Fan Zhongyan
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Fan Zhongyan
- Qin Shi #144
范仲淹 1
琴史 #144 2
Fan Zhongyan 3          
Fan Zhongyan (989 - 1052; Wikipedia) was one of the most famous scholar-officials of his day, well-known as a poet and essayist as well as being a politician, philosopher and military strategist. The leader of the first or 'Minor Reform' of the Northern Song dynasty, he was also noted as a fine calligrapher who tried to reform literature as well as government. He set up an important charitable estate intended to further this work.4

There are a number of references on this site connecting Fan Zhongyan both directly and indirectly with the qin. Some of them are due to his close friendships with other poets of the time such as Mei Yaochen and Su Shunqin. Others are due to the possible use of some of his writings for inspiration in connection with melodies.

An example of the latter might be his Record of Yueyang Pavilion, which is interesting to read in connection with the qin melody Yueyang Sanzui.5

For a more direct connection, it has been said that while serving as a military official on the frontier Fan Zhongyan would play Lü Shuang Cao, reflecting on his situation.6 Apparently he had studied music theory and perhaps qin with Cui Zundu, who also served pn the frontier, and they became qin friends.7

Fan Zhongyan mentions qin in several surviving letters and essays as well as in his own poetry.

A letter he wrote to Tang Yi, a retired official known to have been a good calligrapher and qin player, is included in Qin Shi biography of Fan, together with commentary by Zhu Changwen (see below).

In the following, his preface to a collection of poetry by Tang Yi, Fan Zhongyan wrote of studying qin from Tang Yi. Translation is by Jonathan Chaves.8

Preface to the Poetry of Tang Yi

The Retired Scholar of the Imperial Song Dynasty, Tang Yi, courtesy name Zizheng, is outstanding among men. His talent, his artistry have brought him honorable fame in the capital. Thus Master Li Jianzhong of the Branch Censorate was famed in his day for being excellent at painting (sic) and was greatly admired by scholar-officials, but Zizheng’s brushwork belongs side by side with his, while Master Lin of the Jiangdong region (the great poet of the period, Lin Bu, 967-1028), a man of divine connoisseurship in the wonders of ink, after taking one look at a painting of his exclaimed, "Master Tang’s brushwork becomes more and more powerful as he ages!" The Adviser of the Eastern Palace, Master Cui Zundu was famed in his time for being excellent at playing the qin, being greatly admired by scholar-officials as well, but Zizheng’s sounds harmonize perfectly with those of the master. (I myself,) Fan Zhongyan of Gaoping, studied qin technique and singing with him, and I once sent him a letter, in which I said, "Now that Master Cui has passed away, does not the qin rest here (in your hands)?" (sic)

But aside from these two great talents, the Master also loves Airs and Elegentiae (poetry)....

Fan Zhongyan wrote the following either for or about Su Shunqin. Although at first glance the title suggests it is about Su Sunqin studying qin, it actually seems to be an exhortation from Fan to Su about the value of such studies ("Su Shunqin: Study Qin").9 Translation is again by Jonathan Chaves, with small revisions.

