Differentiating Qin Songs, by Zha Fuxi 查阜西﹕琴歌辨
 T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
YFSJ, Qin melody lyrics   Qin in novels and opera 網站目錄
Differentiating Qin Songs 1
By Zha Fuxi, from Collected Essays 2

Qin melodies that have lyrics and can be sung are historically called qin songs. A number of qin melodies were passed down during the Han Dynasty; there are no names for these melodies, but they are considered to have been qin songs -- for example, the qin song(s) of Sima Xiangru.3 Over the past five to six centuries, however, the difference between qin songs and qin melodies with lyrics has led to ambiguity.4 Yan Tianchi5 (Yan Cheng, whose music was compiled into Songxianguan Qinpu, 1614) believed that "taking literary verses and (matching them to music by the method of) one character for each note" or "taking old melodies and (matching them to lyrics by the method of) one note for each character" were both unacceptable. What he said may be true, but this should only been applied to some of the melodies with lyrics; it is not applicable to all melodies with lyrics and especially not to (real) qin songs.

None of the melodies passed down by Xu Yu (Xu Tianmin6) during the last years of Song Dynasty contained lyrics. Thus in the mid-Ming Xiao Luan7 emphasized that the Xu family orthodox tradition of the Zhe school "eliminated the lyrics but kept the playing techniques" (lit., gou and ti), i.e., the Zhe school was one that played without singing. In today's words, they advocated qin music as instrumental music and did not care for accompanying singers or singing to oneself while playing. They hinted at a rivalry against the Jiang school, asserting that Jiang music was vulgar. People of the early Ming dynasty, according to their own understanding, did not phrase their complaints about the Jiang school in terms of this matter of qin songs, and did not actually criticizing (the songs) directly, perhaps because (such well-known literati as) Shen Shitian (Shen Zhou) and Cheng Huangdun (Cheng Minzheng) had attached great importance to the "bequeathed music" (of Xie Lin and his handbook of qin songs8). Meanwhile the two Yangs (Yang Xifeng and Yang Hexu9) gained prominence in Jiangzuo (lower reaches of the Yangzi River), which provoked jealousy amongst literati-officials in qin circles.10 Thus, the "Jiang school" from the lower reaches and south of the Yangzi River gradually became mistaken as a "Jianghu" (countryside, i.e. common11) sort of "Jiang school". Tracing the origin of these historical events can cause one to heave a great sigh.

Over the past three centuries, qin has attached great importance to Yushan (in Jiangsu province), and the reputed founder of the Yushan school, Yan Tianchi,12 indeed asserted that the Qin Chuan (Qin Stream),13 i.e., Yushan school) completely carves its meaning through sound rather than fitting (the sound) to text....and that it maintains its distance from trifling vulgarity." Thus qin songs, along with the melodies with lyrics attached, became collateral damage14 and hardly anyone cared to give them any consideration.

As a qin player, I began my study with qin songs. From the age of fourteen to twenty-seven, I sang whenever I played. Then someone taught me to "return to Yushan" and I became afraid to sing in public. When I began to play Yi Guren and Meihua San Nong, two melodies without lyrics, my emotions still to a certain extent were conflicted. I felt doubtful: if a qin melody lacked lyrics, how could one know its meaning? Later on, wherever I met other qin players, they almost always only played without singing. Thus I quieted down, fearing that others would dismiss me as of the "countryside school".

Today, under guide of the (Communist) Party's flourishing art policy, I've begun to attempt qin songs again. Regarding qin songs, some musicians bear an affirmative attitude; but on the other hand, a minority of qin players and musicians still repudiate or are skeptical of them.

On December 3rd, 1956, the head commissioner of Hengyang County (in central Hunan province) and I traveled to the countryside at night, to Fanggong Fourth Collective to visit an old qin player, Li Shigu,15 who is in his seventies (and who, since the Liberation, has been practicing traditional Chinese medicine). The first thing he asked me was, "to which school do you belong?" I said that for years I've been practicing without singing. He said, "All right. We'll consider you to be of the official court school not of the Jianghu school."16 Only after that would he speak to me about qin affairs. It is excusable for older people like him to show such stubbornness. Unfortunately, however, some musicians today still repudiate or are skeptical of qin songs.

At the seminar held after the unearthing and performance of the melody Hujia Shiba Pai,17 I in a response used the expression "four tones with yin and yang, nine manners of articulation, open and closed" to explain "dialect tones".18 At that time, there was criticism that I should not use "Kunqu vocabulary" to "falsely explain" (dialect tones) in qin songs.19 (It is true that) four tones with yin and yang, and nine manners of articulation, open and closed" is not exclusive to Kunqu; and "dialectal tones" has never been a Kunqu term. Yet the application of alien Western musical terms to Chinese music can be found everywhere. That the critic suddenly reacted thus shows that he both repudiates and is skeptical of qin songs. There are also others who intentionally belittle the merit of the (version of) Hujia in Qin Shi, asserting that "its coordination of lyrics with the melody is rather rigid, matching a character to each note, wholly reflecting the antiquarian musical theories held by the Ming Dynasty ruling class. "Rigid coordination" and "one character per note" are ruling-class, conservative ideas? Traditional qin songs and any other melodies with lyrics, in form, are all rigidly-coordinated, all matching one character to each note? (In fact) the Hujia in Qin shi does not have a strictly syllabic setting, but commonly adds various ornaments (that have no words paired).20 (In this way it is) unlike scores from court music21 or the Book of Songs. Rather, those passed down by Xie Xuefeng (Xie Lin), Yang Xifeng (Yang Biaozheng), Yang Heshu (Yang Lun) and Zhang Tingyu (see Lixing Yuanya, 1618) are much simpler. As for whether or not it is rigid, that involves subjective judgment. Hujia from Qin Shi has variation in every section. every beat. Is variation stiffness? By this logic, can one not reject all traditional qin songs and melodies with lyrics? This would be outrageous.

