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Ruan Ji
- Qin Shi #82; also: Ruan Xian and Ruan Zhan
阮籍 1 
琴史 #82 2 
Ruan Ji whistling; see Ruan Xian below 3 
Ruan Ji (210 - 263), from Chenliu district south of Kaifeng, was an important literary figure known as a Daoist, poet, drunkard and musician. He was one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove and is in particular associated with the qin melody Jiu Kuang. His father Ruan Yu had studied qin from Cai Yong and served as an official under Cao Cao, but Ruan Ji himself did everything he could to avoid public office.

Qinshu Daquan, Folio 16, #56, is a passage from his Essay on Music (Yue Lun).4 It begins,

Once Ji Liuzi was playing qin into the wind....

A number of poems by Ruan Ji mention qin.5 In the Ming dynasty his poems were published in a collection called Ruan Bubing Ji, Bubing being one of Ruan Ji's nicknames.6 There was also a Ming dynasty opera called Ruan Bubing.7

The biography of Ruan Ji in Giles (see Yuan Chi; Romanization is modified here) is as follows:

"His youth was a strange mixture of wildness and hard study. Sometimes he would wander away on the hills and forget to return, and at length come back crying bitterly; at other times he would shut himself up with his books and see no one for months. The age was unsuited for steadiness and perseverance, and accordingly he gave himself up to drinking and revelry. He rose to high military office uner the Emperor Wei Wen Di, and then exchanged his post for one where he had heard there was a better cook! He was a model of filial piety, and when his mother died he wept so violently that he brouht up several pints of blood. Yet when Ji Xi (嵇喜) went to condole him, he showed only the whites of his eyes (i.e., paid no attention to him); while Ji Xi's brother (n.b.: Xi Kang), who carried along with him a jar of wine and a "guitar" (qin!), was welcomed with the pupils. A neighbouring tavern-keeper had a pretty wife, and Ruan Ji would go there and drink until he fell down insensible on the floor. He was a skilled poet, though much of his work was too hastily done. He is specially known for his Yong Huai Shi (詠懷詩), (a set of 82 poems) dealing with the calamities of his day. He also wrote the Xiansheng Daren Lun (先生大人論),8 a work composed after an interview with the hermit Sun Deng (孫登). He was a fine musician, and made the best zheng (箏),9 his instruments being the 'Strads' of China. He was one of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove."

The biography in Qin Shi begins as follows (compare the account in Jin Shu10):

Ruan Ji, style name Sizong, from the Wei family of Chenliu. He lived in the period of disorder between the Wei and Jin eras....(It goes on to say he 卒於步兵校尉 died as an officer of foot soldiers.)

The entry on Ruan Ji also discusses his nephew Ruan Xian, and Ruan Xian's son, Ruan Zhan.

Ruan Xian11 (3rd c. CE) Ruan Xian playing his 阮 Ruan12      

Ruan Xian was a nephew of Ruan Ji. Xu Jian discusses him in QSCB, Chapter 3.A. (p.25). Both Qin Ji and a poem by Li Ye say he wrote Sanxia Liu Quan (see, e.g., in YFSJ).

Giles (Yüan Hsien) writes,

In his youth he was a wild harum-scarum fellow, nobody knowing what would be his next escapade. He and his uncle (Ruan Ji), both poverty-stricken, lived on one side of the road, while a wealthier branch of the family lived on the other side. On the 7th of the 7th moon the latter put out all their grand fur robes and fine clothes to air, as is customary on that day; whereupon Ruan Xian on his side forked up a pair of the short breeches, called calf-nose drawers, worn by the common coolies, explaining to a friend that he was a victim to the tyranny of custom. He was a fine performer on the (ruan), and understood the theory of music. He found fault with 荀勗 Xun Xu's arrangement of the octave, declaring that the intervals were incorrect; for which Xun Xu avenged himself by getting Ruan Xian sent away as Governor of 始平 Shiping in Shaanxi. The discovery shortly afterwards of the measurements of the Zhou dynasty showed that Ruan Xian was right, the length of each of Xun Xu's pitch-pipes being out by a millet-grain. The modern 阮 ruan, once known as the 秦琵琶 Qin pipa, is said to have been invented by and named after Ruan Xian.

