Moshang Sang
 T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
LQXS   ToC     /   Original lyrics and translation Listen here 聽錄音 or on   網站目錄
12. Mulberry Lane
- Shang mode, standard tuning:2 1 2 4 5 6 1 2
陌上桑 1
Moshang Sang
Statue of Luofu at Handan 3        
The qin song Mulberry Lane (Moshang Sang) is a yan'ge ("love song")
4 that tells of a beautiful young woman named Luofu (Lofu)5 proudly rejecting the advances of a local official, at the same time boasting of the virtues of her own husband. These anonymous lyrics, said to date from the Han dynasty,6 identify Luofu only as a woman of the Qin clan; however, various commentaries have added that she lived in the Warring States kingdom of Zhao, specifically its capital city Handan,7 now in southern Henan province.

The lyrics were included in several early collections including Yutai Xinyong8 and Yuefu Shiji;9 there are several existing translations. As a qin melody it survives in only three handbooks: the present one (1597), an identical one dated 1611 and an unrelated one dated 1618.10

The original lyrics inspired a large number of later re-writings; many of these are included in Yuefu Shiji. Summing up the importance of this story, Joseph Roe Allen, III, wrote,11

The story of Lo-fu occupies a central position in the triad of pre-Tang poetic heroines,12 women who are not merely the objects of male attention and the projection of male desires, but who have an identity and a story of their own. They are not only feminine, but also feminist: not simply lyrical objects, but also narrative protagonists.

Allen's article also mentions the association of the mulberry tree with female sexual or erotic behaviour in pre-Qin dynasty literature, and discusses how in later versions of the poem conservative Confucian influences play down or deny this association; they have Luofu, who is perhaps not even outdoors, act more demurely towards the suitor.

Yuefu Shiji introduces this poem with several commentaries.13 The one from Gujin Zhu seems to concern either an expanded version of the story told in the poem, or a related but somewhat different story. There Luofu, who is married to a nobleman, is approached by the King of Zhao. To reject his advances the girl plays this melody on her zheng zither (elsewhere said to be a melody for se). On the other hand, some modern commentary suggests that in these lyrics Luofu is just using a standard formula in responding light-heardedly to flirtation, and is perhaps making it up when she says that, although she is just a teenager, her husband is a powerful man in his 40s.14

A similar or perhaps related story concerning a man named Qiuhu is connected to a melody called Qiuhu Rambles (Qiuhu Xing).15 And another woman who is the subject of a series of short poems is Ziye (see "Ziye Songs of Wu").


Original Preface

Melody and Lyrics 17 (VII/47; listen 聽錄音 with lyrics below, with staff notation or on )
綠綺新聲 Luqi Xinsheng (QQJC VII/45) arranged Mulberry Lane (陌上桑 Moshang Sang) into seven sections.
It set the music to the lyrics according to the traditional pairing method for qin songs. Translation is from Anne Birrell.

Section 1(第一段)

Ri chu dong nan yu, zhao wo Qin shi lou.
Sunrise at the southeast corner shines on our Qin clan house.

Qin shi you hao nü, zi ming wei Luo Fu.
The Qin clan has a fair daughter, she is called Luofu.

Luo Fu xi can sang, cai sang cheng nan yu.
Luofu is good at silkworm mulberry, she picks mulberry at the wall's south corner.

Qing si wei long xi, gui zhi wei long gou.
Green silk is her basket strap, cassia her basket and pole.

Tou shang wei duo ji, er zhong ming yue zhu.
On her head a twisting-fall hairdo, at her ears bright moon pearls.

Section 2(第二段)

Xiang qi wei xia qun, zi qi wei shang ru.
Green silk is her lower skirt, purple silk is her upper shirt.

Xing zhe jian Luo fu, xia dan le zi xu.
Passersby see Luofu, drop their load, stroke their beard.

Shao nian jian Luo Fu, tui mao zhu qiao tou.
Young men see Luofu, take off caps, put on headbands.

Geng zhe wang qi li, chu zhe wang qichu.
The ploughman forgets his plough, the hoer forgets his hoe.

