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Cai Yong
- Qin Shi #77
蔡邕 1
琴史 #77 2
伯偕之制 The Style of Cai Yong (playing qin) 3    
Cai Yong (133 - 192), "A polymath who had expertise in astronomy, mathematics, music, classical scholarship, calligraphy, and literature" (Knechtges) was also famed both as a qin player and a writer about the qin. His qin-related writings included a Qin Cao,4 and a Qin Jing (QSCM #13).5 One of his students was supposedly his daughter, Cai Wenji. A suggestion has been made that his tradition was carried on by Zhuge Liang.

Yuefu Shiji includes in its qin melody section a Caishi Wunong (Five Melodies of the Cai Clan). There these five (also referred to as 五曲 wu qu) are said to be the following melodies:

  1. You Chun (Spring Travel)
  2. Lu Shui (Green Water)
  3. You Ju (Retired Life)
  4. Zuo Chou (Sit in Sadness) and
  5. Qiu Si (Autumn Thoughts)

This is somewhat different from the Caishi Wunong listed in at least one Song dynasty source, which changes one of the above titles. And as can be seen here it is very different from the five sections in the 1511 melody Caishi Wunong.

There is a tradition that says Cai Yong played a nine string qin.6:

Surviving qin melodies with which Cai Yong has sometimes been connected include the following:7:

Caishi Wunong
Chang Qing8
Guangling San
Qiuyue Zhao Maoting
Xiao Hujia and Da Hujia (through his daughter Cai Yan)

Qin illustration 29 in Taiyin Daquanji shows what it says is a qin he had made, named Scorched Tail (焦尾 Jiao Wei, also called Burnt Tail).

Cai Yong's writings include an essay, Defense against admonition (釋誨 Shi Hui), in which he outlines reasons for an honorable person to stay out of government.9 It is said that at the end of this essay Cai took up his qin and emphasized his points by singing a song with the following lyrics. They have been translated by Colin Huehns in his translation of Jao Tsung-i, Harmoniousness: Essays in Chinese Musicology, Chapter 9 (source:

Qin Song (琴歌 Qin ge):

Refined be my heart, suffuse it in supreme purity,
Cleanse off the miry slough and have my soul in rectitude,
Let harmonious liquid flow, my spirit’s qi-energy calm.
Emotions and aspirations peacefully moored, heart noble and pure,
Predilections and desires extinguished, let nothing arise from these,
Leaping above the Universe and shedding the commonplace,
    Distantly aloft, lightly and gracefully, I journey alone.

The Qin Shi essay about Cai Yong is as follows:11

Cai Yong, style name Bojie, was from Yu in Chenliu (south of Kaifeng12). As a youth he had a broad education. He treated Grand Tutor Hu Guang13 as his teacher. He wrote with a polished style, was expert in divination, astronomy, and was a great master of music. He wrote a Rhapsody on the Qin14 which says,

(165 characters from his 琴賦 Qin Fu, not yet translated.)

At the time of Emperor Huan (r.147 - 168) five lords such as the minister15 Xu Huang (d.164 CE) and Zuo Guan (d.165 CE), who were willful and unrestrained, heard that Cai Yong was a good qin player. (Eunuchs then controlled the emperor.) One day the emperor ordered the prefect of Chenliu to send a dispatch (ordering Cai Yan to come to the court). (To avoid this) Cai Yong then stopped traveling in 偃師 Yanshi (east of Luoyang), said he was ill, and returned home (for 12 years). (In 172) he did respond to a summons to court, where he rose to the position of Court Gentleman of Consultation.16 Here (ca. 175 CE) he submitted an essay criticizing the eunuchs and as a result was (condemned to death but eventually) sent north; he returned after a general amnesty....

(I have not yet translated the next section, which tells of Cai Yan hearing a wutong tree burning and from the sound realizing it would make a good qin. So he took the wood and made a 焦尾 jiaowei scorched tail qin. Then there is an episode concerning Dong Zhuo [d. 912], then in control of the government, ordering Cai Yong into the government, Cai's pleading illness, Dong Zhuo ordering Cai Yong to play qin, and Dong Zhuo ordering Governor 王允 Wang Yun to execute Cai Yong [in 192].)

