Fuxi and the Qin
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Fu Xi
- Qin Shi Bu #1: Tai Hao
伏羲 1
琴史補 #1: 太昊 2
宓羲之制 The system of Fuxi (for qin play) 3      
The title of the entry for Fuxi in Qin Shi Bu is actually Tai Hao. This is said to have been his rule name, with the traditional dates for this now given as 2852-2737. However, most information about Fu Xi dates only from the Han dynasty: this is generally not clear from all the stories available about Fu Xi on the internet or even in published sources. Much of that is confusing, not to mention conflicting. This is also true of the present focus, which is solely on Fu Xi's purported connection to the guqin.

The Fu Xi entry in Qin Shi Bu is one of several accounts of Fu Xi making the first qin. Other stories have other people creating it. For example, it was sometimes said that Shen Nong actually made the first qin (see Origins of the Qin). In fact, it should be emphasized that stories of the origin of the qin are all purely legend: although there is some evidence suggesting string instruments may have existed prior to the Zhou dynasty (11th c. BCE; see further), there is no evidence to suggest their nature other than that they quite likely were zithers: the earliest known characters for stringed instruments are "qin" and "se", both zithers. But these can be traced only to the middle Zhou period, around the time of Confucius. Descriptions of their form date only from the 3rd c. CE (see comment on the Chu stringed instruments).

It should also be noted that according to the Qin Shi Xu text, the qin (or one of them) that Fu Xi created actually had 27 strings and was called a li; the classical text Er Ya says a li was a "big qin, while the Book of Rites says li referred to "the sound of silk strings".4

An account somewhat different from here of Fu Xi making a qin can be found in Qin Shi Lu. The original text there says,5

Mr. Fu Xi saw phoenixes collecting by a tong tree, so he made a qin shaped like a phoenix head, tail, wings and feet. Upright it was 3 chi high and lengthwise it was 3 chi plus 6 cun and 6 fen.... (translation incomplete)

On this website, other references to Fu Xi and the qin can be found here:

  1. Qin illustration 1 in Taiyin Daquanji claims to be a depiction of his qin.
  2. The Qin Cao Preface states reasons Fu Xi created the qin.
  3. The opening sentence of the Shen Qi Mi Pu Preface has Fu Xi not directly creating the qin, but fixing the tones so that the qin could be created.
  4. Taiyin Daquanji, Folio 1 D begins its discussion of qin assemblage by discussing dimensions said to have been handed down by Fu Xi.

On other sites further stories - or re-tellings of this story -- can be found.6 For example there is one that tells of Fu Xi first searching for and finding his father, the Thunder Deity, then working hard to help people carry out their work, then finally deciding that for enjoyment they needed a music instrument. While traveling in the eastern mountains he saw a tong tree. There were several birds in the tree and in particular two large ones underneath. He then spoke to 句芒 Jumang, the deity of the tree, who said they were phoenixes. They studied the shape and sound of the wood, with Fu Xi eventually using if for qin construction.

The entry for Fu Xi in Qin Shi Bu is as follows:7

Tai Hao was from the Fuxi clan; his surname was Feng. By nature he had sacred virtue, in appearance he had the brightness of the sun and moon, so he was called Great Magnificence. He taught the people hunting, fishing and domesticating animals, observing them so as to show people how to use them. So (his family) was called Fu Xi (? Humble Breath). He cut down a piece of tong wood to make a qin. Fuxi used zi wood (catalpa?) to make 3 ...(translation incomplete. There is more discussion of dimensions and also of giving names of different parts of the instrument). 太昊,伏羲氏,風性。有聖德象。日月之明。故曰:太昊。教民佃、漁、畜牧,以贍民用。故曰:伏羲氏。斲桐為琴。琴長七尺二寸。繩絲為弦。弦二十有七。名之曰「離」。伏羲以木王者三與八木之數。故三其九為之弦。八其九以為其長。非苟然也。或曰:伏羲命下相柏皇以嬰䃌所貢梓斲為琴。一曰:丹維;二曰:祖牀;三曰:委文;四曰:衡華。其長三尺六寸六分。象三百六十六日也。廣六寸象六合也。上曰:池;池者水也。言其平。下曰:濱;濱者服也。前廣,後挾,象尊蚌卑也。面圓法天。底平象地。龍池八寸,通八風。鳳池四寸,象四時。五弦象五行,乃所以修身理性。反其天真也,而樂音自是興焉。 綱鑑,古琴疏,世本。  
Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 太昊 Tai Hao (伏羲 Fu Xi) (traditional rule dates 2852-2737; Wiki)
For the connection between myth and history one should begin with a book such as Anne Birrell, Chinese Mythology. Prof. Birrell points out that, for example, prior to the Han dynasty Tai Hao ("Great Magnificence") seems to refer to a different person from Fu Xi ("Prostrate Breath"?); neither was very prominent. Thus, there is no entry for 伏羲 Fu Xi in the Sima Qian's Shi Ji, mentioning this name only in the chapter on Diviners, which says he devised the eight trigrams, instead mentioning several times 虙羲 (also Fu Xi), 泰帝 and 太帝 (both Tai Di: Great Emperor). Other names for him include Bao Xi (包犧) and Pao Xi (庖犧), with perhaps 牺 instead of 犧.