Comrade Xu Jian in a paper published in this journal,22 because the audience has not reacted badly to Hujia from Qin Shi, explained that "but after meticulous treatment by the excavator (was he referring to me?) and performer (referring to Zhu Lin23), some parts were quite moving". A simpleton, I've no talent in "treatment"; Zhu Lin has just begun to learn singing qin songs from me, thus she also does not pride herself in being skilled in "treatment". The moving parts did not come from "treatment" but the traditional qin song performance technique of "dialectal tone". For more details, see the next edition of the journal for "Traditional qin song performance technique: dialectal tone".

September 25th (1959 ?)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Included in 查阜西,琴學文萃 Zha Fuxi, Collected Writings about the Qin, pp. 161-3

2. The biographical notes about Zha Fuxi have an Appendix with links to his singing. See also his Report on the coverage of guqin work done in 1956.

3. Elsewhere on this website (e.g., under poetry and song) there are several discussions about true qin songs (i.e., melodies that clearly can be sung) vs. melodies and lyrics paired in a manner that does not seem to allow actual singing of them.

4. Sima Xiangru (179-113 BCE) is said to have seduced Zhuo Wenjun by singing a qin song. Later at least two sets of lyrics appeared, but no one knows what (if any) were his actual lyrics and melody. The two known sets of lyrics can be found with the melodies Wenjun Cao and Feng Qiu Huang.

5. 中文

6. The only surviving melody actually attributed to Xu Tianmin is Zepan Yin.

7. 蕭鸞 Xiao Luan (《琴史初編》傳記) compiled Xingzhuang Taiyin Buyi (1557) and Xingzhuang Taiyin Xupu (1559).

8. "Bequeathed sounds" comes from 太古遺音 Taigu Yiyin, the handbook of 謝琳 Xie Lin (nickname 雪峰 Xuefeng) published in 1511. 沈 Shen and 程 Cheng are 沈周號石田 Shen Zhou, nickname Shitian, and 程敏政號篁墩 Cheng Minzheng, nickname Huangdun. There is some commentary about this by 何旭 He Xu with Taigu Yiyin.

9. 重修真傳琴譜 Chongxiu Zhenchuan Qinpu (1585) by 楊西峰 Yang Xifeng (Yang Biaozheng) consists totally of qin songs; 真傳正宗琴譜 Zhenchuan Zhengzong Qinpu by 楊鶴淑 Yang Heshu (楊掄 Yang Lun has two parts, one of which (Taigu Yiyin) is all qin songs.

10. Jiang Zuo (江左 Lower regions of the Yangzi)
江左 17496.63 Jiangzuo (Yangzi left, also 江東 Yangzi east) refers to the lower reaches of the Yangzi; theoretically it should emphasize the northern side of the river, especially since 江右 Jiangyou (Yangzi right) is the upper reaches, particularly on the southern side, around today's 江西 Jiangxi province. In fact, Yang Biaozheng and Yang Lun were all associated with Nanjing, which is sort of mid-way between; Xie Lin was from the Huangshan area, upriver towards Jiangxi. See also Jiang-Xi Pu (River-West Music) of the Song dynasty.

11. 江湖 Jianghu: various implications of "rivers and lakes"
See further under Lu Guimeng.

12. 中文.

13. Qinchuan (琴川 Qin Stream)
See further here.

14. Collateral damage: 池魚之殃 disasters brought on by others. Zha Fuxi seems to be suggesting that because of the qin songs with inappropriate pairing of words and music, qin songs in general were criticised.

15. 李師古 Li Shigu ("Li who teaches old things")
Li Shigu, of the 方工四社 Fanggong Fourth Collective near 衡陽 Hengyang, seems to be a namesake of the famous Tang dynasty literatus Yan Shigu (顏師古 581 - 645). I am not sure of the significance of this.

16. 廊庙 Langmiao is defined as "朝庭 imperial court", rather the opposite of 江湖 Jianghu. Thus Li Shigu seems to be saying that by playing purely instrumental melodies Zha Fuxi is belongs to a group with refined tastes. In the 1950s perhaps this could have been a sort of criticism, particularly in light of what Zha just wrote about the government encouraging qin songs. Is this some sort of subtle comment Li Shigu had to make before being willing to talk about qin songs?

17. Performance of Hujia Shibapai
This refers to the version in Qin Shi (1611; VIII/44), which was reconstructed in the 1950s (the article here seems to suggest Zha Fuxi himself did the reconstruction, but it may have been done by a group). There is a transcription by Wang Di and I have heard a cassette recording, which has the music played by an ensemble rather than qin solo, but I have not been able to find out who did the reconstruction (perhaps here called 發掘 fajue rather than 打譜 dapu because of the lyrics and the ensemble performance) or the performance. I have done my own version based on the apparently identical version in Luqi Xingsheng (1589).

18. Making the tonal patterns of language fit the contours of music (?)
This is my understanding of what Zha meant by "four tones with yin and yang, nine manners of articulation, open and closed" to explain "dialectal tones". The three original expressions are:

19. 崑曲 Kunqu (Wikipedia)
See further.

20. Qin songs and lyrics were paired not by the method of one character for each note, but one character for each right hand stroke (and a few left hand ones). The result was still word-intensvie, but only if there was no ornamentation would the result be a completely syllabic setting.

21. 雅樂 Ya Yue: see gagaku (and also Wiki).

22. 許健 Xu Jian was an assistant of Zha Fuxi; he later wrote Qinshi Chubian. As for the article mentioned here, there is no information as to where it was actually published.

23. Zhu Lin 朱琳

Return to Qin Poetry and Song or to the Guqin ToC.