Lai gui xiang yuan nu, dan zuo guan Luo Fu.
They come home cross and happy - all from seeing Luofu.

Section 3(第三段)

Shi jun cong nan lai, wu ma li chi chu.
A prefect from the south is here, his five horses stand pawing the ground.

Shi jun qian li wang, wen shi shei jiashu?
The prefect sends his servant forward to ask, "Whose is the pretty girl?"

Qin shi you hao nü, zi ming wei Luo Fu.
"The Qin clan has a fair daughter, her name is Luofu."

Luo Fu nian ji he?
"Luofu, how old is she?"

Er shi shang wei zu, shi wu po you yu.
"Not yet quite twenty, a bit more than fifteen."

Section 4(第四段)

Shi jun xie Luo Fu, ning ke gong zai bu?
The prefect invites Luofu, "Wouldn't you like a ride with me?"

Luo Fu qian zhi ci: Shi jun yihe yu!
Luofu steps forward and refuses: "You are so silly, Prefect!

Shi jun zi you fu, Luo Fu zi you fu.
You have your own wife, Prefect, Luofu has her own husband!

Section 5, in harmonics(第五段:泛音)

Dong fang qian yu qi, fu xu ju shang tou.
In the east more than a thousand horsemen, my husband is in the lead.

He yong shi fu xu, ba ma cong li ju.
How would you recognize my husband? His white horse follows black colts,

Section 6(第六段)

Qing si xi ma wei, huang jin luo ma tou.
Green silk plaits his horse's tail. Yellow gold braids his horse's head.

Yao zhong lu lu jian, ke zhi qian wan yu.
At his waist a lulu dagger - worth more than ten million cash.

Shi wu fu xiao shi, er shi chao dai fu.
At fifteen he was a country clerk, at twenty a court official,

San shi shi zhong lang, si shi zhuan cheng ju.
At thirty a chancellor, at forty lord of his own city.'

Section 7(第七段)

Wei ren qie bai xi, lian lian po you xu.
As a man he has a pure white complexion, bushy whiskers on both cheeks.

Ying ying gon gfu bu, ran ran fu zhong qu.
Majestic he steps into his office, dignified he strides to the courtroom,

Zuo zhong shu qian ren, jie yan fu xu shu.
Where several thousand in audience all say my husband has no rival!"

Coda, in harmonics(尾聲:泛音)

Zuo zhong shu qian ren, jie yan fu xu shu.
Where several thousand in audience all say my husband has no rival!"

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a
separate page)

1. Mulberry Lane (陌上桑 Moshang Sang) references
See further below, especially under Yuefu Shiji. There are translations and extensive commentary with:

  1. Joseph Roe Allen, III, "From Saint to Singing Girl: The Rewriting of the Lo-Fu Narrative in Chinese Literati Poetry." Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, 48.2 (1988), 321 - 361.
  2. Anne Birrell, Yutai Xinyong (Chinese Love Poetry, New Songs from a Jade Terrace: A Medieval Anthology; Penguin, 1995, pp. 40 - 2); further details
  3. Jui-Long Su, Shi Poetry: Music Bureau Poems (Yue Fu), in Zong-Qi Cai (蔡宗齊 Cai Zongqi), ed., How to Read Chinese Poetry; New York: Columbia University Press, 2008, pp. 97-100

The latter says this is "the most anthologized and the best known yuefu poem among Chinese readers" (but see also Ziye Songs of Wu).

2. Shang mode (商調 shang diao)
For more on shang mode see Shenpin Shang Yi.

3. Statue of Luofu at Handan
Copied from internet. I am not sure of its exact location in Handan.

4. Love song (豔歌 yan'ge)
"豔 Yàn" by itself means "alluring", "glamorous". 37172.47 豔歌行 yan ge xing basically quotes the Yuefu Shiji commentary. According to Literary Texts Classified in Categories (藝文類聚 Yiwen Leiju by 歐陽詢 Ouyang Xun 557-641) the earliest surviving yan ge dated from the Han dynasty.

