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Xi Kang 嵇康 1
- Qin Shi #84 琴史 #84 2
  Xi Kang playing the qin 3  
The name Xi Kang (223 - 262) is now commonly pronounced "Ji Kang", but historical records indicate his family pronounced the surname as "Xi".
4 He has a number of connections to the qin, mentioned further below, but is best known in the qin world as the author of Qin Fu (Rhapsody on the Qin5), the first known physical description of the qin. Some of the physical attributes mentioned in the Rhapsody are discussed further here.

Xi Kang's style name was Shuye and he was also called Zhongsan Daifu.6 His family's ancestral home was near the modern Shaoxing, but when he was born they had moved to northern Anhui province. At the time this was in the area ruled by the Wei dynasty, which had been started by Cao Cao (155 -220) during the Three Kingdoms period. Xi Kang married a granddaughter or great-granddaughter of Cao Cao, leading him originally to a government position in the Wei capital, Luoyang. However, by the time he was an adult the Wei was under the control of the Sima clan, which in 265 founded the Jin dynasty. Around 245 he left Luoyang to live across the Yangzi River in Shanyang,7 about 60 km northeast of Luoyang.

Shanyang then became the center of activities for the famous group of scholars called the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove.8

Xi Kang was a noted thinker and poet. However, due to his connections to the wrong faction and, by tradition, his moral nature in an immoral period, he was in the end executed by the Sima faction in 262.9 By tradition at his execution he played Guangling San one last time, saying its tradition would die with him.

There are many stories in which Xi Kang meets ghosts. Gu Guan Yu Sheng, below, is one. Several other mentioning qin are related in Van Gulik.10 There are also paintings on this theme.11

Xi Kang is especially associated with four melodies said to be the Four Melodies of Xi Kang:12

  1. Chang Qing
  2. Duan Qing
  3. Chang Ce
  4. Duan Ce

Other melodies especially connected to him include:

  1. Guangling San
  2. Xuan Mo
  3. Gu Guan Yu Sheng
  4. Feng Ru Song (a song).

Writings by Xi Kang to be found in Qinshu Daquan include:

  1. Rhapsody on the Qin (Qin Fu, also included in its entirety in his biography below)
  2. A letter breaking off relations (with Shan Tao, excerpt)13

Other writings by Xi Kang mentioned here:

  1. Sheng Wu Ai Le Lun Essay: Music has no sorrow or joy (Egan, Controversy, p.15)
    See comment under Mozi Bei Ge

Xi Kang's entry in Qin Shi 14
The original entry, in 95 lines, begins with 5 lines of introduction and about 8 lines of closing, the rest being Xi Kang's long Rhapsody on the Qin. The outline is thus as follows:

嵇康 Xi Kang, style name 叔夜 Shuye, was from 譙國銍 Zhi in the kingdom of Qiao (southwest of 宿州 Suzhou in the northern part of modern Anhui province). He had the highest of skills amongst his peers, but did not look for fame. He taught students to preserve his own way, lived correctly while waiting for appropriate times, but died without getting an appointment in those ruinous times. 古今所悼愍者也。博綜技藝,特妙絲竹;以為物有盛衰,而此無變,滋味有厭,而此不勌,可以導養神氣,宣和情志。 處窮獨而不悶者,莫近於音聲也。

Xi Kang once wrote a Rhapsody on the Qin that fully brought out the virtues of the qin. Its lyrics are,

"惟椅梧之所生兮 The trees of that species from which qins are built...." (see original; there are at least two published translations. The Qin Shi entry omits the opening but includes the rest of the poem.)

(Xi Kang) had formerly been appointed "Zhongsan Daifu". At the time Jin was in conflict with Wei. Shuye (Xi Kang) did not enjoy.... (Translation incomplete. This last paragraph tells of Xi Kang's conflict with Zhong Hui leading to his death and the demise of the melody Guangling San (see its original preface).

The entry here does not mention the Jin History (晉書 Jin Shu). The full text of Xi Kang's entry in the Jin History is given in this appendix.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Xi Kang sources
New in 2017: Stephen Owens and Wendy Schwartz, transl., De Gruyter, The Poetry of Ruan Ji and Xi Kang (complete translations, for sale and/or downloadable as pdf)

8500.12 嵇康 has a rather brief account, referencing
      三國志 San Guo Zhi 21,
      晉書 Jin Shu 49,
      琅琊代醉編 Langyadai Zuibian 18.
He is discussed in detail in QSCB, Chapter 3.A. (pp.26-29). See also his biographies in Knechtges, Wen Xuan III, pp.390/1, and in R. H. Van Gulik, Hs'i Kang and his Poetic Essay on the Lute.

