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Su Shunqin
蘇舜欽 1
Suzhou's Canglang Ting: built by Su Shunqin? 2        
Su Shunqin (1008 - 1048), style name 子美 Zimei (same as Du Fu), "was, along with Ouyang Xiu and Mei Yaochen, one of the major early Northern Song shi poets."3 His ancestors were from Sichuan but he was born Kaifeng, capital of the Northern Song Dynasty. In 1034 he passed the civil service examinations and joined the government, where he sympathized with the reforms of Fan Zhongyan. As a result he lost his government position, after which he retired to Suzhou. Today it is claimed that the 滄浪亭 Canglang Pavilion in Suzhou is the oldest classical garden in the city, first built in the Northern Song Dynasty as a private garden of Su Shunqi.

Qinshu Daquan includes three poems by Su with a qin theme:

  1. 聽演化琴 Listening to Yan Hua (Play my) Qin, with Preface 4
    (This poem mentions an episode when Yan Hua played for the Song dynasty's Zhenzong emperor [r. 998-1022; capital Kaifeng] during the xiangfu reign period [1008-1016]. Translation is by Jonathan Chaves.)

    Yanhua is a master of the qin zither. In the past, he once performed for a former emperor. When Yanhua heard that I have a fine instrument in my collection, he asked to play it, but having played, was reluctant to put it down. I have therefore written this poem to describe his feelings.

    The old master from Twin Pagodas,
            of ancient, rugged mien,
    Has asked to borrow my rare zither,
            and play upon it once.

    Winds waft the music of the immortals
            from the vast void—
    All who hear are entranced by the sound,
            their hair standing on end!

    As he plays the zither, we forget
            that the music comes from his fingers,
    Nor are the fingers conscious
            of the music of the heart.

    The rhythm may stop, the tones fade away—
    And in the midst of this sparse, soft sound
            he expresses deep feeling,

    Deep feeling — a thin flavor I alone understand
    As I am swept, ecstatic,
            back to the antiquity of the sages.

    The piece at an end, the master closes his eyes,
            and doesn’t say a word;
    Then suddenly tells us that he once played
            in the august Presence.

    The emperor of the xiangfu years
            had few affairs of state,
    And so he had the leisure to call
            great artists to the palace.

    When the regalia were withdrawn from the imperial precincts,
            and the cold sun glowed red,
    The master was led on horseback to the Palace of Paradise.

    With one performance of Pacifying the Barbarians
            he soothed His Majesty’s ears,
    And the nobles, at attention in their furs and jewels,
            were noticeably moved.

    A robe in Purple Cocoon pattern
            was brought from the Imperial Wardrobe,
    And in one day his fame had spread to a thousand noble homes.

    Now, old and sick, he lies in retirement
            in a land of lakes,
    Having met no connoisseurs of music,
            the past completely gone.

    A pair of jade-white cranes may be flying in the heavens,
    But people here see only the old wutong tree were they perched,
            withered and dying.

    Happily, he has found this precious zither,
            in tune with his heart and hands;
    Moved by the sound to recall the past,
            tears dampen his breast.

    Looking back at me, hesitating, unable to depart,
    He wants to leave behind him still another sorrowful song.

  2. 聽懷月琴 Listening to a Qin of Huaiyue (Folio 19B, #84; V/432) 正聲今遁矣,古道此焉存。

    Huaiyue is also mentioned in another poem

  3. 謝張生抱琴 Thanking Student Zhang for Carrying the Qin
    (the attribution was not clear with its inclusion in QSDQ
    Folio 20B #46; V/456)

Nothing is known of Su Shunqin's skills as a qin player. And although the title of the following poem by Fan Zhongyan suggests it is about Su Shunqin studying qin, perhaps Fan's references to "I" (余 and 我) suggest he (as an accomplished players) was simply encouraging Su to study (or study more).

蘇舜欽學琴 Su Shunqin Studies the Qin, by 范仲淹 Fan Zhongyan (Folio 20B, #45; V.456)

It begins as follows (total [5+5] x 18):

.... (translated under Fan Zhongyan)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Su Shunqin (蘇舜欽 1008 - 1048)
33250.221; ICTCL p.730.

2. Suzhou's Canglang Ting  ancient stele (enlarge)    
It seems generally to be translated either as "Surging Waves Pavilion" or as "Blue Wave Pavilion". According to Professor Chaves,

When 宋犖 Song Luo or Lao (1634-1713) became Governor of Suzhou, upon arriving there he found Canglang ting in a ruined state. He had it renovated as far as possible in keeping with the original appearance. All of this he records on the stone stele erected inside the garden and shown in the illustration at right (photo by Jonathan Chaves, 1981).

In light of this stele, and rubbings that survive of the ground plan, the basic layout is actually quite accurate. The building structures for the most part could not be older than Song's time, the 17th century. In both China and Japan, the 17th c. seems to be the watershed; few are the buildings that really and truly predate that period.

This is one of the Suzhou gardens featured in a book with interesting photos of the pre-1949 mainland, Magnificent China.

3. ICTCL p.730.

4. 聽演化琴 Listening to Yan Hua (Play my) Qin, with Preface
The original text, as in Qinshu Daquan Folio 19B, #83 (V.432) is as follows:


節奏可盡韻可(收,時於)疏淡之中寄深意。 (QSDQ mistakenly had only "盡")
平戎一弄沃舜聰,貂璫壁立亦動容 (listed; also played by Zhi Bai)

Prof. Chaves translation was originallly published in the 1970s in the poetry journal Pequod.

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