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Chapter Five: Sui and Tang dynasties 1
Xu Jian, Introductory History of the Qin, pp.64-69 2
Part Two (Qin melodies) :

2. Zhaojun Yuan (also called Longshuo Cao)3

A qin melody that takes its themes from the story of Wang Zhaojun, it has a long history: it was explained in detail as early as in Qin Cao (one edition of which calls it Yuankuang Siwei, another calls it Ming Jun) from the late Han dynasty. Later generations often follow this explanation. The qin melody Wang Zhaojun at that time had lyrics and was a qin song that emphasized singing it.4 By the Wei and Jin periods, it had already developed into an instrumental melody. Xi Kang, in his Qin Fu, listed it as a common qin melody. In the Jin dynasty, to avoid the taboo of Sima Zhao, Zhaojun was often called Mingjun.5 By the Liu Song period (Northern and Southern dynasties), it further developed into a melody that varied by school.

Qin Lun by Xie Xiyi (Xie Zhuang; quoted in YFSJ, pp. 425/6) listed (versions of Wang Mingjun by 調 mode,) as follows:6

Pingdiao Mingjun, 36 sections
Hujia Mingjun, 26 sections
Qingdiao Mingjun, 13 sections
Jianxian Mingjun, 9 sections
Shudiao Mingjun, 12 sections
Wudiao Mingjun, 14 sections
Du Qiong Mingjun, 21 sections.

One can see that there's a rich collection of melodies with this theme. Out of these Mingjun melodies, Hujia Mingjun spread most broadly. Hujia Mingjun was divided into four and five variations. Four variations include: Shang Wu, Xia Wu, Shang Jianxian, and Xia Jianxian. Five variations include: Ci Han, Kua An, Wang Xiang, Ben Yun, and Ru Lin (Qin Ji, quoted in YFSJ, p. 426). Based on these titles, the four variations are named after performance style while the five variations are named after theme and content. These nine titles are all listed after the tablature for Jieshi Diao You Lan (see its #19-23 and #28-32, plus the comments there on Hujia mode). It can be seen that they were all popular titles in their contemporary repertoire.

Yu Xin, in the poem entitled Wang Zhaojun (YFSJ, p. 433), wrote:

"With local modes for melodies on the qin,
Thus one alters it to become a Hujia sound".

This indicates that qin melodies and the sound of Hujia are somewhat related. There is also the following from 何妥 He Tuo (YFSJ, p. 433):

"Formerly when one heard Bie He,
One felt the grief of parting.
Now one hears the melody Zhaojun,
And is just as saddened by the autumn grass."

He Tuo compares this melody to Biehe Cao, indicating that these two melodies are similar in the expression of emotions. The name of this melody varied throughout history: after Tang, it was also called Zhaojun Yuan, Zhaojun Yin, and Longshuo Cao.

Dance songs with Wang Zhaojun as subject were also popular around the Northern and Southern dynasties. At the time, many filled in lyrics to make songs. By the Tang dynasty, it was considered an 中朝舊曲 "old melody of the central court" (China) and was passed from the south to the north. Thus there was the situation: "Tang for the sound of Wu. As Wu people taught it, change was inevitable" (Jiu Tang Shu: Yinyue Zhi). Liu Changqing of the Tang dynasty wrote in the poem "Wang Zhaojun" (YFSJ, p. 430):

"The pipa strings are filled with bitter tunes,
Accompanied by a mournful qiang flute.
Unfortunately only one melody has been transmitted into the Yuefu
(But) it can cause a thousand autumns of distress to the wealthy."

This explains its performance as dance music. The surviving melody Zhaojun Yuan has a distinct rhythm with the style of dance music, which may well have been the result of absorbing the style of Yuefu dance music.

As for the story of Wang Zhaojun, it was told in detail in Qin Cao. The main idea is: Wang Zhaojun was selected into the Han palace at age 17. As she was dissatisfied with her circumstances, when an emissary from the Shanyu (a Xiongnu prince) came to ask Emperor Yuan of Han dynasty for marriage, she volunteered to be married to the Xiongnu. The emperor only then realized with surprise that she was beautiful, but he could not rescind the offer and regretted his decision. After she arrived among the Xiongnu, "the Shanyu was happy that the Han had been so generous." Wang Zhaojun contributed to the peace between the two ethnic groups and the people widely told her story. Today, in the outskirts of Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, Zhaojun's tomb remains a monument that symbolizes the unity and friendship between the two ethnic groups.