Ruan Zhan13 (ca. 281 - ca. 310)

Son of Ruan Xian. Van Gulik, Lore, p.158, relates a story from Gu Qin Shu in which his willingness to play qin for anyone is contrasted favorably with the attitude of Dai Kui. He is also discussed in QSCB, Chapter 3.A. (p.25)

Giles (Yüan Chan) has the following:

He was exceedingly pure and simple-minded, and found his chief pleasure in playing the (qin). About the year 310 he was secretary in the establishment of the Heir Apparent. He held the belief that there are no such things as bogies, and was one day arguing the point rather warmly with a stranger, when the latter jumped up in a rage and cried out "I am a bogy myself!" The stranger then assumed a hideous shape, and finally vanished. Ruan Zhan was greatly upset by this, and died within the year.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Ruan Ji 阮籍 (210-263; Wiki)
The Qin Shi table of contents names this entry Three Ruans (三阮, and the article also includes his nephew, 阮咸 Ruan Xian and Ruan Xian's son, 阮瞻 Ruan Zhan. See Xu Jian QSCB, Chapter 3.A. (p. 26).

As for Ruan Ji, 42492.94, as here, says his style name was 嗣宗 Sizong, and he was 陳留尉氏 Weishi (still on modern maps) in Chenliu district, south of Kaifeng. 尉氏 Wei Shi also suggests a military family. He also had the nickname 步兵 Bubing, (16621.36 footsoldiering officer). 阮步兵 42492.16 says Ruan Ji was a 步兵校尉 foot soldiering field officer and so he was called Ruan Bubing. It does not mention the collection of poetry or the opera having this name.

Further reference:

  1. Stephen Owens and Wendy Schwartz, transl., The Poetry of Ruan Ji and Xi Kang (complete translations; 2017)
  2. Nienhauser, ICTCL, Vol. 1, pp. 463-5 (biographical information).
  3. Minford and Lau, Classical Chinese Literature, pp. 448-56 (biographical notes and a number of poems).
  4. Donald Holzman, Poetry and Politics, The Life and Work of Juan Chi (A.D. 210 - 263). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973.
  5. Graham Hartill and Wu Fusheng (transl.), Songs of my Heart, the Chinese lyric poetry of Ruan Ji. London, Wellsweep Chinese Poets, 1988.

Hartill and Wu translate qin as "harp".

2. 12 lines (Return)

3. Image 1
Detail of a brick relief from a Nanjing tomb.

4. Ruan Ji's Yue Lun 樂論 (original text)
Qinshu Daquan has two parts of a passage from near the end, apparently in reverse order:
昔季流子向風而鼓琴,聽之者泣下沾襟。弟子曰「善哉鼓琴,亦已妙矣。」季流子曰「樂謂之善,哀為之傷。吾為哀傷,非為善樂也。」(Then goes back to)漢順帝上恭陵,過樊衢,聞鳥鳴而悲,泣下橫流,曰:「善哉鳥聲!使絲聲若是,豈不樂哉?」夫是謂以悲為樂者也。誠以悲為樂,則天下何樂之有?天下無樂,而有陰陽調和。災害不生,亦已難矣。(This latter part seems somewhat changed from elsewhere.)

DeWoskin, Song, p.116, translates a passage from this book. It begins,

A traveler appeared in Zhao carrying a qin from which qi issued forth. When its sounds entered the ears of listeners, their feet and hands would fly and flap about, and they would lose all normal sense....

Ronald Egan, Controversy, p. 8, also translates a passage:

(When Emperor Shun, r. 126-144, passed by Fanqu, outside of Luoyang,) "he heard birds singing there and was 悲 bei ('moved' or 'melancholy'). with tears streaming down his face, he said, 'How fine are the birds' songs.' He had his attendants intone the sounds in imitation and observed, 'Wouldn't it be pleasurable if stringed instruments could play like that?'"

Egan further comments that the songs of birds cannot actually be "sad" (for further on this meaning of bei see under Mozi Bei Ge).