ZWDCD references include:

Elsewhere (e.g., Giles, who gives dates 2953 - 2838): first of five legendary emperors. On many lists Fu Xi is given as the first emperor. He is identified as being the 太帝 Great Emperor who is said to have caused Su Nü to play the 50-string se. Some say he initiated the hexagrams of the Yi Jing.

2. Qin Shi Bu entry details
12 lines. Sources given are 網鑑 Wang Jian (28194.32 compilations by various 17th c. neo-Confucians); 古琴疏 Gu Qin Shu (QSCM #144 Song, and #155 Ming); 世本 Shi Ben (by Liu Xiang).

3. 宓羲之制 System of Fuxi (for qin play) (compare Emperor Yao's style)
宓 is sometimes pronounced "mi" but presumably here it is "fu", as in Fu Buqi. The image above is from a series (宋人畫歷代琴式圖) that includes 宓羲之制 (note that the qin style is different from the one shown here). The original is in the 國立故宮博物院 National Palace Museum. The accompanying text begins, "太昊宓羲氏...."; it is somewhat unclear, but there is some mention of qin in the text ("以為琴法"), including measurements.

As for the picture here at right, 伏羲女媧 Fuxi and his sister Nü Wa (expand), it can be found in a number of places on the internet. Commentary says the image was 四川合江張家泃二号墓出土 dug up from the #2 grave in Zhangjiaju, Hejiang, Sichuan. This is but one of many depictions of Fu Xi together with Nü Wa (her page has another), with him holding a carpenter's square while she holds a drawing compass.

4. Li: a qin with 20 or more strings
Zithers with other numbers of strings are also mentioned under origins. As for the li, 43079.0 離, towards the end of 甲, has two relevant explanations,

  1. "大琴也 a big qin", quoting 爾雅釋樂 the Shi Yue chapter of Er Ya;
    See CTP, 釋樂 Shi Yue #3: "大琴謂之離 a big qin is called a li".
  2. "絲絃之音也 sound of silk strings", quoting 禮記,樂記,絲聲哀,疏 a commentary (Shu) on the phrase "melancholy silk strings" in the Yue Ji section of the Li Ji.
    CTP, Yue Ji 42 has "絲聲哀" but no mention of "離".

The illustration of a qin associated with Fu Xi quotes a second century BCE source (Han Ying) saying that Fu Xi's qin had 20 strings; neither the comment nor the footnote mentions the word li. It also does not give the source of that information, nor is a source given for the statement in Chunzhu Jiwen that the 離 li had 二十七絃 27 strings.

5. 太昊 Tai Hao
The original Chinese text of Qinshi Lu, as copied in Qinshu Daquan, Folio 16 is as follows:


The data is somewhat different from what is in Qinshi Bu but the story itself is rather similar.

6. Other stories of Fu Xi making a qin
The following, which tells the story mentioned here, can be found verbatim on a number of websites. Clearly it is a modern retelling, and I have not been able to figure out the source.

























7. Original text from Qin Shi Bu
The original text of the Tai Hao entry in Qin Shi Bu is as follows:

My translation of this is incomplete.

Return to QSCB, or to the Guqin ToC.