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- Qin Shi #11
孔子 1
琴史 #11 2
- Further under Confucian Qin Themes
upper: "A true image of Confucius" 3
lower:   Confucius playing the qin 4 
The Book of Songs (Shi Jing),
5 said to have been compiled by Confucius (traditional dates 551 - 479 BCE), has the earliest known literary references to the guqin. And the biography of Confucius in the Hereditary House of Confucius (Kongzi Shijia), Annal 47 of the Annals of History (Shi Ji) by the Grand Historian Sima Qian, stated that Confucius learned the qin from Shi Xiangzi.6 Nevertheless, there seem to be no actual descriptions of a qin until much later (in Xi Kang's Rhapsody on the Qin) and there is little historical evidence from earlier sources to suggest that Confucius actually played the musical instrument we know today as the qin or guqin (old qin).7 Nevertheless, there is a long history of stories featuring Confucius playing an instrument called a qin,8 as well as of images showing him playing specifically the seven-string qin9. In addition, some old melody lists attribute at least 12 qin melodies directly to Confucius,10

In old surviving handbooks as well as in the active repertoire there are quite a few further pieces associated with, if not directly attributed to, Confucius. My own focus is on the earliest versions of those melodies that survive from Ming dynasty tablature;11 there are in addition a few new titles from Qing tablature.12

The rather long entry in Qin Shi about Confucius mentions at least three of these melodies (Yi Lan Cao, Jiang Gui Cao13 and Guishan Cao), plus You Lan (YFSJ p.840) and Wen Wang Cao (which Seng ascribes to Shi Xiang).

Qinshu Cunmu, Folio 16 quotes six stories about Confucius and the qin from a book called The Household Sayings of Confucius (Kongzi Jiayu).14

The story of Confucius studying qin with Shi Xiangzi is not told here, but with the biography of the latter (#32). Qin illustration 6 in Taiyin Daquanji claims to be a depiction of his Confucian Style [仲尼 Zhongni] qin.)

The Qin Shi biography of Confucius begins,15

Confucius was born during the period of the Zhou (dynasty). Experiencing disorder in Lu he got in his cart and traveled everywhere, but he was not living in the proper generation. In (Lu) he remained with the duke for 14 years. When he was 56 years old....

(Translation incomplete.)


Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Kongzi 孔子 (551 - 479 BCE)
See also in Wikipedia, as well as the comments below.

2. 43 lines

3. "孔子真影 True image of Confucius" (see also below)
Source uncertain.

4. Traces of the Sage Confucius: Confucius playing qin
The above image, an extract from "晝息鼓琴 Daytime leisure playing the qin" (the full image shows 閩子 Minzi and 曾子 Zengzi listening), is from 孔子聖蹟圖 Kongzi Shengji Tu,河北美術出版社,1996 (Traces of the Sage Confucius, Hebei Fine Arts Publishing), an illustrated book of the life of Confucius originally published ca. 1930 but copying old images. These books, which go back at least to the Ming dynasty, are also called simply 聖蹟圖 Shengji Tu (

There have been many such popular illustrations showing Confucius playing qin. Some are listed here, but in addition this site has a number of melodies illustrating Confucian themes rather than Confucius himself.

5. Book of Songs: Confucius' 詩經 Shi Jing (Wiki)
Also called Classic of Poetry or Book of Odes, it has 305 poems. Many of these poems have been arranged with qin melodies. There is some further mention of this here. In addition, at least 8 poems specifically mention the qin, though usually together with se. These could be instrument types rather than specific instruments.

The best known English translation of the Shi Jing is probably the one by Arthur Waley.

6. Confucius in the 史記 Shi Ji (Wiki: (Records of the Grand Historian)
See also, for example, "詩三百,夫子皆弦歌之,以求合韶、武、雅、頌之音。"

7. Historical information on Confucius
As pointed out by Annping Chin (Wiki) in her Confucius, A Life of Thought and Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), the closest we have to actual historical details of the life of Confucius come from two classical texts most closely associated with him:

  1. The Analects (論語 Lun Yu; Wiki); and
  2. The Spring and Autumn Annals (左傳 Zuo Zhuan; Wiki).

For online versions of the original text of these two sources see the Chinese Text Project, The Analects and Chun Qiu Zuo Zhuan.

8. Early references to Confucius and qin
As for the earliest sources on Confucius (see previous footnote), The Analects mentions only a 瑟 se (translated by Legge as "lute") while Zuo Zhuan seems to have 11 references to 琴 qin. None of these has him playing one.