....The whole world mourned him. Praying mantis and cicada:   
Qicuo from QFTGYY       
(Earlier) at Chen Liu a neighbor who was having food and wine (with guests) invited Cai Yong. But as he was going in there was a guest playing the qin behind a screen. Cai Yong went to the door and secretly listened to the player. He said, "Hey, the music beckoned me over but (the player) has the idea of killing someone. What is this?" He then returned home and sent his servant to tell the host (he had gone home). (The host) then hurried over (to Cai's house) and asked him the reason. Cai told him all about it. (The host was) completely amazed. (Later) the qin player said, As I was playing on the strings I saw a praying mantis approaching a singing cicada that was about to leave but had not yet flown off. The mantis followed it, stepping forward and back. My heart was stirred up, afraid the mantis would lose the cicada (whose noise was bothering him). Could it be that that this murderous heart was transmitted onto the qin? Cai Yong in amusement laughed and said, "That must explain it."

(The biography then includes some more information not yet translated, most of it apparently commentary by Zhu Changwen himself. It also mentions by name the Caishi Wunong.18)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Cai Yong references
蔡邕 32581.126 has the image above. His style name 伯喈 Bojie means something like Sir Melody (compare Boxie 伯偕). He is also sometimes called 蔡中郎 Cai Zhonglang, Zhonglang being a government rank. He is discussed in Xu Jian Chapter 2.A. (pp.16-18).

Also: do a net search for "Cai Yong" and "Ts'ai Yung".

2. 38 lines

3. Cai Yong images Sancai Tuhui 
The image of Cai Yong (蔡伯喈) at right (expand) is from 32581.126, which took it from 三才圖會 Sancai Tuhui.

The image above, called 伯偕之制 The Style of Cai Yong (playing the qin) calls Cai Yong 伯偕 Boxie instead of the standard 伯喈 Bojie; note also the pointed top in this image of his scorched tail qin. The original of the above image, from a series (宋人畫歷代琴式圖) that includes several other noted qin players, is in the 國立故宮博物院 National Palace Museum. Its inscription begins, "吳人有燒桐爨者,蔡邕聞火烈...."

4. 琴操 Qin Cao
"琴操 Qin Cao" means "qin melodies", and the earliest surviving 琴操 Qin Cao seem to be lists of melodies, as shown in this separate article. From at least the Song dynasty one can also find quotes purporting to be of commentary from Qin Cao on its melodies, but works called Qin Cao containing this commentary seem to survive only from the Pingjin Guan Congshu, an 18th century collection of undated earlier works.

In addition, there seem to have been at least two versions of 琴操 Qin Cao attributed to 蔡邕 Cai Yong, one including a melody list called 河澗雜歌 Hejian Zage, the other a list called 河澗雅歌 Hejian Yage (details). And although the Qin Cao Cai Yong is the best-known, there were also several other Qin Cao by other people, and references to "Qin Cao" rarely mention the name of the author.

5. 琴經一卷 Qin Jing

6. Cai Yong and a nine-string qin
琴書大全 Qinshu Daquan (see QQJC V/123) has the following quote:

《古今注》曰:後漢蔡邕盖琴為九絃,後還用七絃。 《三禮舊圖》云:周文王加二絃,曰少宮、少商。蔡伯喈復增二絃,故有九絃。二絃大,次三絃小,次四絃尤小。其象瑰異,不傳於世。 《琴書》云:琴本五絃:宮商角徵羽也。加二絃:文武也。後漢蔡邕又加二絃,象九星。
"Notes Old and New" says, The Latter Han's Cai Yong apparently had a nine string qin, later he returned to using the seven-string version. "Old Illustrations of the Three Ritual (Classics)" says, "Zhou Wen Wang added two strings, called lesser gong and lesser shang. Cai Bojie (Cai Yong) continued this by adding two strings, thus there were nine strings. Two strings were big, the next three were small, the next four were smaller (?). Its appearance was quite extraordinary, but it has not been passed down." "Qin Shu" says, "The qin originally had five strings: gong shang jue zhi yu". Two were added: Wen and Wu. The Latter Han's Cai Yong also added two strings; they were like the nine stars." (The 九宫命理 nine stars of Chinese astrology?)
173.442 九絃琴 only refers to the Song Taizong story. The only surviving melodies using a nine-string qin were published in Lixing Yuanya.

7. I do not know how all the qin melodies mentioned here became attributed to him.

8. Chang Qing is one of four melodies with related titles associated with both Cai Yong and Xi Kang:

  1. Chang Qing
  2. Duan Qing
  3. Chang Ce
  4. Duan Ce

These four are included in one version of the Qin Cao attributed to Cai Yong (see Hejian Yage, #8-11).