5. 羅敷 Luofu
Sources such as those quoted in Yuefu Shiji say she was a woman of the 秦氏 Qin clan living in 邯鄲 Handan (see next), then capital of 趙 Zhao.

6. Origin of the lyrics
Allen, who refers to the present lyrics as "the model poem" for all the later versions, says (p. 324) the lyrics "may date from as early as the time of Emperor Wu of the Han (reign 141-87 B.C.). Later (pp. 330-331) he says that in their surviving form they had doubtlessly been "subjected to conservative revisions by a literate hand, but in form and content the Han poem still remains sympathetic to the popular tradition."

7. Handan 邯鄲
Handan (Wiki) is said to have been the capital city of the state of Zhao (趙, Wiki) during the Warring States period. On the northwest side of the modern city, now in southernmost Hebei province, there is a 古石龍景區 Old Stone Dragon Scenic Area, perhaps the area from which several related online photos have been taken (they say only "石龍景區 Stone Dragon Scenic Area"), including a stone engraving of a Luofu poem, a covered walkway, a pond and a recently erected statue. The city also claims connections to Lü Dongbin and Lin Xiangru.

8. Luofu in Yutai Xinyong
The poem is at the beginning of Yutai Xinyong, where it is the first of six 古樂府詩 Old Yuefu Poems; it is sometimes called Sunrise at the Southeast Corner (from the opening line). Anne Birrell's translation, Penguin edition pp. 40-42 and also available online, is copied below. On p.358 Birrell gives further biographical details of Luofu ("Ch'in Lofu"), adding that Luofu is also mentioned in passing in one other Yutai Xinyong poem (see p. 64).

9. Luofu in Yuefu Shiji
YFSJ Folio 28 has the lyrics used here in the first of its 43 poems on this theme (p. 410); see further below.

10. Tracing 陌上桑 Moshang Sang
Zha, Guide 28/222/428 lists three settings of Moshang Sang. These are:

  1. 1597: the earliest known setting (lyrics as in YFSJ 410-1); VII/45
  2. 1611: identical melody and lyrics; VIII/53
  3. 1618: QQJC VIII/292; unrelated music (3 sections) and lyrics (in, respectively, 9, 7 and 8 couplets of 5+5); VIII/292
    - the introduction is short: 是曲余擬古樂作。然詞婉拒嚴,聽白茅可息厭矣.
        "This melody I created in imitation of the old Yuefu. As for the lyrics, they...." (? come from somewhere else).
    - the lyrics begin 高樓阿誰女,長子氏為秦。小字喚羅敷,閫閣佩蘭紉....; I have not been able to trace them.

Regarding YFSJ see further below.

11. Significance of the Luofu story
On p. 327 of his essay, Joseph Allen cites an article by Jean-Pierre Diény that traces the association of the mulberry tree with female sexual or erotic behaviour in pre-Qin dynasty literature. Allen also connects these poems with the story of the 魯秋潔婦 Chaste Wife of Qiu from Lu (Qiu Hu 秋胡), which he translates (pp. 347-8) from Lienü Zhuan; in that story the suitor is in fact the girl's husband, who left right after their wedding and on his return years later, not recognizing her, tries to seduce her.

12. "Triad of pre-Tang poetic heroines"
This triad consists of Luofu, Cai Wenji, and 蘭芝 Lan-zhi. Lanzhi's mother-in-law sends her home; she commits suicide when her parents try to force her to remarry, at which point her husband Jiao Zhongqing commits suicide. This is recounted in the poem 孔雀東南飛 Kongque Dongnan Fei (no known qin connection; translated online as "A Pair of Peacocks Southeast Fly", and in Birrell, p. 63ff, as An old poem written for Chiao Chung-ch'ing's wife, with a preface).

13. Moshang Sang in Yuefu Shiji
YFSJ, Folio 28, pp. 410 - 423, has commentary from four sources, then 43 poems on the story of Luofu, but only the first one, said to be an anonymous Han dynasty ballad, is set for qin (see footnote above).