2. 95 lines (includes the entire 琴賦 Qin Fu)

3. Xi Kang images
This image is from an illustrated Ming dynasty Liexian Quanzhuan, which developed out of the Han dynasty Liexian Zhuan. There are further Xi Kang images under Qin in Art.

4. Xi Kang or Ji Kang?
Regarding pronunciation of his surname, Knechtges writes (op.cit.) that, fleeing a flood, Xi Kang's family had moved from 會稽 Guiji (also called Kuaiji, in Zhejiang) to 致 Zhi (in Anhui). According to the 晉書 History of Jin they then changed their family name from 奚 Xi to 嵇 (8500: name of a mountain in Anhui; the entry says it can be pronounced either "Xi" or "Ji", but apparently it is normally pronounced "Ji"). This new name "was derived from the final syllable of their native place, Guiji, except that they wrote it with 'mountain' in the lower right portion of the character and pronounced Ji as Xi", so that they wouldn't have to change the pronunciation of their surname.

5. Xi Kang's Rhapsody on the Qin (琴賦 Qin Fu; original text 中文)
This page discusses and has links to further commentary on these two English translations:

R. H. Van Gulik, Hs'i Kang and his Poetic Essay on the Lute
David R. Knechtges, Wen Xuan III, Rhapsody on the Zither
The original text is also included in Qinshu Daquan, Chapter 18.

6. Other names for Xi Kang
嵇康,字叔夜,號中散大夫 Xi Kang, style name Shuye, also called Zhongsan Daifu, a government rank tentatively translated by Hucker as "Grand Master of Palace Leisure". "中散大夫 Zhongsan Daifu" is used in the Qin Shi biography of Xi Kang's son, Xi Shao.

7. 山陽 Shanyang: location of the Bamboo Grove?
This is discussed further in the Shanyang footnote of the Seven Sages page.

8. 竹林七賢 Zhulin Qi Xian

9. Xi Kang and authority
Needam, Science and Civilisation in China: Vol. 5, Chemistry, p.254 relates the following,

A story which has come down to us in many versions has Xi Kang working at his forge when the powerful minister Zhong Hui 鍾會 (+225-263) visited him. Xi Kang continued working, 'sitting with his legs apart', and this arrogant disregard for rank led in time to his execution...."

This story is commemorated at a park in Henan province.

10. Stories of Xi Kang with Ghosts
See Lore, p.157.

11. Illustrations of Xi Kang with Ghosts
For example, under the Wang Shixiang article about Guangling San there is an image said to show Xi Kang playing for ghosts. In addition, the Cleveland Art Museum website has a painting said to have a similar theme: commentary says that, as with the painting in the Wang article, this also depicts Xi Kang playing qin for ghosts.

12. 嵇康四弄 Four Melodies of Xi Kang
These four (長清,短清,長側,短側) are included in some old melody lists; when added together with 蔡邕五弄 Cai Yong's five pieces (see in the same list) these make the 九大弄 nine great pieces.

13. A letter breaking off relations 絕交書
This was extracted from the middle of 嵇康,與山巨源交書, Xi Kang's Letter breaking off relations with 山濤 Shan Tao (style name Juyuan). The original is in Wen Xuan, Chapter 43 (pp. 1985 - 1999; the extract is on p.1992). The whole letter is translated by James Hightower in Birch, ed, Anthology of Chinese Literature, Vol. 1, pp. 162 - 166; qin is translated "lute", p.164.

14 Original Qin Shi text for Xi Kang
The original Chinese is as follows:


(「其辭曰:惟椅梧之所生兮....能盡雅琴,唯至人兮。」 見全文。)


All the sources are not yet traced.

Biography of Xi Kang from the History of Jin

Copied from ctext. The Guangling San account given here (see in particular #52) is somewhat different from what is given above and also from what is given here, though the latter claims to quote Jin History.