When the Qin Cao narrated this story, it especially emphasized Zhaojun's stubborn personality. To express her dissatisfaction with the Han Emperor Yuan, during her five or six year stay in the Han Palace, she never ingratiated herself with the emperor and often "refused to leave out of resentment" Yet, when she had the opportunity to leave the Han Palace, she "suddenly arrived in luxurious attire", dressed up beautifully as if she was celebrating a wonderful occasion. These details vividly trace her personality. Similarly, in the description in Xijing Zaji, her individuality is also given prominence. While other women in the palace bribed the painters so that they would appear more beautiful in paintings, thus gaining the emperor's attention, "Zhaojun depended only on her beauty and refused to imitate others". This is an expression of her refusal to compromise with popular influence or bend her will to curry favor. It is this individuality that caused her to decide to marry a Xiongnu; this is the distinct impression she left in the hearts of the people.

Marrying a Xiongnu was far from a simple decision. Under the historical circumstances of that time, to go to the frontier where she would find both the land and the people foreign would inevitably lead to a series of problems. Without the mental preparation for enormous sacrifices or much courage, it would have been difficult to make such a decision. The political implications of this action was also immeasurable, as it provided a positive condition for peace between Hu nomads and Han people, while setting a precedent for later generations to realize inter-ethnic unity. The marriage (in 641) between 文成公主 Princess Wencheng (adopted daughter of the Tang Taizong emperor) and (the prince of) 吐番 Tufan (part of Tibet) was similar to that of Zhaojun. Their decisions remain meaningful for cultural unity today.

Wang Zhaojun's story is very influential, as a large number of works praising her have appeared in literature. In the Yuefu Shiji, there are over forty relevant poems. The Qing dynasty's 青冢志 Qing Zhong Zhi contained over four hundred such poems. The verses of feudal literati, however, rarely strayed from themes like a beautiful woman suffering a poor fate. Thus this melody is also named Zhaojun Yuan (Lament of Zhaojun). Of course, she did feel resentful. This first of all is because she was cast into the Han palace to be buried with the emperor's decadent life style. Yet most literary works were not directly written from this perspective and often belittled or misrepresented the role of Zhaojun. The Zhaojun in folklore and the one portrayed by the literati are very different. This misrepresentation has been corrected in modern years. The proletarian revolutionary Comrade Dong Biwu wrote in 1963 for Zhaojun's tomb:

Zhaojun has a thousand autumns; her marriage between Hu and Han was full of wisdom.
Though poets all express their discontent, their word play will remain futile.

This poem fully affirmed the historical implications of Zhaojun's marriage while repudiating the debased opinions of past poets and writers. Renowned playwright Cao Yu's recent Wang Zhaojun further sculpted this artistic image.

The earliest surviving tablature with Wang Zhaojun's story as its subject matter can be found in Shen Qi Mi Pu. It is titled Longshuo Cao, with the comment, "Previously named Zhaojun Yuan". The section titles of this melody inevitably bear the negative influences from the literati, but there are more insightful parts, such as the section title, "Marriage for friendly alliance with the ugly nomads, thus bringing stability to the Han imperial house". Apart from the inappropriate derogatory term "ugly nomads", it does affirm her historical accomplishment of having made peace between the ethnic groups. The music is also not "resentful" or "weepy" as the titles suggest, but illustrate an image of a graceful, sophisticated and pensive woman. Certain parts even have a sense of joy and advancement.

The melody is divided into eight sections; apart from the commencement of the first section and the conclusion of the last, the second and seventh sections use the same material as a link between the beginning and the end. The main body is concentrated in the third, fourth, fifth, and sixth sections. Among these, the third and fourth sections are played on the qin's 下准 xiazhun (lower measurements? 11.xxx), or around the tenth stud, which may be the so-called ancient "xia jianxian" playing technique (also melody title). The fifth and sixth sections move the melody of in third and fourth sections to the "shangzhun" area of the qin, or around the fifth stud, which may be the so-called "shang jianxian" playing technique. Thus, although the fifth and sixth sections repeat the melody from the third and the fourth sections, the way of playing does change. Is this the "shang jianxian" and "xia jianxian" of the Tang dynasty's "Hujia Mingjun"? (Why not mention Jianxian Mingjun?) This can be investigated.

The third and fifth sections repeat the same harmonic melody in different positions. This is a part of the melody:

(Staff notation example not yet online; see my transcription mm.87-107 and 179ff.)

The questioning and answering phrasal structure tightens step by step, eventually becoming sequential phrases, like the light, whirling poise of a dancer stepping blithely while speeding up. Then the sound of music becomes higher and 級進 moves upward step by step, like a wisp of smoke gradually arising. Then, the skirt falls (or "settles") and it ends on the jue sound (i.e., mi. The melody possesses an enthusiastic, hopeful spirit of youth, which has the style of a dance.