The YFSJ commentary (pp. 410) first says, 一曰《豔歌羅敷行》also called Love Song Luofu Xing. It then quotes:

  1. Gujin Yuelu
    Says Moshang Sang was a 歌瑟調 Melody for Singing with Se zither.
  2. Cui Bao, Gujin Zhu
    "Moshang Sang is a poem by a woman of the Qin family. The Qin family of Handan had a daughter called Luofu who was the wife of a noble of that area by the name of 王仁 Wang Ren. Wang Ren later was made household manager for the 趙王 King of Zhao. Luofu went out to pick mulberry leaves along the lane. The King of Zhao, having climbed a tower, saw her there and was very much taken by her. After he had been drinking he had a desire to seize her. Luofu then plucked her zheng and composed the song Moshang Sang in order to explain herself to him." (This translation is slightly revised from Allen, Lo-Fu Narrative, p. 326 fn. As Allen points out, this must refer to a different version of the poem.)
  3. Yuefu Jieti
    Gives a short outline of the theme.
  4. Guo Maoqian himself?
    Points out that there are different versions of the story, mentioning in particular the poems called 採桑 Cai Sang.

After this are the 43 poems:

  1. 11 poems called 陌上桑 Moshang Sang (the 1st, set for qin, 7th and 9th are translated in in Allen, pp. 325, 355 and 355/6)
  2. 14 poems called 採桑 Cai Sang (Picking Mulberries; the 4th, 10th and 12th are translated in Allen, pp. 337, 334f and 354)
  3. 2 poems called 豔歌行 Yan Ge Xing (Love Song; the first, by Fu Xuan, is translated in Allen, p. 327f)
  4. 3 poems called 羅敷行 Luofu Xing (Luofu's Song; the 2nd 7th and 11th are translated in Allen, pp. 335, 339 and 338)
  5. 13 poems called 日出東南隅行 Ri Chu Dongnan Yu Xing (Sunrise in the Southeast Corner).

The poems do not all mention Luofu by name.

14. Further Commentary on Luofu
Varying interpretations are discussed in Jui-Long Su, pp. 97-100.

15. Qiuhu Rambles (秋胡行 Qiuhu Xing)
Qiuhu Xing (25505.194) is a 樂府,相和歌 Yue Fu Matching Song. It does not survive as a qin melody, but as a title it can be seen in several old qin melody lists, including in QYYL, QSDQ Folio 12 and Folio 13 (#43), plus perhaps TYDQJ. These are all named for Qiuhu, a man who is sent away shortly after his marriage to 潔婦 Jiefu (sometimes confused with Luofu). When he returns he sees Jiefu picking mulberries by the street. Not recognizing her as his wife, he tries to seduce her.

16. Commentary on the qin melody Moshang Sang
The only commentary accompanying tablature is that with 1618, which has an unrelated melody and different lyrics (see above). After this the Zha Guide 222-3 adds further commentary from elsewhere (古今注,樂府古題要解,通志,通考); this is somewhat different from that in YFSJ, p. 410.

17. Original Chinese lyrics of Moshang Sang (see above)
Although I have transcribed and recorded this melody, I have not memorized the lyrics and so cannot perform the song as such.

In YFSJ these lyrics run together. It seems to be only in Luqi Xinsheng that they have been arranged into seven sections, as above. The sectioning is somewhat puzzling. In particular the first line of Section 2 seems to belong better at the end of Section 1. And Sections 5 to 7, in which Luofu sings of her husband, could easily be combined into one section.

The translation here, by Anne Birrell from her Yutai Xinyong [Jade Terrace], pp. 40 - 2, was copied from an online source).

At the end of the version in YFSJ is the statement that 友一曲,魏、晉樂所奏 these lyrics were played according to music of Wei and Jin.

18. 相怨怒: "Cross and happy"
This translation seems to be based on interpreting "相 xiang" to mean something like "rather" (as in "相當 xiangdang"): "rather" resentful would be partly not resentful, hence also "happy". However, according to Prof. Jonathan Chaves (personal communication), more likely "相" here has its more standard meaning of "mutually": when the ploughman and the hoer get home with their thoughts of Luofu this leads to a mutual resentment between them and their wives.

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