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Ye Shih-Ch'iang
or: Ye Shiqiang (1926 - 2012)1
Guqin: by Ye Shiqiang, 1974 2 

My first guqin, shown at right, was made by Ye Shiqiang (Yeh Shih-ch'iang), who had been taught qin making by Sun Yuqin. According to my understanding of the story, Mr. Ye, a somewhat eccentric artist whose work included wood carvings, had decided he wanted to learn to make guqin. He knew Mr. Sun was an expert at this, but figured that it was a secret skill, and so instead of asking to learn how to make the instrument he asked if he could study playing qin with Mr. Sun.

Mr. Sun, meanwhile, though very knowledgeable on how to make a qin was not actually a craftsman. When Mr. Ye approached him about studying qin he accepted him as a student, but soon decided his talents were more likely going to be at making qins than at playing them, but he was embarrassed to say this.

It is not clear to me how long it took, but eventually they both realized each other's true aims and Sun began teaching Ye what he really wanted to teach, and Ye began learning from Sun what he really wanted to learn. It is also not clear to me how long Ye continuted to study qin-making from Sun, but it is my understanding that the one I bought in 1974 (I had to wait several months for it to be finished) was one of his early ones.

This qin, as with the other qin then made by Mr. Ye, is in the style of the Tang dynasty qin pictured in R.H. van Gulik's Lore of the Chinese Lute (see the color plate facing page 192).

The name of the qin, inscribed on the back, is 焚餘 Fen Yu, Survived the Fire. In 1975 the instrument was damaged in a fire in my apartment building. Dark spots on the inside of the sound box still show the effects of the fire.3 The re-lacquering also led to a greater variety of colors on the top. The lacquer, however, was not quite smooth enough, so that when the fingers slid across them there was too much sliding sound. Several years later I had violin maker Ute Zahn4 rub the top smooth with a cloth normally used for smoothing and shining the varnish on violins. In addition to reducing the sliding noises this also made the appearance of the colors even richer.

After the repairs were finished Mr. Sun said the sound was much improved, and so he gave the qin its name and carved the name on the back.5

In 1975 Jim Binkley and I visited Mr. Ye at his home and workshop in 新店灣潭 Huantan, a village in Xindian, south of Taipei. Jim here began his own practical study of qin making, as recounted on his own website (see especially the Notes on The Translation at the bottom of his Introduction to the Yu-ku-chai-ch’in-p’u).

Footnotes (Numbers refer to entries in Zhongwen Dacidian)

1. Yeh Shih-Ch'iang (葉世強; 1926- 2012; Ye Shiqiang is the mainland Romanization of his name)
There is a brief account my getting my first qin from Mr. Sun teaching Mr. Ye on this page. Mr. Ye's activities as a painter and calligrapher are recounted (here, with an online chronology of his life here [copied from]).

2. My first qin
It is my understanding that this was about the fourth or fifth qin by Ye Shiqiang.

3. Fire damage
At the time I was sharing a flat with Jim Binkley and his wife in a four story block in the area between Taiwan Normal and Taiwan National Universities. Returning home one evening I saw smoke in the neighborhood, then fire trucks next to my building, then when I got up to the fourth floor I realized the fire was actually in flat. Firemen were running around the places with their hoses and the fire was soon out. It had been an electrical fire in the ceiling.

My qin had been knocked from the wall, apparently saving it from the fire just in time, but also smashing it up a bit from the force of the water from the house. Everything was soaked, most dramatically the wadded cotton quilts (棉被 mianbei) we used for warmth. I think I had three: they are very heavy when soaked.

The next morning I went to the local laundry and told them that all my clothing was wet and needed to be dried. Of course, they knew about the fire, and came over to help me carry the soaked blankets and clothing to their shop. It took more than a half a dozen trips going up and down four flights of stairs, with it requiring two people to carry each sodden quilt.

It took about two weeks for everything to dry out. Bit by bit it was returned to me, first the underwear, then the larger clothing and on up to the quilts. Each time I asked the cost they would say that it would all be calculated in the end.

Finally the last quilt was returned, clean and dry. And what was the cost?

The laundry owner said, "We are Buddhists. When people have trouble we must stick together. There is no charge.

This is probably my strongest memory from my two years in Taiwan.

4. Ute Zahn
Ute was then a neighbor on Cheung Chau island, Hong Kong. She did such a wonderful job on the Ye Shiqiang qin that I then asked her to do similar work on several qins by He Mingwei; they had a wonderful sound but a somewhat coarse top surface. After she rubbed the tops smooth the extraneous sounds were one again considerably reduced. Ute is currently making violins in Minneapolis (website).

5. For a related story see the Scorched Tail Qin.

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