224)
 C; L as 1609
 but *
 "same as Pu'an Zhou"; * 佛頭 called 佛號 fo hao;
 "repeat 起咒" (?)
  7. 樂仙琴譜
      (1623; VIII/410)
 C; L; as 1609
 Copy of 1609
 "same as Pu'an Zhou"
  6. 太音希聲
      (1625; IX/167)
 L; as 1592
 8 + 尾聲
 Preface says 李水南所作....自萬歷戊寅災梨(黎)以廣其傳俾有志於絲桐者
    Li Shuinan created 1578 he had wood blocks made to print it (see above)
  8. 古音正宗
      (1634; IX/313)
 L; as 1592
 21; "Same as Pu'an Zhou"
 no other commentary
  9. 陶氏琴譜
      (late Ming; IX/470)
 L; as 1609
 but gaps
 * 悉曇章 Xitan Zhang ("xitan" is another way of writing Siddham)
10. 琴學心聲
      (1664; XII/72)
 L; as 1592
 Begins like 1609; says "莊臻鳳諧音 Zhuang Zhenfeng paired the sounds";
 Zhuang was a friend of Han Shigeng. Source of many later versions? Copied in Japan?
11. 松風閣琴譜
      (1677/82; XII/312)
 No L, but
 fits 1592
 First version not to have lyrics; "韓石耕譜 tablature of Han Shigeng"; quite similar to 1664, etc.;
 See Kangxi (r.1662 - 1723) and the harpsichord
12. 松風閣琴瑟譜
      (1677?; XII/427)
 * called 仙曲 Xian Qu; tablature of Han Shigeng" (see previous);
 music seems like 1677/82
13. 德音堂琴譜
      (1691; XII/530)
 L; as 1592
14. 范氏琴瑟合璧
      (1691; XIII/???)
 ? See Picard
15. 琴譜析微
      (1692; XIII/60)
 No L
 but *
 each of the 3 迴 hui is followed by 5 轉 zhuan
 *"咒文未刊"; music may fit 1609 lyrics
16. 蓼懷堂琴譜
      (1702; XIII/206)
 L; as 1609
 佛頭; gaps
 not titled
 Music elaborated;
 first to have correct (?) punctuation of 2 迴 phrase 1
17a. 五知齋琴譜
      (1722; XIV/452)
 not marked
 but 佛尾
 Preface lists 佛頭;起咒;三迴;佛尾, "altogether 21 sections"
 Similar to 1664, etc.; attrib. both Han Shigeng and Zhuang Zhenfeng ("韓子十耕原稿,莊子蝶菴譜同參")
17b. 五知齋琴譜
      (1722; XIV/460)
 Preface says front and end omitted, leaving 13 sections from center
 Begins like modern version (Guangling)
18. 臥雲樓琴譜
      (1722; XV/38)
 佛頭;起咒;三迴;十五轉;佛尾, "altogether 21 sections"
 "lyrics not included but people can add them if they wish"
19. 琴書千古
      (1738; XV/388)
20. 治心齋琴學練要譜
      (1739; VIII/166)
 C; L; as 1592
21. 琴劍合譜
      (1749; XVIII/318)
 * 釋曇章 Xitan Zhang (compare ca. 1644)
22. 蘭田館琴譜
      (1755; XVI/214)
 L; as 1592
23. 琴香堂琴譜
      (1760; XVII/47)
 No L
 Like modern version
24. 研露樓琴譜
      (1766; XVI/457)
 L; as 1592
25a. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/551)
 L; as 1592
25b. 自遠堂琴譜
      (1802; XVII/559)
 shorter L
 as 1722b
26. 裛露軒琴譜
      (>1802; XIX/236)
27. 琴譜諧聲
      (1820; ?)
 appended? see F.P.;
28. 峰抱樓琴譜
      (1825; ?)
29. 琴學軔端
      (1828; ?)
30.  琴譜正律
      (1839; ?)
 Picard: "Missing link" (where is it?)
31. 張鞠田琴譜
32. 稚雲琴譜
33. 琴學入門
      (1864; QF/644)
 L; as 1802
 Sections not marked
34. 蕉庵琴譜
35. 琴瑟合譜
      (1870; XXVI/???)
Guangling School version;
? Both XXVI/170 and QF/710 are se solos
36. 以六正五之齋
      琴譜秘書 (1875)
also Guangling School version
37. 天聞閣琴譜
 C; L; as 1802
38. 理琴軒舊抄本
      (ca. 1880)
 ? See Picard; attrib. 彭慶壽 Peng Qingshou (see 1922)
39. 枯木禪琴譜
 Quite similar to the version commonly played today
40. 琴學初津
 C; L; as 1592
41. 十一絃館琴譜
 * 小普庵咒 Xiao Pu'an Zhou; 3 sections
  Melody very different from today's commonly played version
42. 雅齋琴譜叢集
43. 桐蔭山館琴譜
      (ca. 1900)
 see Picard; attrib 王心源 Wang Xinyuan (proto-Mei'an)
44. 玉鶴軒琴譜
      (ca. 1903)
 see Picard; attrib 王心葵 Wang Xinhua (son of Wang Xinyuan
45. 山西育才館
      雅樂講義 (1922)
 has 工尺譜 gongche notation; 彭慶壽 Peng Qingshou, etc.
 "Peng Qingshou" (see 1880)
46. 栩齋琴譜
 The tablature used by Sun Yuqin said this (Xuzhai Qinpu) was the version played by Peng Qingshou
47. 梅庵琴譜
      (1931; XXIX/211)
 C (1959)
 This melody, in one section, is related to but quite different from the instrumental Puan Zhou commonly played today (recording by 洪晨)
48. 夏一峰傳譜
 Transcribes performance of 夏一峰 Xia Yifeng
49. 古琴曲集
 Transcribes performance of 溥雪齋 Pu Xuezhai
50. 愔愔室琴譜
 As played by 蔡德允 Cai Deyun
51. 虞山吳氏琴譜
      (2001; p. 8)
 No L
 With staff notation of performance by 吳景略 Wu Jingyue
 "栩齋琴譜 Xuzhai Qinpu"
51. 香江容氏琴譜
      (2015; p.24)
 No L
 "Tablature of Han Shigeng" as passed on by 李成宇 Li Chengyu; still closely related to 1664
 Recorded by Yong Hak-Chi (Hammond Yung; currently on YouTube)