Qinshu Daquan, Folio 16, includes many early references to "qin", including the references from the Book of Songs, said to have been compiled by Confucius. However, as discussed under Origins of the Qin, it is not certain just whether at that time the characters 琴 qin and 瑟 se referred to the instruments we now know by those names. The earliest historical evidence for the long zither with seven silk strings that came to be known as "qin" dates from only the 3rd century CE. That information, though, does suggest it had been in existence in that form for quite some time.

9. Tradition of images showing Confucius with a qin
It is not certain when this began. This website includes a number of them, mostly linked here.

10. 12 melodies commonly attributed to Confucius
The listing here comes from the Song dynasty list of qin melodies compiled by Seng Juyue. The 12 melodies attributed to Confucius are #24 - #35). The titles are:

  1. 歡樂操 Huan Le Cao (not in 16602.88 歡樂 etc.)
  2. 將歸操 Jiang Gui Cao (YFSJ p.841)
  3. 龜山操 Guishan Cao (YFSJ p.842)
  4. 猗蘭操 Yi Lan Cao (YFSJ p.839)
  5. 獲麟操 Huo Lin Cao (compare Huo Lin)
  6. 畏匡操 Wei Kuang Cao (
  7. 厄陳操 E Chen Cao (or 厄於陳 E Yu Chen;, or Kongzi E [#17])
  8. 閑居操 Xian Ju Cao (or 閑居樂 Xian Ju Le; nothing with 42162.32 閑居 or .33 閑居賦 Xian Ju Fu)
  9. 東武泰山操 Dongwu Taishan Cao (or Dongwu Taishan; Dongwu and Taishan?)
  10. 回風操 Hui Feng Cao (or 風操 Feng Cao)
  11. 悲風操 Bei Feng Cao (or 悲風 Bei Feng)
  12. 憶顏回 Yi Yan Hui (survives as alternate title for Ya Sheng Cao)

As shown by the links, there are actual melodies associated with at least five of these titles

11. Surviving melodies associated with Confucius
See under Confucian qin themes.

12. Qing dynasty melodies associated with Confucius
See Later melodies on the theme of Confucius under Confucian Qin Themes.

13. Jiang Gui Cao: also called 陬操 Zou Cao 42622.10

14. Confucius' Household Sayings (孔子家語 Kongzi Jiayu)
This is a collection of stories attributed to Confucius, but most of them are thought to have originated at a later date. The earliest surviving compilation is by 王肅 Wang Su (195 - 256), who is thought to have added some of them himself. This book is quoted variously on this site: see especially the "six selections from four books" given in Qinshu Daquan Folio 16 #13.

I have an annotated Chinese edition with unnumbered chapters, published by 山東文藝出版社 1994. It presumably has been re-arranged: the titles do not correspond with the list of its 44 chapters online at the China Knowledge website, which translates the title as The School Sayings of Confucius.

15. Original text
The complete Chinese entry is as follows:

孔子生周之季,逢魯之亂,轍環天下而不遇於世。當定公十四年,孔子年五十六,由大司寇攝相事。齊人聞而懼,謀間魯以疏孔子,於是盛飾女樂以遺魯君。時季桓子專政,亦不悅孔子之用也,乃受女樂,君臣游觀三日不朝。孔子以謂魯君:「臣之志荒不在於治,不足與有為。」遂去之他邦。歌曰: 「彼婦之口,可以出走。彼婦之謁,可以死敗。蓋優哉游哉聊以卒歲。」 然猶裵回不忍去,復望魯國,而龜山蔽之,乃嘆曰:「季氏之蔽吾君,猶龜山之蔽魯也。」故作《龜山操》。其辭云: 「無斧無柯,奈龜山何?」 斧以喻斷,柯以喻柄,無斷割之柄,則不能去季氏也。

自魯適衛,過曹、鄭、遂至陳,久之,復適衛。既不得用,將西見趙簡子,而聞竇鳴犢、舜華之死也。 臨河而嘆曰:「美哉!水洋洋乎!丘之不濟,此命矣夫?」竇鳴犢、舜華,晉國之賢大夫也。刳胎殺夭則麒麟不至,竭澤涸魚則蛟龍不游,覆巢毀卵則鳳凰不翔。何則?君子諱傷其類也。乃還息乎陬鄉,作《陬操》以哀之。《陬操》者,蓋琴操所謂《將歸》也。其辭曰: 「秋水深兮風揚波,船楫顛倒更相和,歸來歸來歸為期。」 秋水深者,險難也,風揚波者,威暴也,船楫顛倒者,行不以道也。遭時如此,不歸何以哉?又曰 「周道衰危,禮樂陵遲,文武既墜,吾將焉師?周遊天下,靡邦可依。鳳鳥不識,珍寶梟鴟。眷然顧之,慘然心悲。巾車命駕,將適唐都。黃河洋洋,攸攸之魚。臨津不濟,還轅息鄹。傷予道窮,哀彼無辜。翱翔於衛,復我舊廬。從吾所好,其樂只且。」