The fourth and sixth sections each repeat a common stopped-sound melody at different positions. An example of part of this melody is seen below:

(Staff notation example not yet online; see my transcription mm. 117-27 and 210-224)

This is both connected to and different from the previously referenced passage in harmonics, to which it forms a contrast. The simple and clear question-and-answer phrases in repetition are elaborated, becoming more spirited and joyful and with the air of folk songs.

What is noteworthy is that: its musical section structure shares many similarities with Da Hujia and Xiao Hujia, with the beginning of each section having a common melody as a lead-in. The beginning of the first (sic: this seems to be a mistake), second, fifth, and seventh sections all use the following phrase:

(Staff notation example not yet online; see in my transcription the first phrase of Sections 2, 5 and 7)

This phrase is basically the same as the beginning phrase of Da Hujia and of Xiao Hujia, but the beginning phrases of the third, fourth, sixth and eighth segments change; this seems to be a technique of development in this musical form. The tune is as follows:

(Staff notation example not yet online; see in my transcription the first 4 phrases of Sections 3, 4, 6 and 8)

In examining the melody more deeply, it has the implication of dynamically advancing. Ziye Wu Ge (as described) in Gujin Yuelu is said to use the technique "change at the beginning"; whether or not this melody has parts that are similar to this is something that merits attention.11

In general, the music (of Zhaojun Yuan/Longshuo Cao) is more rich and more easily sung than that of Da Hujia and Xiao Hujia. However, it keeps many characteristics similar to those of Da Hujia, Xiao Hujia, Guangling San and other old melodies. For example, 大間勾 da jian gou is a finger technique (often) used in early melodies.12 As also with 歷擘 libo, although in writing this tablature these (multiple finger patterns) have been revised so that they are written as separate techniques, their effect remains the same as before.13 Going more deeply into use of 引句 opening phrases in it musical form and performance, such things as the transposition of the melody into the lower and upper positions on the strings, and the traces of variations in hand techniques in various sections, all prove that this is a renowned melody with a long history.


Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. See footnote to the preface for details of the period covered (589 - 979).

2. Initial translation by 金秋雨 Jin Qiuyu.

3. A transcription of my own reconstruction of Longshuo Cao is included among the transcriptions accompanying my recordings.

4. See Wang Mingjun in the Xianghe Ge section of YFSJ, and Zhaojun Yuan in the Qin Melody section.

5. It was the custom that no one should speak or write the given name of the emperor. 司馬昭 Sima Zhao (211 - 265) was the first emperor of the 晉 Jin dynasty, though it was only after he died that this was declared by the true founder of Jin, his grandson 司馬炎 Sima Yan (236 - 290).

6. Xie Zhuang's list of versions of Wang Zhaojun/Zhaojun Yuan called "Wang Mingjun"
(See also this list). The Chinese titles are:

間絃明君,九拍 (間 42164 = 閒 42168.xxx; Jianxian mode in 1525 has a Ming Jun seemingly unrelated to Zhaojun);
杜瓊明君,二十一拍 (Du Qiong 14796.365: a Chengdu poet during the 3 Kingdoms period).

"拍 pai" literally means "beat", but it seems common to use it for "section" in melodies with a border region connection.

11. I found the expression 變頭 biantou quoted in a 古今樂錄 Gujin Yuelu passage in YFSJ Folio 45 (p. 655), but it seems to be referring to 子夜變歌 Ziye Biange, not 子夜吳歌 Ziye Wuge; the meaning of the passage is not clear to me (「子夜警歌無送聲,乃作變,故呼為變頭,謂六變之首也。」). The Gujin Yuelu in 玉函山房輯 Yuhan Shanfang Ji has what seems to be an extended passage discussing 子夜歌 Ziye Ge beginning on folio page 7B. I have found there the words 變形 bianxing but not 變頭 biantou. YFSJ Folio 45 has many Ziye songs with identical poetic structure (5x4), so it would not be surprising if they were sung with a melody having variations.

12. Use of 大間勾 dajian'gou
In other words, Longshuo Cao has some phrases written using single finger technique components of what in older books would have been written using multiple finger techniques. For the re-written da jian gou see, e.g., my transcription, mm. 17-20, 74-5 and elsewhere. What this suggests is that this is an old melody re-copied later; unfortunately it is not possible at present to say what other changes might have been made, or where.

13. Use of 歷擘 libo
Longshuo Cao in several passages uses a phrase that has two notes played by 挑 tiao followed by one note played by 擘 bo (e.g., my transcription mm. 36-7, 41-2, etc.). This may earlier have been written using 歷 li instead of tiao. Also someone unusual is the 踢合擘 ti and bo played together in m.3.

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