5. The qin in poetry by Ruan Ji
Holzman translates most of the relevant poems; in particular, the qin is mentioned in:

  1. Line 197 of 東平相 Dongping Xiang (Tung Ping, p.44)
  2. Line 72 of 達莊論 Da Zhuang Lun (Understanding Zhuangzi, p.104)
  3. Line 69 of 清思賦 Qing Si Fu (Purifying the Thoughts, p.137ff)
  4. Three poems from (阮步兵)詠懷詩 (Ruan Bubing) Yonghuai Shi (also translated in Hartill and Wu, Songs of My Heart)

What is usually considered the first poem from Songs of my Heart was also translated in Jerome Ch'en and Michael Bullock, trans., Poems of Solitude. London, Abelard-Schuman, 1960.

Poems from my Heart, #1


Being sleepless at midnight,
    I rise to play qin.
The moon is visible through the curtains
    And a gentle breeze sways the cords of my robe.
A lonely wild goose cries in the wilderness
    And is echoed by birds in the woods.
As it circles, it gazes
    At me, alone, imbued with sadness.

As Holzman points out, the beginning of this poem echoes the beginning of a poem by 王粲 Wang Can (177 – 217; Wiki), one of the 建安七子 "Seven Masters of the Jian'an period".

6. Ruan Bubing 阮步兵, the poetry collection
Collections with the title Ruan Bubing date at least from the end of the Tang dynasty. A Ming dynasty edition is called 阮步兵集 Ruan Bubing Ji. A 20th century edition called 阮步兵詠懷詩注 Ruan Bubing Yonghuaishi Zhu (Ruan Bubing: Annotated Poems from the Heart) has commentary for all the poems. These collections consist of 82 of Ruan Ji's poems; I do not know why they do not include the first three poems mentioned above.

7. Ruan Bubing 阮步兵, a 17th century opera
Full title 阮步兵鄰廨啼紅 Ruan Bubing Lin Jie Ti Hong or 阮步兵陵廨啼紅 Ruan Bubing Ling Jie Ti Hong, but also called 英雄泪 Yingxiong Lei, this opera was created by 來集之 Lai Jizhi (1604-1682; 553.177; Bio/1024), also known as 來鎔 Lai Rong and 元成子 Yuanchengzi; it is one of six attributed to him. It "has been preserved in a mid-seventeenth century block print edition. Modern reprints should be available in a good university library." (Wilt Idema, personal communication, 2010.) According to a synopsis (which says no 傳本 transmitted text survives), in this story Ruan Ji hears that a very beautiful local girl had died the previous day. He asks that she be buried on 胭脂山 (臙脂山) Yanzhi Mountain so that it will face his own grave, which will be on nearby 鏡台峰 Jingtai Feng. Having finished speaking he 言畢長嘯 let out a long wail and then left.

Since even the version of Jiu Kuang with lyrics pre-dates the opera, in the unlikely event that there is found to be some connection between the qin song lyrics and those of the opera, then it would have to be the opera that did the borrowing.
(Return) 阮步兵詠懷詩注

8. 先生大人論 Xiansheng Daren Lun
Generally called 大人先生傳 Daren Xiansheng Zhuan, Biography of Master Great Man, his longest prose work and "also his most influential". (ICTCL) No mention of qin.

9. Ruan Ji and the zheng
The source of this information is unclear: should it be qin?

10. Ruan Ji in 晉書 Jin Shu
Holzman, p.137, translates a relevant passage from the entry on Ruan Ji from the History of Jin as follows:

Ruan Ji was an excellent performer on the zither. When he was satisfied (with what he played) he would suddenly forget his physical being. Many of his contemporaries called him stupid, but his elder cousin Ruan Wenye (Ruan Wu, actually an uncle) constantly admired him, thinking Ruan Ji surpassed him. Thereafter all thought Ruan Ji exceptional.

11. Ruan Xian 阮咸 (210 - 263)
42492.36/2 discusses the person. /1 concerns the instrument (see next).

12. Ruan
The ruan is generally considered to be an ancient instrument that later developed into various smaller versions such as the 月琴 yueqin (moon lute). ZWDCD has two relevant entries:

  1. 42492/4 阮 ruan: "月琴也,阮咸之省稱 same as yue qin (moon lute), short for ruanxian".
  2. 42492.36 阮咸 ruanxian: "月琴之類,阮咸所作,因以為名 a type of yueqin (moon lute), (originally) made by Ruan Xian, hence the name"; this entry has a picture and a lengthy description.
  3. 阮琴 , though an internet search shows many references.