及孔子厄於陳蔡之間,講誦弦歌不輟。後自衛反魯,過隱谷,有幽蘭獨茂,子喟然曰:「蘭,香草也,而與眾卉為伍,如聖賢倫於鄙夫也。」乃作《猗蘭操》,其辭有云: 「如何蒼天,不得其所;逍遙九州,無所定處。」 感憤之深切也, 又作《丘陵之歌》曰: 「登彼丘陵,峛崺其阪,仁道則邇,求之若遠。遂迷不復,自嬰屯蹇。喟然回慮,題彼泰山。郁確其高,梁甫回連。枳棘充路,陟之無緣。將伐無柯,患茲蔓延。惟以永嘆,涕霣潺湲。」



Punctuation mostly from Wang Mengshu and The original was not separated into paragraphs.

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  /BODY> 孔子生周之季,逢魯之亂,轍環天下而不遇於世。當定公十四年,孔子年五十六,由大司寇攝相事。齊人聞而懼,謀間魯以踈孔子,於是盛飾女樂以遺魯君。時季桓子專政,亦不悅孔子之用也,乃受女樂,君臣遊觀三日不朝。孔子以謂魯君:「臣之志荒不在於治,不足與有爲。」遂去之它邦。歌曰:「彼婦之口,可以出走。彼婦之謁,可以死敗。蓋優哉游哉聊以卒歲。」然猶徘徊不忍去,復廻望魯國,而龜山蔽之,乃歎曰:「季氏之蔽吾君,猶龜山之蔽魯也。」故作龜山操。其辭云:「手無斧柯,奈龜山何?」斧以喻斷,柯以喻柄,無斷割之柄,則不能去季氏也。自魯適衛,過曹、鄭、遂至陳,久之,復適衛。既不得用,將西見趙簡子,而聞竇鳴犢、舜華之死也。臨河而歎曰:「美哉!水洋洋乎!丘之不濟,此命矣夫?」竇鳴犢、舜華,晉國之賢大夫也。刳胎殺夭則麒麟不至,竭澤涸漁則蛟龍不游,覆巢毀卵則鳳皇不翔。何則?君子諱傷其類也。乃還息乎陬鄉,作陬操以哀之。陬操者,蓋琴操所謂將歸也。其辭曰:「秋水深兮風揚波,船檝顛倒更相和,歸來歸來歸爲期。」秋水深者,險難也,風揚波者,威暴也,船檝顛倒者,行不以道也。遭時如此,不歸何以哉?又曰「周道衰微,禮樂陵遲,文武既墜,吾將焉師?周遊天下,靡邦可依。鳳鳥不識,珍寳梟鴟。眷然顧之,慘焉心悲。巾車命駕,將適唐都。黃河洋洋,攸攸之魚。臨津不濟,還轅息陬。傷予道窮,哀彼無辜。翱翔于衛,復我舊廬。從吾所好,其樂只且。」及孔子厄於陳蔡之間,講誦絃歌不輟。後自衛反魯,過隱谷,有幽蘭獨茂,子喟然曰:「蘭,香草也,而與衆卉爲伍,如聖賢倫於鄙夫也。」乃作猗蘭操,其辭有云:「如何蒼天,不得其所;逍遙九州,無所定處。」感憤之深切也,又作丘陵之歌曰:「登彼丘陵,峛崺其阪,仁道則邇,求之若遠。遂迷不復,自嬰屯蹇。喟然廻慮,題彼泰山。鬱崔其高,梁甫廻連。枳棘充路,陟之無緣。將伐無柯,患茲蔓延。惟以永歎,涕霣潺湲。」孔子去魯凡十四歲而後歸魯,魯終不能用孔子。孔子亦不復求仕,於是刪詩、定書、論禮、正樂、作春秋、贊易道,而六經之道燦然大備矣。其刪詩三百也,孔子皆絃歌之,合於雅而後取也。莊子云:「孔子遊乎緇帷之林,休坐乎杏壇之上。弟子讀書,孔子絃歌鼓琴。奏曲未半,有漁父者,下船而來此。」因夫子之好琴而寓言也。孔子以魯哀公六年四月己丑卒,年七十三。余嘗讀龜山之辭而哀至聖之不得位;聽將歸之歌而傷濁世之多險難;聞猗蘭之名而歎盛德之不遇時也。然則使孔子見用,則魯將復興乎?曰夫子之爲司寇也,外沮齊侯以壯邦君之威,內隳三都以削大夫之勢,可謂勇於有爲矣。使其得志之久,則將興魯尊周以復文武之治。故曰「有用我者三年有成。」豈過論哉?