Qin Shi Chubian 6B3: Song Dynasty Diaozi and Caonong 
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Chapter Six: Song and Yuan dynasties 1
Xu Jian, Introductory History of the Qin, pp. 112-114 2

6.B. Qin Melodies

3. Diaozi (short songs) and Caonong (instrumental melodies)3



Diaozi are qin songs of a particular structure that were popular during the Northern Song dynasty, whereas caonong generally refers to traditional large-scale qin melodies. Qin players from the Song dynasty were very particular about the distinction between these two formats. Diaozi did not originate in the Song dynasty; Ten Short Melodies in Gong Mode by Heruo Bi4 of the Sui dynasty was an early set of diaozi. Xue Yijian of the Tang dynasty collected from folk culture 300 short melodies, many of which were probably diaozi.5 Biji Manzhi6 records, "since the Sui, what we call quzi have been on the rise. By the Tang dynasty, they had become rather popular. Now they are innumerable in their vulgarity." Although this discusses quzi, the appearance and developement of diaozi is very similar.7 The rise of diaozi is probably also related to ci; the text portions of diaozi were ci, the music was quzi.8 To sing while playing the melody creates diaozi. Ci, quzi, and diaozi are connected but different and they developed together during the Song dynasty.

Diaozi originally had lyrics. Zequan Heshang (the Monk Zequan9) once used Zuiweng Yin as an example to analyze its rhythmic treatment characteristics (discussed further below). Surviving diaozi often have lost their lyrics with only the melody left.10 In addition, only the titles remain. The titles of diaozi are also different from those of traditional melodies. Some seem to have been named after phrases of ci, such as Jiangshang Wenjiao11 and Shasai Wanqing.12 Some seem to have been folk lyric drama, like Fan Zheng Sui Yudou13 and Ding Sheng Hua He.14

The distinction between diaozi and caonong is reflected in the form of the music, content, style, and performance. Cheng Yujian compared diaozi to pentasyllabic poems, calling them

"elegantly simple yet with flavor, like an olive"

and asserting that when playing diaozi, one must

"warmly play with calm simplicity in the movement of one's fingers, as if writing a pentasyllabic poem".

He also compared caonong to changyun poems, claiming they

"are like the floating wind and rapid rain, accurate in aim and touching one's spirit."

He also pointed out that

"when playing a caonong, one must emphasize lightness and heaviness with rhythm and consistency." (Qinshu Daquan, [pp. 204-7 15])."

(In the article from Qinyuan Yaolu mentioned above16,) the famous qin player Zequan Heshang from the Song dynasty also emphasized the difference between the two. He especially pointed out:

"Today when people play diaozi, they often play it like caonong without understanding the rhythm".

To clarify the difference between the two, he compared diaozi to manqu (slow melodies) and caonong to daqu (full melodies), saying that

"Playing diaozi is like singing manqu."


"In a daqu there are (sections like) dianqian (prelude), rupo (section where it goes from slow to fast), and xiepai (conclusion), much like the rhythm of a long caonong."

Zequan Heshang further analyzed its rhythmical features:

"When playing diaozi, each phrase first has two slow notes with a few more notes following; then there is a short rest, after which one holds on to a note to connect to the next phrase. This is called 'shuang qi dan sha (double beginning, single ending)'."

He also said of caonong,

"(Whenever playing cao[nong],) begin each phrase with one note, then there is a short rest, then hold on to two notes to connect to the next phrase. This is the opposite of diaozi."

The former's "shuang qi dan sha" is not rare in xiqu (Chinese opera) and quyi (singing narration) and is based on a form of lyrical singing. The latter's "dan qi shuang sha" is a common technique in caonong.

The peak era for diaozi was the Northern Song dynasty. Repertoire lists of this era contained a large number of diaozi and qin dissertations often involved the characteristics of diaozi. By the Southern Song dynasty, qin players of the Zhe school reached a new level in the creation and performance of caonong, so diaozi retreated in status.

Continue with Qin Essays, next.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Chapter 6 covers these dynasties (dates, capital city [modern name]):

Northern Song (960-1126; Dongjing [Kaifeng])
Liao (907-1125; Dading Fu [Daning?])
Southern Song (1127-1280; Linan Fu [Hangzhou])
Jin (1115-1260; Zhongdu [Beijing])
Yuan (1206-1280-1368; Dadu [Beijing])

2. Initial translation by 金秋雨 Jin Qiuyu.

3. Diaozi (short songs) and Caonong (instrumental melodies) 調子和操弄
These two terms have particular meanings, as descibed in the text above. There are lists of them in Qinshu Daquan, Folio 13, where they are listed by mode.

4. Heruo Bi
This name is often incorrectly romanized as He Ruobi. There are further details on him in QSCB, 5.a., as well as in his own biographical entry, which includes a list of the Ten Short Melodies in Gong Mode.
These melodies do not seem to be included in the QSDQ Listing of diaozi and caonong

5. Xue Yijian's collection of 300 short melodies
I am not aware of an actual listing of these names.

6. Biji Manzhi 碧雞漫志
24916.283 碧雞 Biji (literally "jade green chicken") identifies this as the names of mountains in Sichuan and Yunnan, or as the name of a deity, also called 金馬碧雞 Jinma Biji. There is no mention of a book of this or any similar title.

7. 曲子 Quzi compared to 調子 Diaozi
I have no idea on what basis Xu Jian makes this comparison.

8. Music of 調子 Diaozi as 曲子 quzi, lyrics as 辭 ci
Again I do not know the basic for this analysis.

9. Zequan the Monk (則全和尚 Zequan Heshang)
There seems to be no biographical information available about him, in spite of his important writings, in particular Rhythms and Finger Methods, preserved in Qinyuan Yaolu, pages 11/1 - 34/1. Xu Jian discusses this in Chapter 6c6, Rhythm and Finger Technique; the quotes here all come from the section on rhythm (ibid., pp. 29/2 - 34/1).

10. Xu Jian's conclusion that some diaozi melodies have survived, but without their lyrics, is perhaps based on the fact that some of the titles in the QSDQ Listing of diaozi and caonong are also titles of surviving tablature. However, there is no evidence one way or another as to whether there are any melodic connections.

11. Jiangshang Wenjiao 江上聞角
17496.8 only 江上 jiangshang. I cannot find this title in the QSDQ Listing, but it is mentioned in the article by Cheng Yujian.

12. Shasai Wanqing 沙塞晚晴
17570.158 only 沙塞子 shasaizi, a 曲牌 qupai name. I cannot find this title in the QSDQ Listing, but it is mentioned in the article by Cheng Yujian.

13. Fan Zeng Sui Yudou 范增碎玉斗
31472.246 only 范增 Fan Zeng, a man at the end of the Qin dynasty who was with Xiang Yu. See QYYL

14. 3.xxx. Ding Sheng Hua He 丁生化鶴

15. Cheng Yujian on diaozi
The original of the four original quotes are in QSDQ, Folio 10 (QQJC, V/204) as follows:

貴淡而有味,如食橄欖。 (top left lines 7-8)
吟猱親切,下指簡精,如人作五言詩。 (top left last line)
如飄風驟雨,一發則中,使人神魄飛動。 (top left lines 8-9)
要輕重起伏有節,首尾相貫。 (top left lines 9-10)

For further quotes from Cheng Yujian on diaozi and caonong see QSCB, Chapter 6c7.

16. Zequan Heshang on rhythm
His article on rhythm is preserved in Qinyuan Yaolu, pages 29/2 - 34/1. It begins:





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