蘇舜欽學琴         Su Shunqin Studies Qin

絲桐徽黃金,     Silk, tong-wood, stops of yellow gold:
本是太古器。     Truly, instrument of high antiquity!
在昔重正聲,     In ancient times, they prized orthodox music:
阜民一氣志。     The people enriched, their spirits all at one.
夫維不去身,     In those days, it was never put aside,
寧為慆淫事。     Nor was it ever used for dissoluteness.
有虞絃南風,     Under Sage Shun its strings played Southern Winds:
孝德亘天地。     Filial Virtue filled all of Heaven and Earth!
子期意流水,     Then Zhong Ziqi set his mind on flowing water:
彼此心一致。     He and Bo Ya — their hearts were harmonized.
陰陽易條鬯,     Yin and Yang — all changes smoothly flowed;
率舞格異類。     In peaceful dance, all creatures followed suit.
聖賢無不能,     Things sages wished to do—none went undone,
制作韙深意。     All regulations followed what is right. (韙:緯?)
惜哉末俗傳,     But then—alas!—degenerate customs came,
惉懘失其粹。     Cacophony drove out sound’s purity!
發指務新切,     People turned towards what was fresh and new,
操美貴可喜。     Cared only that tunes be pleasing to the ear!
鄭衛及桑濮,     Decadent Zheng or Wei, lascivious songs,
哇咬輒我貳。     Crude wailings now confused our suffering ears!
襄曠死已久,     (Master Musicians) Xiang and Kuang died long ago:
誰能捄已墜。     Who can revive the already fallen?
空餘器與名,     All that remains, the instrument, and its name:
天律卒憔悴。     The Heavenly Harmonies?—Finally withered away.
有如東遷至,     It’s like the Zhou, once it had transfered east:
所存但虛位。     What now remained was only an empty name.
余雖學操縵,     Though my studies haven’t gone past learning Caoman,
豈不識真偽。     How could I not know authentic from false?
安得周太師,     How can we get Music Master Zhou
大音教我肄。     To teach us again proficiency in great music?
盡革世所尚,     He’d transform completely what the world esteems today,
追復和之至。     And restore for us the supreme harmony of the past!
匪獨血氣平,     Not only would this calm our blood pressure,
諧調厚政治。     But those harmonious tones would firm up government!
輟曲雅琴歌,     Enough! I end this Song of the Elegant Qin,
感慨非自異。     Passionately hoping for no further alienation.

Other poems by Fan Zhongyan with a qin theme include:

Fan Zhongyan entry in Qin Shi
This entry, after a short introduction, mainly consists of a long letter to
Tang Yi that was also included in Qinshu Daquan Section 16, but is here somewhat extended. Translation is by Jonathan Chaves.10

Fan Wenzheng Gong, Zhongyan, courtesy name Xiwen, while still young developed the ambition of helping his dynasty and serving his emperor. In his studies as well he took antiquity as his teacher. Having heard that Tang Yi was a master of the qin, he sent him a letter, in which he stated,

(On a certain day in the twelfth month, I, Fan Zhongyan of Gaoping, respectfully bow twice and submit this letter to His Excellency, the Retired Scholar Tang.)

For I have heard that when the sages first made the qin, they were inspired by the harmony of Heaven and Earth, and thus brought harmony to the realm. Ah, how great is the Way of the Qin! But after the making of the qin, Ritual Deportment and Music lost their way. Alas! For how long a period was the qin neglected! Those who transmitted it in those latter times simply emphasized pleasing themselves with pretty sounds, thus losing the greater dignity of the instrument. Such petty-minded men looked upon it as a mere craft.

But today, in the Imperial Song Dynasty the movements of civilization render appropriate the establishment of the Great Elegant-Orthodoxy! And the late Adviser of the Eastern Palace, Master Cui (Zundu), was the man to do it! He mastered the Way of the Qin, committing himself to it, basing his music upon it, for nearly fifty years of pure serenity and pacific harmony, his nature at one with the qin. He wrote Commentaries on the Qin (Qin Jian) and the significance of the "natural way" became apparent therein. I once visited within his gates, and one day I asked him, "What is the correct way to play the qin?" His Excellency answered, "Pure and stern, but tranquil. Harmonious and rich, but detached." I bowed, and withdrew. Ruminating upon this, I explained it thus: "If it is pure and stern, but lacks tranquility, then it fails in being agitated. If it is harmonious and rich, but lacks detachment, then it fails in being meretricious. Perhaps only when it is neither agitated nor meretricious may we say that the moderate, harmonious way of the Gentleman has been achieved."

Another day, I again asked him, "Who today is a real master of the qin?" Without missing a beat, he answered, "Retired Scholar Tang will do." I bowed, and withdrew. Overjoyed, I sang out, "There is a man! There is a man!" And I set my mind on learning a thing or two from him. But I was at that moment sent off on an official appointment some thousand li away, and was unable to follow through.

