Qu Yuan
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Qu Yuan
- Qin Shi #43
屈原 1
琴史 #43 2
Qu Yuan at the river's edge (selection) 3    
Qu Yuan (ca. 340 - 278), original name Qu Ping, was a famous poet, but probably even more famous as the upright official who because of the corrupt times felt compelled to drown himself in the Miluo River.4 He has been criticised for this by a number of commentators throughout history.5 Nevertheless, this event is commemorated annually in the Dragon Boat Festival, the original purpose of which is said to have been to feed Qu Yuan's spirit from boats.6

Melodies associated with Qu Yuan include the following (see also Chu Ci):

  1. Zepan Yin (Marshbank Melody)
    Some introductions say Qu Yuan created this while wandering along the river before his suicide.
  2. Li Sao (Encountering Sorrow)
    Again sometimes said to have been created by Qu Yuan before drowning himself.
  3. Yuan You (Wander Afar)
    As with the two preceding titles, this is also a poem in the Chu Ci.
  4. Fan Canglang (Floating on the Canglang)
    Prefaces do not mention Qu Yuan, but lyrics associate Qu Yuan with the Cangland River.
  5. Qu Yuan Wen Du (Qu Yuan Asks Advice)
    Qu Yuan crossing a river asks the ferryman for advice.
  6. Sao Shou Wen Tian (Scratch the Head and Ask Heaven)
    This title is often mixed up with pieces that have Shui Xian (Water Immortal) in their title: details under Shuixian Qu. "Shui Xian" was a nickname for Qu Yuan.
  7. Pei Lan (Fragrant Orchids)
    One handbook (1670) connects the melody with a line from Qu Yuan's Li Sao.
  8. Qu Yuan Tan
    Survives only as a title from ancient lists.
  9. Zi Chen Qu (Song of Drowning Oneself)7
    Reference unclear
  10. Chen Xiang Yuan (Lament of Drowning in the Xiang River)8
    Only in old melody lists such as this one; said to have been written by his wife.

Of course, there is no historical justification for claims that Qu Yuan himself created any of these melodies - rather they were inspired by stories of him.

The original Qin Shi essay begins as follows.9

Qu Yuan was a luminary of Chu. During the time of 懷王 King Huai the Qin kingdom wanted to swallow up all the princedoms. Qu Yuan went as emissary to 齊 Qi in order to make an alliance. Qin heard about this and was worried, so they caused 張儀 Zhang Yi to bribe high ranking Chu officials....

Translation not completed.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. References for Qu Yuan (Chü Yuan) (Wikipedia)
屈原 7845.70 戰國楚人,名平別號靈均. Qu Yuan, from Chu during the Warring States period, had the original name Ping and another nickname Lingjun....

The earliest major source of information on Qu Yuan is his biography in the Annals of History (世紀 Shi Ji) by 司馬遷 Sima Qian (Annal 84, translated in both Watson and Nienhauser).

2. Qin Shi #43: 9 lines

3. Qu Yuan image
The above is from Image 1 illustrating the melody Zepan Yin.

4. Miluo River 汨羅 (sometimes written Milo; compare Canglang)
17563.3 Miluo has Luo with the water radical (character not in my computer), saying it is a variant of 汨羅 Miluo formerly used for the river of that name that flows westward into the Xiang River between Changsha and Yueyang. The entry 17563.1 汨羅 mentions only a Milo River in Jiangxi, but the one above Changsha is the one now commonly associated with Qu Yuan. The biography in Qin Shi says Qu Yuan "自投汨淵以死 threw himself into the 汨淵 depths of the Mi river in order to die."

5 Criticism of Qu Yuan's suicide
The following is from "Wang Yi and the Woman Who Commissioned the Chu Ci zhangju", in Gopal Sukhu, The Shaman and the Heresiarch: a new interpretation of the Li Sao (Albany: SUNY Press, 2012), p. 59):

Qu Yuan's suicide had always been difficult to justify or explain, even for Sima Qian who considered him a hero. Those such as Jia Yi and Yang Xiong, who were explicitly out of sympahty with Qu Yuan's insistence on remaining in a doomed kingdom, thought of his suicide as at best gratuitous, and left the question of what motivated it unanswered. Not so Ban Gu. As he saw it, rancor and an inability to control it drove Qu Yuan into his leap into the Milo River; it was rancor at not reciving the glory he thought he deserved rather than concern for his state and king....

Such criticism continued, but was largely drowned out by his general acclamation as a hero and (in modern terms) as a patriot.

6. Dragon Boat Festival (龍舟節 Longzhou Jie) (Wiki)
The more general name for the festival is 端午節 Duanwu Jie - Festival of the 5th Day of the 5th Lunar Month, a date somewhat corresponding to the summer solstice. In some places celebrations on this date actually precede the commemoration of Qu Yuan, in other places they began later. This, as well as the criticism of the suicide mentioned above, perhaps helps explain why there are some alternate stories for its origin.

For example, in some places the person commemorated has been 伍子胥 Wu Zi Xu (d. 484 BCE), forced to commit suicide by the king he advised; it is said that after his forced suicide his body was thrown into the river (perhaps near Suzhou).

In other places Dragon Festival has commemorated a young girl named 曹蛾 Cao E (Cao Er). According to this story, dating from the Eastern Han (25-220 AD), Cao E lost her mother when she was a baby. She then lived happily with her father until he drowned when she was 14. Grief-stricken, she searched up and down the river for days then finally, on the 5th day of the 5th month, jumped into the river and drowned. Fisherman searching for her finally found her body underwater, embracing her father's corpse. (She is mentioned in the song 曹蛾蜀側調 Cao E Shu Cediao).

7. Song of Drowning Oneself (自沈曲 Zi Chen Qu)
30767.xxx; I cannot recall where this was listed.

8. Lament of Drowning in the Xiang (沉湘怨 Chen Xiang Yuan)

9. Qin Shi biography of Qu Yuan
The original Chinese text is as follows:


Complete translation not yet available.


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