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Art Illustrating Guqin Melodies     Chu performance theme 首頁
Scenes Illustrating Melodies from the Chu Ci 1
By Bai Yunli 2

Chu Ci poems for which there are multiple paintings that illustrate the section titles and/or themes of qin melodies are as follows:

  1. Yu Fu (The Fisherman); qin melody title Zepan Yin (Marshbank Melody)
    View illustrations (timings of my recording are aligned)
  2. Li Sao (Falling into Grief)
    View illustrations (timings of my recording are aligned)
  3. Jiu Bian (Nine Changes); qin melody title Song Yu Bei Qiu (Song Yu Mourns Autumn)
    View illustrations (timings of my recording are aligned)
  4. Yuan You (Wander Afar)
    View illustrations (timings of my recording are aligned)

The four illustrated qin melodies, as can be seen above, are Li Sao, Yuan You, Song Yu Bei Qiu (same theme as Jiu Bian), and Zepan Yin (same theme as Yu Fu).3 I have played these four (ca. 30 minutes of music) accompanied by PowerPoint projections of the illustrations. The illustrations, by Bai Yunli, are mostly in the style of Men Yingzhao (18th c.).4 For this there is one illustration for each section of each melody.

"Chu Ci" literally means "Lyrics of Chu". It is often translated by such titles as "Songs of the South" or "Poetry of the South" because Chu was an ancient state that once included a large part of south central China. Songs of the South, as compiled in the second century CE, includes 17 titles (listed below). They were attributed to Qu Yuan (the man whose drowning is commemorated in the Dragon Boat Festival), his supposed disciple and/or nephew Song Yu, as well as several named or anonymous poets in their style.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Chu Ci and its Table of Contents (楚辭目錄)
楚辭 Chu Ci literally means Lyrics of Chu or Poems of Chu. It is sometimes said to be the southern counterpart of the northern Shi Jing. English translations include David Hawkes, The Songs of the South, Penguin Classics, 1985 (originally Clarendon Press, 1959) and 許鳶沖 Xu Yuanchong (trans.), Poetry of the South, Hunan Publishing Co, 1992 (Bilingual, but #1 to 10 only). Title translations below are from David Hawkes.

Table of Contents

  1. 離騷 Li Sao (On Encountering Trouble; see above)
  2. 九歌 Jiu Ge (Nine Songs)
  3. 天文 Tian Wen (Heavenly Questions)
  4. 九章 Jiu Zhang (Nine Pieces)
  5. 遠遊 Yuan You (Far-off Journey; see above)
  6. 卜居 Bu Ju (Divination)
  7. 漁父 Yu Fu (The Fisherman; see Zepan Yin above)
  8. 九辯 Jiu Bian (Nine Changes; see Song Yu Bei Qiu above)
  9. 招魂 Zhao Hun (Summons of the Soul)
  10. 大招 Da Zhao (The Great Summons)

    (Some editions of Chu Ci leave out the following: )

  11. Xi Shi (Sorrow for Troth Betrayed)
  12. Zhao Yin Shi (Summons for a Recluse)
  13. Qi Jian (Seven Remonstances)
  14. Ai Shi Ming (Alas That My Lot Was Not Cast)
  15. Jiu Huai (Nine Regrets)
  16. Jiu Tan (Nine Laments)
  17. Jiu Si (Nine Longings)

The only one of these poems from the Chu Ci to mention the qin is the last one. The seventh of the Nine Longings, 傷時 Shang Shi, has as couplet nine (of 22), "且從容兮自慰,玩琴書兮游戲。" (Hawke, Distressed by these times, p. 315: "Let me be easy, then, and take some comfort, Seeking diversion in my books and music.")

2. Bai Yunli (白雲立) lives in Hangzhou. He has also done a number of other illustrations on this website.

3. See also the Chu Ci connection to Zhao Yin.

4. Sources of the online Chu Ci illustrations
The four sets of illustrations by Bai Yunli are largely in the style found in 欽定補繪蕭雲從離騷全圖 Qinding Bu hui Xiao Yuncong Li Sao Quantu, The Imperially Ordered Complete Illustrations of Li Sao Supplementing the Sketches by Xiao Yuncong. These were re-published in Vol. 1062 of the Wenyuange Siku Quanshu (various editions, e.g., Shanghai, 1935).

This collection includes these illustrations by 蕭雲從 Xiao Yuncong (1596-1673) for three works:

The collection also has the following supplementary illustrations by 門應兆 Men Yingzhao (active during 1736-1795):

The five illustrations by Men Yingzhao for Yuan You are of lines 1-2, 108, 125-6, 145-6 and 161-2.

There are a number of other surviving sets of Chu Ci images, such as a set from Jiu Ge by "in the style of" Zhao Mengfu (in 2017 on display at the Metropolitan Museum of New York; searching the online collection for "Nine Songs" under "Zhao Mengfu" should take you to the full set of 16).

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or to the Guqin ToC.