9. Defense against admonition (釋誨 Shi Hui)
In Geni one can read the following, apparently from Brill,

In 163, Cai Yong composed "Shi hui" 釋誨 (Defense against admonition) to explain why he lacked interest in official service. Cai Yong modeled "Defense Against Admonition" after the hypothetical discourses of Dongfang Shuo 東方朔 (154-93 BCE), Yang Xiong 揚雄 (53 BCE - 18 CE), Ban Gu 班固 (32-92), and Cui Yin 崔駰 (30?-92). It is a dialogue between Young-Gentleman Devoted to the World (Wu shi gongzi 務世公子) and Hoary-Headed-Old Man (Hua dian hulao 華巔胡老). The young man chastises the old man for living in a peaceful age and failing to be of service to the state. The old man, whose views clearly represent Cai Yong's own position, argues that the young man has only observed "dim and minute advantage, and is oblivious of obvious harm." He then lectures him on the situation that now prevails in the realm. There is a superabundance of officials who serve at the court, and one more courtier added to this multitude is of little or no consequence. Furthermore, those who obtain office come from well-established families. Although they "bend low before the gates of the consort clan" and "seek acclaim from the nobles close to the throne" (the eunuchs), they "fall prostrate to the ground." The lesser ones "are dragged away and punished." while the more prominent among them have their entire families executed. Thus, the old man thinks it prudent to known when to act and when to stop. Thus, in order to preserve his life and integrity, he is content to dwell in obscurity.

Citation: 蔡邕 Cai Yong, Brill’s Chinese Reference Shelf. Brill Online, 2017. (

11. Original Chinese text
The original Chinese is as follows,












(蔡)邕在陳留其鄰人有以酒食召邕。此往客有彈琴於屏,邕至門試潛聽之,曰:「憘!以樂召我而有殺心,可也?」遂反。將命者以告主人(曰:「蔡君向來,至門而去。」邕素為邦鄉所宗,主人)遽自追而問其故,邕具以告,莫不憮然。彈琴者曰:「我向鼓弦,見螳螂方向鳴蟬(,蟬)將去而未飛,螳螂為之一前一卻。吾心聳然,惟恐螳螂之失(蟬)也。此豈為殺心而形於聲者乎?」邕莞然而笑曰:「此足以當之矣。」 (看圖




Some of the punctuation is tentative.

12. 陳留圉 Yu in Chenliu
ICTCL says the three commanderies of Chenliu, 汝南 Runan (to its southwest) and 潁川 Yingchuan (south) formed "a center for the leading intellectuals of the time". Historical Atlas II, p.19, shows Yu actually in 淮陽國 Huaiyang Princedom, at the center of the three commanderies. It is about 75 km SSE of Kaifeng, so it should be the same as the 圉鎮 Yuzhen Town on modern maps of 杞縣 Qi County. I haven't been able to find any indication of commemoration.

13. Hu Guang 湖廣 太傅湖廣 Taifu means he tutored royalty. ICTCL says Hu Guang held positions under two of that time's leading intellectual figures, 桓帝 Emperor Huan (r.147 - 168) and 朱穆 Zhu Mu (100 - 163; Bio. p552 says Cai Yong and others commemorated him after his death).

14. Rhapsodies on the Qin (琴府 Qin Fu)
Qinshu Daquan has this one in Folio 16, #3 (V, p.386), where it is the third of seven rhapsodies with the title, followed by several more with related titles. Van Gulik in his book on Xi Kang's Qin Fu (Hs'i K'ang's Poetical Essay on the Lute, p.60), mentions the one by Cai Yong as well as Qin Fu by 傅毅 Fu Yi (1st C. CE), 成公綏 Chenggong Sui (231 - 273), 孫該 Sun Gai (d. 261 CE) and 閔洪 Min Hong (3rd C. CE), the latter two apparently lost.

15. The text has 中常侍 (76.495) 徐璜左悺等五侯.

16. The Giles and ICTCL biographies differ on details here.

17. Praying mantis and cicada (sometimes written "preying mantis and cicada")
Kenneth DeWoskin, A Song for One or Two, Music and the Concept of Art in Early China, 1982, p.182 translates a more complete version of this story from Cai Yong's biography in Hou Han Shu. Some years ago I heard a similar cicada - preying mantis story but with different people involved; I haven't been able to trace that yet.

A similar story has Confucius playing the qin while watching a cat chase a mouse. In another room Minzi tells Zengzi that he hears some anxious sounds in the qin play. This fable can be found in 孔叢子 Kong Congzi (see Qinshu Daquan, Folio 16, #27).

18. 蔡氏五弄

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