See also Qiu Ying paintings of ruan and qin.

13. Ruan Zhan 阮瞻
42492.94 has an image.

Return to QSCB, or to the Guqin ToC.

Appendix: 樂論 Yue Lun original text



夫正樂者,所目屏淫聲也。故樂廢則淫聲作。漢哀帝不好音,罷省樂府。而不知制正禮,樂法不修,淫聲遂起。張放淳於長驕縱過渡,丙疆景武當益于世。罷樂之後,下移踰肆,身不是好,而淫亂愈甚者,禮不設也。刑教一體,禮樂外也。刑弛則教不獨行,禮廢則樂無所立。尊卑有分,上下有等,謂之禮。人安其生,情意無哀,謂之樂。車服旌旗,宮室飲食,禮之具也。鐘罄鼓,琴瑟歌舞,樂之器也。禮踰其制,則尊卑乖。樂失其序,則親疏亂。禮定其象,樂失其心。禮治其外,樂化其內,禮樂正而天下平。昔衛人求繁纓曲縣,而孔子嘆息;蓋惜禮壞而樂崩也。夫鐘者,聲之主也。縣者,鐘之至也。鍾失其制,則聲失其主。主制無常,則怪聲並出。盛衰之代相及。古今之變若一。故聖教廢毀,則聰慧之人,並造奇音。景王喜大中之律,平公好師延之曲。公卿大夫,拊手嗟嘆;庶人群生,踴躍思聞。正樂遂廢,鄭聲大興。雅頌之詩不講,而妖淫之曲是尋。延年造傾城之歌,而孝武思靡嫚之色。雍門作松柏之音,愍王念未寒之服。故猗靡哀思之音發,愁怨偷薄之辭興,則人後有縱欲奢侈之意,人後有內顧自奉之心。是目君子惡大凌之歌,憎北里之舞也。昔先王制樂,非目縱耳目之觀,崇曲之嬿也;必通天地之氣,靜萬物之神也。故上下之位,定性命之真也。故清廟之歌,詠成功之績。賓饗之詩,稱禮讓之則。百姓化其善,異俗服其德。此淫聲之所目薄,正樂之所目貴也。然禮與變俱,樂與時化。顧五帝不同制,三王各異造。非其相反,應時變也。夫百姓安服淫亂之聲,殘壞先王之正。故後王必更作樂,各宣其功德于天下。通其變,使民不倦。然但改其名目,變造歌詠,至于樂聲,平和自若。故後王必更作樂,各宣其功德於天下。通其變,使民不倦。然但改其名目,變造歌詠,至于樂聲,平和自若。故黃地詠雲門之神,少昊歌鳳鳥之跡。咸池六英之名既變,而黃鍾之功不改易。故逵道之化者,可與審樂。好音之聲者,不足與論律也。舜命夔與典樂,叫冑子目中和之德也。詩言志,歌詠言,聲依詠,律和聲。八音克諧,無相奪倫,神人目和。又曰:『子欲文六律五聲八音在治曶,目出納五言。女聽,夫煩手淫聲,汩湮心耳。乃忘平和,君子弗聽。』言正樂通平易簡,心澄氣清,目聞音律,出納五言也。夔曰:「戛擊鳴球,摶拊琴瑟目詠,祖考來格,虞賓在位,群后德讓。下管發鼓,合止祝敔,聲鏞目閒,鳥獸蹌蹌。蕭韶九成,鳳凰來儀。」夔曰:「 於子擊石拊石,百獸率舞。」言天下治平,萬物得所。音聲不譁。漠然未兆,故眾官皆和也。目此觀之,知聖人之樂,和而已矣。


昔季流子向風而鼓琴,聽之者泣下沾襟。弟子曰:「善哉鼓琴,亦已妙矣!」季流子曰:「樂謂之善,哀謂之傷,吾為哀傷,非為善樂也。」以此言之,絲竹不必為樂,歌詠不必為善也,故墨子之非樂也。悲夫以哀為樂者,胡疵玄耽哀不變,故願為黔首。李斯隨哀不返,故思逐狡兔。嗚呼君子,可不鑒之哉! -->