37 嵇康,字叔夜,譙國銍人也。其先姓奚,會稽上虞人,以避怨,徙焉。銍有嵇山,家于其側,因而命氏。兄喜,有當世才,歷太僕、宗正。康早孤,有奇才,遠邁不群。身長七尺八寸,美詞氣,有風儀,而土木形骸,不自藻飾,人以為龍章鳳姿,天質自然。恬靜寡慾,含垢匿瑕,寬簡有大量。學不師受,博覽無不該通,長好《老》《莊》。與魏宗室婚,拜中散大夫。常修養性服食之事,彈琴詠詩,自足於懷。以為神仙稟之自然,非積學所得,至於導養得理,則安期、彭祖之倫可及,乃著《養生論》。又以為君子無私,其論曰:「夫稱君子者,心不措乎是非,而行不違乎道者也。何以言之?夫氣靜神虛者,心不存於矜尚;體亮心達者,情不繫於所欲。矜尚不存乎心,故能越名教而任自然;情不繫於所欲,故能審貴賤而通物情。物情順通,故大道無違;越名任心,故是非無措也。是故言君子則以無措為主,以通物為美;言小人則以匿情為非,以違道為闕。何者?匿情矜吝,小人之至惡;虛心無措,君子之篤行也。是以大道言『及吾無身,吾又何患』。無以生為貴者,是賢於貴生也。由斯而言,夫至人之用心,固不存有措矣。故曰『君子行道,忘其為身』,斯言是矣。君子之行賢也,不察於有度而後行也;任心無邪,不議於善而後正也;顯情無措,不論於是而後為也。是故傲然忘賢,而賢與度會;忽然任心,而心與善遇;儻然無措,而事與是俱也。」其略如此。蓋其胸懷所寄,以高契難期,每思郢質。所與神交者惟陳留阮籍、河內山濤,豫其流者河內向秀、沛國劉伶、籍兄子咸、瑯邪王戎,遂為竹林之游,世所謂「竹林七賢」也。戎自言與康居山陽二十年,未嘗見其喜慍之色。

38 康嘗採藥游山澤,會其得意,忽焉忘反。時有樵蘇者遇之,咸謂為神。至汲郡山中見孫登,康遂從之游。登沈默自守,無所言說。康臨去,登曰:「君性烈而才雋,其能免乎!」康又遇王烈,共入山,烈嘗得石髓如飴,即自服半,餘半與康,皆凝而為石。又於石室中見一卷素書,遽呼康往取,輒不復見。烈乃嘆曰:「叔夜志趣非常而輒不遇,命也!」其神心所感,每遇幽逸如此。

39 山濤將去選官,舉康自代。康乃與濤書告絕,曰:

40 聞足下欲以吾自代,雖事不行,知足下故不知之也。恐足下羞庖人之獨割,引尸祝以自助,故為足下陳其可否。

41 老子、莊周,吾之師也,親居賤職;柳下惠、東方朔,達人也,安乎卑位。吾豈敢短之哉!又仲尼兼愛,不羞執鞭;子文無欲卿相,而三為令尹,是乃君子思濟物之意也。所謂達能兼善而不渝,窮則自得而無悶。以此觀之,故知堯、舜之居世,許由之巖棲,子房之佐漢,接輿之行歌,其揆一也。仰瞻數君,可謂能遂其志者也。故君子百行,殊途同致,循性而動,各附所安。故有「處朝廷而不出,入山林而不反」之論。且延陵高子臧之風,長卿慕相如之節,意氣所托,亦不可奪也。

42 吾每讀《尚子平、臺孝威傳》,慨然慕之,想其為人。加少孤露,母兄驕恣,不涉經學,又讀《老》《莊》,重增其放,故使榮進之心日頹,任逸之情轉篤。阮嗣宗口不論人過,吾每師之,而未能及。至性過人,與物無傷,惟飲酒過差耳,至為禮法之士所繩,疾之如仇仇,幸賴大將軍保持之耳。吾以不如嗣宗之資,而有慢弛之闕;又不識物情,闇於機宜;無萬石之慎,而有好盡之累;久與事接,疵釁日興,雖欲無患,其可得乎!

43 又聞道士遺言,餌術黃精,令人久壽,意甚信之。游山澤,觀魚鳥,心甚樂之。一行作吏,此事便廢,安能舍其所樂,而從其所懼哉!