Today, I find myself again appointed back at the capital, and Master Cui has passed away! Does the Way of the Qin therefore not now lie in your hands, sir? If you would look kindly upon my wish, and convey to me one or two of the things you know, you would allow me to capture the tones of Sage Emperors Yao and Shun, to journey to the realms of Fuxi and the Yellow Emperor! Ah, would this not be a wondrous gift? Moreover, the traditions of the qin associated with these Former Monarchs must be transmitted without end, so that the spirit of the Supreme Sages may be preserved in our accomplished times. Is not the purport of this far-reaching? Of course I would not presume to aid the "Southern Breeze" poem, thus bringing prosperity and longevity to the realm! But might I not be allowed to promulgate the feelings of the Gentleman’s Three Pleasures so as to bring beauty to life?

(Thus it might be hoped that the banner of my shortcoming — recklessness and foolishness — might be lowered, no longer to be flaunted? I bow twice!)

Such was His Excellency [Fan’s] love for the qin! For the gentleman’s relationship to the qin emerges from deep within, and is given form in sound. If, by listening to the sound, one can return to the [Human] Nature, then it is being done right. Such an approach differs from that of the mere artisan who seeks merely to please listeners with his clever skillfulness. Thus, although Wenzheng Gong was able to play only a few pieces, he truly imbibed profoundly the essence of the instrument. His Way was straight; his talent was comprehensive: he was a gentleman of this Dynasty complete in virtue. His grandson via a paternal male third cousin, Shijing, is quite good indeed at the qin; his personal character is also complete and pristine. He has risen to the office of Assistant Director of the Palace Library.

The original text and further comment are in the footnote.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 范仲淹 Fan Zhongyan (Wiki; Encyclopaedia Brittanica online)
31472.68 范仲淹. online one can read that another nickname was 范履霜 Fan Lüshuang (see further). The original entry has the title 范文正公 Duke Fan Wengzheng. The name is also someimes written 範仲淹 and 範文正公 (example), and 26809 範 includes a comment that 範 can be a surnmame, but it then uses this character only in nicknames of other people.

2. 22 lines

3. Image from Sancai Tuhui
Copied from 31472.68 范仲淹.

4. Charitable estate
ICTCL p.374 says that the charitable estate he "established in Suzhou in 1050 (was) kept intact until 1760."

5. Record of Yueyang Pavilion (岳陽樓記 Yueyang Lou Ji) Yueyang Pavilion in Japanese screen (note qin carrier)      
The introduction to Fan Zhongyan in ICTCL (p.374) begins by quoting a famous maxim from Fan, "First to worry about the world's troubles; last to enjoy the world's pleasures". It comes near the end of his 岳陽樓記 Yueyang Lou Ji (the following translation renders the maxim a bit differently). This essay was also very popular in Japan, hence there are several Japanese paintings of Yueyang Pavilion, such as the screen at right by Ike no Taiga (1723-1766; Wiki; image source). The official title of the piece is 池大雅:樓閣山水圖.

Although Fan's memorial does not mention 琴 qin, for inspiration it could be read along with the melody Yueyang Sanzui. The complete text is given here with the translation by 蔡宗齊 Cai Zongqi.

In the fourth year of the Qingli reign [1044 A.D.] Teng Zijing was demoted and made Magistrate of Baling Prefecture. One year later, his administration was already functioning smoothly and the people were in harmony. Everything that had been abandoned was made anew. He then repaired and reconsructed Yueyang Tower, expanding the ancient structure, and engraved the poems composed there by Tang worthies and recent poets on the upper terrace. He asked me to write an inscription commemorating the new building.

