Cai Yan
 T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
Qin Shi     Da Hujia     Xiao Hujia     Scroll     Wenji's lyrics     Women and the qin 首頁
Cai Yan
- Qin Shi #78, with Chen Xiuming
蔡琰 1
包括陳脩明;琴史 #78 2
Images from Cai Wenji's tomb3                          
Cai Yan, more commonly known as Cai Wenji, was a daughter of Cai Yong, style name Bojie. In about 195 CE the southern Xiongnu abducted her from her family's home in 陳留 Chenliu, south of Kaifeng in Henan province (the Han capital was then Luoyang), and took her to what is today the Gobi desert, where she was married to a Xiongnu prince and had two children. About 12 years later she was ransomed and returned home without her children. She then married a man from Chenliu in Henan. Her story became very popular and was found in various media including Chinese opera.4 There is also a tomb said to be hers at Sanli in Lantian County, near Xi'an in Shaanxi Province (see images at right, discussed further below).5

The story of Cai Yan's abduction is related in a number of surviving early qin melodies, including Xiao Hujia, Da Hujia, and Hujia Shibapai. The earliest surviving version of this last title has lyrics attributed to Cai Yan herself (see original lyrics and a related comment).6

More reliably attributed to her are the two Poems of Grief and Resentment (悲憤詩二章 Bei Fen Shi, Er Zhang).7 Most of the biography here consists of the entire text of both.

The biography of Cai Yan in Qin Shi is as follows,8

Cai Yan, style name Wenji, was a daughter of (Cai Yong). She was accomplished at music. One evening when her father was playing the qin a string broke. Cai Yan said, That was the second string. Cai Yong then intentionally broke a string and asked; she said, Fourth string. In neither case was she mistaken. Cai Yong said, Well-tuned ears! Cai Yan said, (Like) 吳札 Wu Zha (short for 吳,公子季札的省稱 Noble Scion Ji Zha of Wu; 6th c. BCE) observing music (of 周 Zhou) and knowing how countries rise and fall. When Shi Kuang played on the pitch pipes he realized the lack of quarrel in Southern Winds. Observing from this standpoint, of what can she not be aware?9

When young, (Wenji) was married to Wei Zhongdao of Hedong. When he died they were childless. The world was then being destroyed by disorder. Hu nomad cavalry abducted her and hid her away with the 左賢王 Left Honorable Prince of the Southern Xiongnu. She was with the Hu nomads for 12 years, giving birth to a child. Cao Cao, who had formerly been on good terms with her father, was unhappy about her having no (Han) heirs, so he sent and ambassador who used gold to ransom her. After she returned she was married again, this time to 董祀 Dong Si of Chenliu. However, she still mourned her period of separation and homelessness. In accord with her sadness and resentment she wrote a poem in two parts (or two poems), which said,

(See original)

All this mourned the destruction of the House of Han. Alas, the catastrophes grieving the people led to the sufferings at the hands of the Rongdi nomads; returning home caused separation from the natural instincts (of a mother). Listeners can sigh and lament about this. The Hujia (melody) transmitted through generations was created by her, and this is its significance.

(The biography of Cai Yan is then followed by a six-line biography of a woman named Chen Xiuming. There does not seem to be any connection between the two other than their gender and perhaps the period in which they lived.)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Cai Yan 蔡琰
32581.51; style name 蔡文姬 Cai Wenji.

2. 陳脩明 Chen Xiuming (last 6 of the 54 lines in this entry);; compare Chen Xiu. The last six lines of the entry on Cai Yan (see original) say,

During the Han period there was in Kuaiji a woman named Chen Xiuming who was a good qin player. She studied from a 李氏 Mr. Li of 上虞 Shangyu (17.626: also near Shaoxing; not 虞 33531.??) many beautiful sounds, and so was able to teach all her daughters as well as her son 由 You (陳由 ?; 22221.xx). When You was 20 he was said to be a skilled artisan, well-known in the capital. His mother was not happy at this. She said, When You is 50 or 60 he can be an artisan, but if You dies young his Qin Dao will not include (help?) his mother....

(Translation incomplete).

3. Images from 蔡文姬墓 Cai Wenji's tomb
Copied from the internet. See inparticular

4. Cai Wenji in opera  
None seems to use the lyrics attributed to Wenji herself. The image at right, showing a scene from an opera called 文姬歸漢 Wenji Returns to Han, is from

5. Later life and death
Since she is said to have been from Chenliu and to have returned there to marry a local man after being ransomed it is not clear why she is said to have been buried near Chang'an (Xi'an). The supposed gravesite is at 陝西省藍田縣三里鎮 Shaanxi Province, Lantian County, Sanli District is a few miles southeast of the center of Xi'an.

6. 胡笳十八拍 Hujia Shibapai lyrics attributed to Cai Yan
These are also included in QSCM #14.

7. Song of Grief and Resentment, two poems (悲憤詩二章 Bei Fen Shi, Er Zhang)
The original text of these twp poems is below. Both poems are translated in Paul Rouzer, Articulated Ladies, 2001. 11088.95 quotes from the poem, crediting 後漢書,列女董祀妻傳 History of the Latter Han, Exemplary Women, Biography of the wife of Dong Si. The second poem is said to be in the form of a 騷 sao.

8. Original text
The original Chinese for the Cai Yan entry, with that of Chen Xiuming attached, is:

  1. 蔡琰,字文姬,伯喈之女,妙音律。邕夜鼓琴弦絕,琰曰:第二弦。邕故斷一弦問之,琰曰第四弦,皆不差謬。邕曰偶得之耳。琰曰:吳扎觀樂,知興亡之國,師曠吹律,識南風之不競,由此觀之,何不知也。少適河東衛仲道,夫亡無子。天下喪亂,為胡騎所獲,沒於南匈奴左賢王。在胡中十二年,生一子。曹操素與邕善,痛其無嗣,乃遣使以金璧贖之還,再嫁陳留董祀。嘗感傷亂離,追悼懷憤,賦詩二章。


  2. 漢世有會稽女子陳脩明者,

Translation incomplete.

9. Note Cai Yong's own skill in this regard.

Return to QSCB, or to the Guqin ToC.