44 夫人之相知,貴識其天性,因而濟之。禹不逼伯成子高,全其長也;仲尼不假蓋於子夏,護其短也。近諸葛孔明不迫元直以入蜀,華子魚不彊幼安以卿相,此可謂能相終始,真相知者也。自卜已審,若道盡途殫則已耳,足下無事冤之令轉於溝壑也。

45 吾新失母兄之歡,意常悽切。女年十三,男年八歲,未及成人,況復多疾,顧此悢悢,如何可言。今但欲守陋巷,教養子孫,時時與親舊敘離闊,陳說平生,濁酒一盃,彈琴一曲,志意畢矣,豈可見黃門而稱貞哉!若趣欲共登王途,期於相致,時為歡益,一旦迫之,必發狂疾。自非重仇,不至此也。既以解足下,並以為別。

46 此書既行,知其不可羈屈也。性絕巧而好鍛。宅中有一柳樹甚茂,乃激水圜之,每夏月,居其下以鍛。東平呂安服康高致,每一相思,輒千里命駕,康友而善之。後安為兄所枉訴,以事繫獄,辭相證引,遂復收康。康性慎言行,一旦縲紲,乃作《幽憤詩》,曰:

47 嗟餘薄祜,少遭不造,哀煢靡識,越在襁褓。母兄鞠育,有慈無威,恃愛肆姐,不訓不師。爰及冠帶,憑寵自放,抗心希古,任其所尚。託好《莊》《老》,賤物貴身,志在守樸,養素全真。

48 曰予不敏,好善闇人,子玉之敗,屢增惟塵。大人含弘,藏垢懷恥。人之多僻,政不由己。惟此褊心,顯明臧否;感悟思愆,怛若創磐。欲寡其過,謗議沸騰,性不傷物,頻致怨憎。昔慚柳惠,今愧孫登,內負宿心,外恧良朋。仰慕嚴、鄭,樂道閑居,與世無營,神氣晏如。

49 咨予不淑,嬰累多虞。匪降自天,實由頑疏,理弊患結,卒致囹圄。對答鄙訊,縶此幽阻,實恥訟冤,時不我與。雖曰義直,神辱志沮,澡身滄浪,曷云能補。雍雍鳴鴈,厲翼北游,順時而動,得意忘憂。嗟我憤歎,曾莫能疇。事與願違,遘茲淹留,窮達有命,亦又何求?

50 古人有言,善莫近名。奉時恭默,咎悔不生。萬石周慎,安親保榮。世務紛紜,只攪餘情,安樂必誡,乃終利貞。煌煌靈芝,一年三秀;予獨何為,有志不就。懲難思復,心焉內疚,庶勖將來,無馨無臭。採薇山阿,散髮巖岫,永嘯長吟,頤神養壽。

51 初,康居貧,嘗與向秀共鍛於大樹之下,以自贍給。潁川鐘會,貴公子也,精練有才辯,故往造焉。康不為之禮,而鍛不輟。良久會去,康謂曰:「何所聞而來?何所見而去?」會曰:「聞所聞而來,見所見而去。」會以此憾之。及是,言於文帝曰:「嵇康,臥龍也,不可起。公無憂天下,顧以康為慮耳。」因譖「康欲助毌丘儉,賴山濤不聽。昔齊戮華士,魯誅少正卯,誠以害時亂教,故聖賢去之。康、安等言論放蕩,非毀典謨,帝王者所不宜容。宜因釁除之,以淳風俗」。帝既暱聽信會,遂並害之。

52 康將刑東市,太學生三千人請以為師,弗許。康顧視日影,索琴彈之,曰:「昔袁孝尼嘗從吾學《廣陵散》,吾每靳固之,《廣陵散》於今絕矣!」時年四十。海內之士,莫不痛之。帝尋悟而恨焉。初,康嘗游於洛西,暮宿華陽亭,引琴而彈。夜分,忽有客詣之,稱是古人,與康共談音律,辭致清辯,因索琴彈之,而為《廣陵散》,聲調絕倫,遂以授康,仍誓不傳人,亦不言其姓字。

53 康善談理,又能屬文,其高情遠趣,率然玄遠。撰上古以來高士為之傳贊,欲友其人於千載也。又作《太師箴》,亦足以明帝王之道焉。復作《聲無哀樂論》,甚有條理。子紹,別有傳。

No complete translation.

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