Shi Kuang
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Shi Kuang
- Qin Shi #31
師曠 1
琴史 #31 2
A statue of Shi Kuang 3        
Shi Kuang was a famous music master in Jin (southern Shanxi province) during the reign of Duke Ping (r. 557 - 532).
4 There are numerous stories about him, not all concerning the qin. The second paragraph to sixth paragraphs quoting his biography below are similar to the story as told in Han Feizi, Chapter 10 (十過), as well as in Shi Ji, Book 24 (樂書 Book of Music), where it illustrates a story related to the melody Nan Feng Ge.5

Two other stories from Han Feizi about Shi Kuang are quoted in Qinshu Daquan, Folio 16, #24. In the latter story Shi Kuang plays the qin and laughs at 叔向 Shu Xiang.

The Shi Juan6 mentioned in this story is not related to #27 Juanzi.

Qin illustration 9 in Taiyin Daquanji claims to be a depiction of Shi Kuang's Moon Qin.7

The Qin Shi entry is as follows.8

Shi Kuang (Master Kuang), style name 子野 Ziye, was a man of 晉 Jin.9 Blind from birth, he was very capable and outspoken, without hiding anything. It was also said when he had been the 太宰 chief minister of Jin it had been well ruled. He didn't restrict artisans and teachers. As for music, there was nothing he didn't know. He could predict good and bad luck, victory and defeat. The people of Jin once heard that Chu soldiers were coming. Shi Kuang said, They will not attack us. Suddenly he sang a 北風 northern air, then a 南風 southern air. 南風不競多死聲楚必無功已而果然 (? Chu did not attack.) As for playing the qin it affected the spirit. For 10,000 generations people talking about music had to begin with Shi Kuang.

(Compare Shi Ji, Annal 24, which is somewhat different here.10) Moreover, during the period 534 - 493, 衛靈公 Duke Ling of Wei was on his way to Jin when he stopped along the Pu River. In the middle of the night hearing the sound of someone playing a qin he asked those around him about it, but they hadn't heard anything. He then called 師涓 Shi Juan and asked him the reason for this. He further said that it seems like the music of ghosts. Listen to it for me and write it down. Shi Juan said, Will do. The next day he said, I've got it but I am not yet fluent with it. Please stay one more night and I will become fluent. So they stayed another night. The next day he reported, I am fluent with it.

They then went on to Jin and saw 平公 Duke Ping. Duke Ping laid out wine for them on Shihui Terrace. The wine was intoxicating. Duke Ling then said, As I was coming here I heard some new sounds. Please let it be played. (Duke Ping assented. Duke Ling) then ordered Shi Juan to play the qin. Before he had finished (Duke Ping's music advisor) Shi Kuang brushed against the strings and stopped the sounds. He said, This is the sound of a doomed state; you must not listen to it. Duke Ping said, Why do you say that? Shi Kuang said, It was created by Shi Yan11 and is the reckless music of Zhou Xin (the dissolute last Shang ruler). When Wu Wang attacked Zhou Xin, Shi Yan went off to the east. He threw himself in the Pu River and drowned. So if you heard this sound you must have been by the Pu River. Duke Ping said, I still would like to hear it. Shi Juan then played it to the end. Duke Ping said, What kind of sound was that? Shi Kuang said, it was a "pure shang" (qingshang) melody.12

Duke Ping, overjoyed, asked, Is this "pure shang" the most bei ("moving", "emotional") of all melodies?13 Shi Kuang said, Not as much as a "pure zhi" [qingzhi] melody.

Duke Ping then had (Shi Juan or Shi Kuang) play in pure zhi (qingzhi).14 As soon as he began to play 28 black cranes15 gathered in the courtyard. When he continued to play they stretched their necks and called out, then stretched their wings and danced.

Duke Ping was overjoyed. He asked, saying, Is there not something even more moving than this? Shi Kuang said, It is not (as moving) as a pure jue (qingjue) melody.16 Formerly the Yellow Emperor arranged a gathering of ghosts and spirits. Today your lordship's virtue and righteousness and not sufficient to listen to it. If you listen you will be destroyed. Duke Ping said, Nevertheless, I am willing to hear it.

Shi Kuang then had no choice. He took his qin and played it. When he played it once white clouds from the northwest rose up. When he played it again the wind arose, with rain after it. Tiles flew from the roof and everyone ran off. Duke Ping was terrified. The kingdom of Jin then had a great drought and the earth was red for three years.

(This segment of the Shi Ji passage ends, "Whether the listeners are lucky or unlucky, with regards to music they should not foolishly follow their passions." It is followed by the final passage of Annal 24, in which Sima Qian comments on music. This final passage is included in QSDQ, Folio 1, #5.)

