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Li Bai
- Qin Shi Bu #73
李白 1
琴史補 #73 2
Image of Li Bai 3        
Li Bai (ca 705 - 762), also romanized as Li Po or Li Bo, is probably China's most famous poet, but the present page focuses exclusively on his connection to the qin. In this regard Ronald Egan writes (
Controversy, p.53), "In the first centuries of the Tang dynasty, the poets Meng Haoran and Li Bo further promoted the cultivation of a special literati affiliation with this instrument." And amongst the many writings about him is an historical novel that includes a brief passage in which he plays the qin and discusses briefly its philosopy.4

A number of commentaries on this site connect Li Bai lyrics to specific qin melodies. Here is a sample:

The last four of these actually use poems of his as lyrics.

In addition, many Li Bai poems mention the qin. For example,

The original Qin Shi Bu essay begins as follows.

Li Bai, style name 太伯 Taibo, was from east of the mountains (in Central Asia, where his family had been living.) As a youth he had extraordinary talent and a lack of restraint. The qin poems he wrote mention such melodies as Qingye Wen Zhong,12 Yu Guan Ding,13 Yuan Wang Huanghelou,14 Yutang Qing,15 and Dui Yue Yin.16 He also played You Jian Quan.17 His poem says (see translation),

There was a 負琴生者....incomplete.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Li Bai 李白
14817.284 蜀昌明人...字太伯號酒仙翁... from Changming in Sichuan, style name Taibo, nickname Jiuxianweng....

2. Only source given is 蓴湖漫錄 Chunhu Manlu

3. Li Bai image
Image from Assorted Pictures of the Three Realms (三才圖會 Sancai Tuhui, 1607) was taken from 14819.284.

4. Li Bai plays qin in A Floating Life, a novel by Simon Elegant
In the novel (published Hopewell, New Jersey, Ecco Press, 1997; NY Times review), Chapter Eight begins with Li Bai telling his young disciple, Wang Long (Wang Lung), that most so-called qin lovers are really hypocrites who typically hang an instrument on the wall and quote classical sayings, but can play little, if at all. Li Bai then says he will play two melodies, "Treading the Cloud Ladder" and "The Barbarian Pipes", then teach them to Wang. From Elegant's description these are quite advanced melodies; Wang seems to be totally unfamiliar with a qin. Unfortunately there is no follow up to suggest how Wang might have dealt with such instruction. As for the melodies themselves, "Barbarian Pipes" is an obvious reference to some version of the famous qin melody title, e.g., Da Hu Jia; "Treading the cloud ladder" (which Li Bai proceeds to play) is more puzzling.

"Treading the cloud ladder" is the translation in Van Gulik's Lore of the Chinese Lute of 步雲梯 Bu Yun Ti, the title of Section 1 of the 1556 version of the qin melody Wandering in a Lunar Palace (Guanghan You). Elegant mentions other sections of his Treading the Cloud Ladder, but these in fact almost all refer to section titles of Guanghan You, specifically to Van Gulik's translations of them. The exception is Plain of the Skies: I am not sure of the source for that expression, unless it is his translation of Guanghan itself. It should be noted that Guanghan You is not on any of the pre-Ming dynasty melody lists, and for 步雲梯 Bu Yun Ti and I have found no other reference.

Elegant has a section of Notes at the end giving some of his sources, but does not give sources for his qin information. Like Van Gulik, Elegant calls the qin a Lute.

5. Other poems by Li Bai that mention qin
There are many others. Sometimes the meaning "qin" is conveyed by a reference such as Lu Qi, the name of a famous qin, as in In Praise of Qin below; this is spelled out in 遊泰山詩 his poem "Traveling to Mount Tai":

Alone I carry my qin called Lu Qi, at night walking in the green mountains.

Another poem is 憶崔郎中宗之游南陽遺吾孔子琴,撫之潸然感舊 Recalling that when young Cui Zongzhi traveled to Nanyang he left me his Confucian-style qin; playing it brings tears as I recall the olden days


Not yet translated.

6. 贊琴 In Praise of Qin, by 李白 Li Bai:



Yiyang gutong: the solitary tong trees on the south side Yi mountain (8707.1/.7; 書,禹貢 [Legge, Shoo King, p.107]) in 邱縣 Qiu district, near 徐州 Xuzhou in Jiangsu (not the one in Shandong) had trees good for making qins.
7. 詠琴 Declamation on the Qin, by Li Bai (古風其五十五):

齊瑟彈東吟,秦絃美西音。   (秦絃弄西音。)
珍色不貴道,詎惜飛光沉。   (珍色不顧道,)

Translation by 劉成漢 Lau Shing Hon:

A se from Qi plays tunes from the east,         (Qi is in the east)
     Strings from Qin play tunes from the west.     (Qin is in the west)
Fervently moving all the senses,
      causing a fall into debauchery
That handsome wicked sweet talker ,
      attracts young beauties over.
A pretty smile maybe granted a pair of white jade rings,
      With a song maybe awarded a thousand tales of gold.
Beauty is much treasured over the Way (Dao),
      Who cares if the sun or moon rises and falls.
Who cares if a celestial guest,
      plays a pure qin aloft on a jade alter.