The outstanding scenery of Baling is concentrated around Dongting Lake. The lake envelops distant mountains and swallows the Yangzi River. Stretching far and wide, it appears to have no shore. In the morning's sun and evening's shadows, the changing images it presents are innumerable. This is the grand view enjoyed from the top of Yueyang Tower, and it has been fully described by earlier writers. This is also a place that provides access northward to the Wu Gorges region and southward to the Xiaoxiang lands. Banished ministers and poets have often passed through this place. The sentiments they felt as they looked out over this landsacpe, in the midst of their distant journeys, how could they not have been exceptional?

When heavy rains soak the land, lasting for months at a time, and dark winds howl angrily, making frothy waves reach to the skies, the sun and stars are no longer visible, and mountain peaks are obscured. Traveling merchants do not go forth, as masts are broken and oars snapped. Late in the day it is already dark, when tigers roar and gibbons cry out. Under such conditions, those who climb this tower, as they leave the capital and long for their homeland, worry about slander and fear vilification. As such a bleak and desolate landscape fills their eyes, they are overcome with emotion and truly dispirited!

When, however, spring is genial and the landscape bright, waves no longer interrupt travel, the sky and earth are awash with heavenly light, and the cyan-blue of the lake covers ten thousand hectares. Sand gulls circle in the sky, and brocaded fish dart through the waters. Angelica on the shores and thoroughwort on the islets are aromatic and deep green. Sometimes hovering mists completely vanish and bright moonlight fills a thousand miles. Moonbeams are dancing gold upon the rippled water or, when the water is still, the orb appears as a submerged jade disk. As fishermen's songs answer each other, the joy of the scene knows no bounds! Those who climb the tower under such conditions find their hearts put at ease and their spirits rejuvenated. They forget all about political favor and disgrace. As they hold the wine cup facing the breeze, their pleasure is overflowing.

Oh! I once investigated the heart of benevolent men of ancient times, and found that it differed from the two states of mind just described. How so? Benevolent men did not find pleasure in external circumstances, nor did they become dispirited over their own personal situations. Whey then occupied lofty positions at the court they were apprehensive about the welfare of the people; and when they resided on the banks of remote rivers and lakes they were apprehensive about the well-being of their ruler. Thus when they experienced official eminence they were apprehensive, and when they suffeed demotion they were also apprehensive. When did they ever know joy? The maxim they lived by was this: "Be the first person to feel apprehension, before anyone else in the empire does; be the last person to feel joy, after everyone else in the empire does." Ah! Expcept for such a man, with whom could I associate?

Written on the fifteenth day of the ninth (lunar) month of the sixth year (1046 [C.E.])

This translation is from Zong-qi Cai (蔡宗齊 Cai Zongqi), How to Read Chinese Prose: A Guided Anthology (How to Read Chinese Literature). New York, Columbia University Press, 2022; pp. 258-9. For more on Yueyang Pavilion see the melody 岳陽三醉 Yueyang San Zui.

6. Fan Zhongyan playing Lü Shuang Cao on guqin
Hsu Wen-Ying, The Ku-Ch'in, p.191, says the following (slightly edited):

The famous general and scholar of the Song, Fan Zhongyan (989-1052), went to visit Cui (Zundu) to acquire from him the knowledge of music theory. Fan was a guqin player, but he could only play one piece, Treading on Frost", reflecting his condition in the west, where he was stationed to keep peace on the border. Both of them, Cui and Fan, were musicians and played the guqin with the knowledge of music theory. They could have spread the influence of their music westward, since the silk trade route to Europe had been opened centuries earlier, as is shown by the Caves of Dunhuang.

Her reference for this is to 陸遊 Lu You (1125 - 1210), "老學庵筆記 Diary of an Old Scholar", which in the original was as follows:


Lu You also had at least one other reference to this melody, as follows:


This reference suggests that perhaps the source for the term 履霜 is 易·坤 the hexagram Kun in the Yi Jing, where it refers to "履霜之戒".

Although Lu You's text says that Fan Zhongyan could only play one melody (Lü Shuang Cao), suggesting it should have been a rather simple version (there exist several versions), it could also be that Lu You had this impression because that was the only melody Fan would play for others. .