Even though qin is one type of music instrument....(translation incomplete)

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Sources for Shi Kuang (Master Kuang, or Music Master Kuang), but .198 師曠之枝策 quotes a story from the Zhuangzi chapter Qi Wu Lun (ctext) that mentions the qin ("昭文之鼔琴也,師曠之枝策也,惠子之據梧也 Zhao Wen played the qin, Shi Kuang beat the rhythm with a stick and Huizi follwed [with comments] by a nearby treee...."), while .199 師曠之聰 quotes Mengzi on Shi Kuang's acute hearing. Xu Jian discusses him in his Outline History, Chapter 1. A. (pp. 3-4). Internet biographies all agree that his style name was 子野 Ziye but they differ on his home town, most saying he was from 山西洪洞 Hongdong in Shanxi, but some saying he was from 冀州南和 Nanhe in Jizhou (southern part of modern Hebei province). One of them ( has a variety of images of or related to him, including statues such as the above.

2. 27 lines

3. Image of 師曠 Shi Kuang playing the qin Kaifeng honors Shi Kuang    
The statue above is in King Yu Terrace Park (禹王臺公園 Yu Wang Gongyuan), just outside the old South Gate in Kaifeng, Henan; the Yellow River used to flow through here. Yu is the legendary emperor better known as Yu the Great (大禹 Da Yu). The statue of Shi Kuang is obviously new.

In contrast, the image at right, from the same park, is an old photo (source) of what is said to be the oldest relic in Kaifeng, the Old Wind Music Terrace (古吹臺 Guchui Tai). This terrace is specifically associated with Shi Kuang. According to tradition, during the Liang kingdom, which from 502 to 556 was based here, their king was much enamored of Shi Kuang, who it was said had once come to Liang and entertained people with three days of music. In honor of this the king built the pavilion here. (Compare the modern construction.)

4. Duke Ping of Jin 晉平公
Jin (Wikipedia) was a state north of Chu, in what is today southern 山西 Shanxi province. As for Duke Ping, in addition to his association with Shi Kuang the duke also figures in one account of the life of Bo Ya.

5. Shi Kuang story
Van Gulik, Lore, pp.143-4, translates the story from Shi Ji, Annal 24 (the whole annal is not yet fully translated). It is somewhat different from here, e.g., not mentioning the names of the melodies/modes: Pure Shang (Qing Shang), Pure Jue (Qing Jue) and Pure Zhi (Qing Zhi).

The story in detail is told in several other ancient sources. The Qin Shi version here seems closer to the one in Hanfeizi, 十過 10 Faults, though leaving out some details. Hanfeizi mentions the melody names. QSDQ, Folio 16 includes several briefer references from other sources.

6. 師涓 Shi Juan
Shi Juan (Music Master Juan, 9129.117/2) is not related to #27 涓子 Juanzi. Xu Jian discusses him in his Outline History, Chapter 1. A. (p. 3), but only in conjunction with the story told here from Shi Ji.

7. The 月琴 yueqin illustration shows not a modern yueqin but a guqin with a large round section in the middle.

8. Original Qin Shi text
The original Chinese is as follows:








Punctuation mostly from Wang Mengshu and

9. Sources for the first section
See 漢書、禮記

10. Shi Ji story
It is not clear whether Zhu Changwen is making his own paraphrase of the Shi Ji text or quoting some other early version (or paraphrasing). In the Shi Ji the related passage cited is directly preceded by a story of Shun playing Nan Feng Ge.

11. 師延 Shi Yan
Shi Yan (Music Master Yan) was Music Master of 紂辛 Zhou Xin (d.1122 BCE), the dissolute last ruler of the Shang dynasty. 9129.73 retells the present story from Shi Ji, Hanfeizi and Huainanzi, adding nothing about Shi Yan himself.

12. 18003.383 清商 qingshang: one of five tones, autumn wind, and name of a ghost.
   18003.384 清商三調 Qingshang Sandiao: name of a melody
   18003.386 清商曲歌辭 Qingshang Qu Geci: Yuefu section
   18003.387 清商伎 Qingshang Ji: Tang court music
   18003.388 清商怨 Qingshang Yuan: 詞牌 cipai and 曲牌 qupai names (Return)

13. The meaning of 悲 bei
The Chinese word translated here and below as "moving" is 悲 bei (see original), most commonly translated as something like "sad". For details on this see the wonderful article by Ronald Egan, Music, Sadness and the Qin, HJAS 57. The original Chinese (the part in parentheses added from Han Fei Zi) has: 公曰﹕清商固最悲乎?師曠曰﹕不如清徵。 See further under Mozi Bei Ge.

14. Pure zhi (清徵 qingzhi)
18003.674 清徵 qingzhi: 清澄之徵音 clear zhi tones; quotes the Shi Kuang story from Hanfeizi and 風俗通,瑟 Fengsu Tong, Se. The significance of zhi mode is also told in connection with a story about Mao Minzhong playing Guanguang Cao in zhi mode.

15. Black cranes (玄鶴 Xuan He)
This site has a number of later references to black crane/black cranes (search); presumably they allude to the present story, though there is also another early story mentioning cranes told in connection with Chu Shang Liang. Note also the story from Korea about the origins of the komungo

16. Pure Jue (清角 Qingjue; compare Jue mode)

See also under Playing qin for an ox.

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