Line 5 elsewhere had "䛗" written "言臣"; elsewhere it is 詎 ju how?, abrupt

8. 聽蜀僧濬彈琴 Listening to Monk Jun of Shu Play a Qin (僧濬 Seng Jun = "Monk Deep" []);
one of the 300 Tang Poems; numerous translations, including Hinton, Selected Poems of Li Po, p.73; Ronald Egan, Controversy, p. 46; Witter Bynner, 300 Tang Poems (online); Ying Sun (also online).

蜀僧把綠綺,   The Sichuan monk carrying his "luqi"     (Luqi was a qin name, so famous it came to stand for qin itself)
西下峨眉峰。   Came from the west, down Emei Peak.
為我一揮手,   As soon as he began playing for me
如聽萬壑松。   It was like listening to pines of 10,000 valleys,
客心洗流水,   With the guest's heart being cleansed by flowing streams     (Flowing Streams was already a famous melody name)
餘響入霜鍾。   And even more of the melody going through frosty (temple) bells.     (Frosty Bell was also the name of a qin)
不覺碧山暮,   Before I knew it the emerald hills were shrouded by dusk,
秋雲暗幾重。   the autumn clouds darkening as they multiplied.

And 月夜聽盧子順彈琴 On a Moonlit Evening Listening to Lu Zishun Play a Qin
Lu Zishun (; 7072.548xxx); translated in Hinton, Selected Poems of Li Po, p.28.


9. 酬裴侍御彈琴 Toasting Attendant Censor Pei for the Qin Playing, by 李白 Li Bai (QSCB, Folio 20A, #11)
In Complete Tang Poems (全唐詩·捲178) this is called 詶裴侍御留岫師彈琴見寄 Toasting Attendant Censor Pei for hosting the qin play of Master Xiu (Xiu Shi):

瑤草綠未衰,攀飜寄情親。   (4982 飜 fan = 飛 )
Not yet translated. In this regard compare this poem by Liu Zongyuan:

In both poems 酬...見寄 means "接受別人寄贈作品後,以作品答謝之 after receiving the work of art from someone else as a present, to thank by giving one's own work" (see That suggests that in the poem thanking 裴侍御 for 留岫師彈琴, 留 probably means 留客 or 留宿, i.e. to keep in one's home. And since Xiu Shi seems to be the person who's playing the qin, the title seems to roughly mean, "To express thanks to Attendant Censor Pei for hosting Xiu Shi's qin playing".

10. Lushan Ballad (廬山謠 Lushan Yao)
The full text of the poem is:

我本楚狂人 鳳歌笑孔丘。
手持綠玉杖 朝別黃鶴樓。
五嶽尋仙不辭遠 一生好入名山遊。
廬山秀出南斗傍 屏風九疊雲錦張。
影落明湖青黛光 金闕前開二峰長。
銀河倒挂三石梁 香爐瀑布遙相望。
迴崖沓障淩蒼蒼 翠影紅霞映朝日。
鳥飛不到吳天長 登高壯觀天地間。
大江茫茫去不黃 黃雲萬里動風色。
白波九道流雪山 好為廬山謠。
興因廬山發 閑窺石鏡清我心。
謝公行處蒼苔沒 早服還丹無世情。
琴心三疊道初成 遙見仙人彩雲裡。
手把芙蓉朝玉京 先期汗漫九垓上。


11. Endless Yearning, part 2 (長相思(二)Chang Xiang Si 2
There seems to be no connection between this Li Bai poem and the qin melody (and ci pattern) Chang Xiang Si. The full text of part two of Li Bai's poem is:


The first part of the poem is called Shu Roads are Difficult (蜀道難 Shu Dao Nan).

12. 清夜聞鐘 Qingye Wen Zhong
18003.183; 18/178/--

13. 玉關定 Yu Guan Ding
21296.850xxx; only 玉關 Yu Guan

14. 遠望黃鶴樓 Yuan Wang Huanghelou
39908.178xxx; only 遠望

15. 玉堂清 Yutang Qing
xxx; 21296.439 and 37/--/530 = 玉堂春

16. 對月吟 Dui Yue Yin
7617.12xxx; only 對月 dui yue

17. 幽澗泉 You Jian Quan (彈幽澗泉詩 Tan You Jian Quan?)
The lyrics (see translation) suggest Li Bai played qin. There are two melodic settings of these lyrics, in

Hewen Zhuyin Qinpu (#10) and
Qinxue Lianyao (1739; Folio 4, #9)

The lyrics are the same, but two have completely different music. The compiler of 1739, Wang Shan says he wrote the melody himself. (9411.316xxx).

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