7. With Cui Zundu
Hsu Wen-Ying, ibid.

8. Preface to the Poetry of Tang Yi
Included in QSDQ Folio 18 #73 (V/411), where it is called 唐異處士詩序 Preface to the Poetry of Retired Scholar Tang Yi and identified as from the 丹陽集 Danyang Collection. The text as written in the offical version of that collection of Fan Zhongyan's work is as follows:


皇宋處士唐異,字子正人之秀也。之才之藝揭乎清名西京,故留臺李公建中時謂善畫為士大夫之所尚,而 子正之筆實左右焉。江東林君復神於墨妙一見而歎曰唐公之筆老而彌壯。東宫故諭徳崔公遵度時謂善琴為士大夫之所重,而子正之音嘗唱和焉。髙平范仲 淹師其絃歌,嘗貽之書曰「崔公既沒琴不在兹乎」處士二妙之外嗜於風雅。。。。

9. Su Shunqin Studies the Qin (Folio 20B #45; V/456)
This poem was apparently not included in any official collections of Fan's poetry and so has not generally been known to scholars of this period. Because of this Professor Chaves added the following comment with his translation:

This is an important document, now, for the relationship linking Fan to Su Shunqin and the other members of his circle, Mei Yaochen and Ouyang Xiu. James T.C. Liu describes thus the key political scandal in which Su and Fan were involved:

"....[I]n the winter of 1044, Su Shun-ch'in, Wang I-jou, and several other young supporters of the reform held a banquet at which, after much toasting, they sang poetic songs in which a few careless lines seemed disrespectful to the emperor. Li Ting, a social climber who was not invited to the banquet, heard of the songs and spread the story in revenge. It soon reached the ears of Wang Kung-ch'en, the censor who had married the sister of Ou-yang's second wife, but who opposed both Hsia Sung and the reformers. Under Wang's expert guidance, his subordinate censors built a case of lese majeste. . . .He boastfully exclaimed, 'I have caught all of them in a net.' . . . . Fan [Chung-yen], far away in the northwest, realized that he was indirectly under attack, and felt that he should submit his resignation as a councillor. . . . "

Fan was in fact demoted, the reform was defeated; Su Shunqin was exiled to Suzhou, then a distant provincial spot, where he became the founding owner of the Canglang ting garden estate, the oldest to survive (with considerable renovation, of course) in Suzhou.

James T.C. Liu, Ou-yang Hsiu: An Eleventh-Century Neo-Confucian (Stanford U. Press), pp. 49-51.

For me this is a further exhortation to learn ancient melodies.

10. Original text of Fan Zhongyan's entry in Qin Shi
First is Zhu Changwen's opening comments:


Next comes the text of Fan Zhongyan's letter to Tang Yi. Here is the official version from Fan Wenzheng ji 范文正集 (Siku quanshu ed.), 9/8b-9b. The paragraphs have been formatted to fit the translation and comments here. For example, the opening and closing sentences (paragraphs here) were omitted in the Qin Shi version, which added its own opening and closing by Zhu Changwen. A few characters in the main text of the letter are also different.



清静平和性與琴會,著《琴箋》而自然之義在矣。某嘗遊於門下,一日請曰 「琴何為是?」公曰「清厲而静,和潤而逺.」某拜而退。思而釋曰 「清厲而弗静,其失也躁;和潤而弗逺,其失也佞。弗躁弗佞,然後君子其中和之道歟。」 。



某狂愚之咎亦冀捨旃,不宣。某再拜。 (Zhu Changwen omitted this closing sentence, instead adding the following:)

公之好琴如此。蓋君子之於琴也。發於中以形於聲,聽其聲以復其性如斯可矣,非必如工人務多趣巧以悅他人也。 故文正公所彈雖少而其得趣蓋深矣。道直才周,為本朝全德大老。雲族孫世京頗好琴,其操行亦完潔,任至秘書丞。」

See translation in Pisano.

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