Elegant Gatherings (雅集 Ya Ji)  
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Elegant Gatherings 雅集 1
  Yaji in the Western Garden (detail) 2               
To most qin players today a "yaji" (elegant gathering) is a gathering of qin players to play for each other. However, the history of Chinese "elegant gatherings" suggests they were much more, such that they could quite naturally be viewed - and presented - as multimedia events.3

The following are some early examples of gatherings - perhaps types of or models for literary gatherings. They may include artistic expression, though in the past they would not necessarily have been considered as what we usually call performances.4

Many old paintings depict gatherings such as those mentioned above. One example is shown above right; others are linked here. At such gatherings the literati are said to inspire each other through their arts: seeing calligraphy may inspire qin music; the music may inspire a poem, and so forth. There is some further discussion of this, with more associated art, under Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar. Based on the images there and here it may be tempting to distinguish between these two expressions by applying the term "yaji" to gatherings where the participants are all collected together, and the term "Four Arts" where they seem to be gathered within the same space but within this there are separate focuses; this, however, is quite likely reading too much into the images.5

Literati gatherings could also be literary gatherings (文會 wenhui) focused on conversation and not necessarily include other arts. An early example of a depiction of such a gathering is Literary Garden, "after Zhou Wenju".6 "Literary Garden" apparently did not catch on as a generic title; one that did was "True Simplicity Gatherings",7 the originals of which were apparently organized by Sima Guang (1019–1086). There does not seem to be any evidence that Sima Guang's gatherings included qin, but later depictions sometimes do include them.8

The ideal of a multi-media artistic gathering is underlined by the many paintings that were done of the best-known event specifically referred to as a "yaji", already mentioned and depicted above, said to have taken place in 1087 in the Western Gardens of 王詵 Wang Shen (1037-ca.1093), a noted calligrapher and connoisseur who had married a daughter of the Song emperor Yingzhong and lived in the capital city, Kaifeng. The famous guests said to have been in attendance at this gathering includes quite a few mentioned elsewhere on this site.9

There is extant today an account of this gathering. It is attributed to Mi Fu himself, but most likely it was actually written several centuries later.10 Just as likely, at the time of its writing its account of a multi-media event involving various arts was not a presentation of a new idea. But how far back one can trace such gatherings perhaps depends on how one defines them. For example, how many arts must be included? As already mentioned, today qin players usually use the term yaji for occasions when they get together simply to play for each other. There may be a long history of such qin gatherings with this term applied to it, but have there been any proper studies of this? Would parties where people would be expected to write poems have been considered as ya ji"? Have there been any writings that satirize as pretentious the claims by people who call their own gatherings "elegant"?

Further research is necessary to show the true origins and various natures of historical yaji. In this another interesting comparison might be with the "clear talk" (Qing Tan) meetings popular around the time of the Six Dynasties.

For further connections with the qin one can always look for the sort of melodies that might have been inspired by such a gathering. For example, the Account of the Elegant Gathering in the Western Garden by Mi Fu, copied below, mentions Gui Qu Lai, a poem by Tao Yuanming set for qin in a handbook publishedin 1511. In this context it would also be natural to listen to any such melodies while looking at the sort of paintings or calligraphy the scholars themselves might have been looking at during the gathering.

Footnotes (Numbers refer to entries in Zhongwen Dacidian)

1. Elegant Gathering (雅集 ya ji)
For yaji 雅集, 11/825 has "猶雅會 similar to a yahui" (further below). It then gives the following as its earliest reference:


This is identified as a phrase from a 詞 ci poem by 姜虁 Jiang Kui (ca. 1155 - 1221) called A Calix Red (一萼紅 Yi E Hong): On the 7th day of the first month going up to Changsha's Dingwang Pavilion (人日登長沙定王臺 Ren Ri Deng Changsha Dingwangtai). Yi E Hong is the name of the ci pattern (1.???); another subtitle for the poem is 古城隱 Gu Cheng Yin, after the first phrase of the poem itself.

The full poem is as follows (the first section is commentary, then the poem itself has two stanzas; the line above mentioning "ya ji" is the third line of the second stanza).




Not yet translated into English (for a translation into modern Chinese see Baike Baidu).

The second reference at 11/825 is from the Ming novel 儒林外史 Rulin Waishi Chapter 18: "吾靠今日雅集,不可無詩. I am helping today's yaji so I must have a poem."

Surprisingly 42905. seems to have nothing for yaji, since this expression is mentioned in the brief entry under .142 雅會 yahui (next).

Elegant Meeting (雅會 ya hui; here "meeting" really has the same meaning as "gathering")
42905.142 雅會 ya hui says it is "風雅之集會,猶雅集 an elegant gathering similar to a yaji". The earliest quote it gives for yahui is from 劉子翬詩 a poem by Liu Zihui (1101-1147; Bio/662; another reference):


11/826 gives the same quote for yahui, adding one each from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Liu Zihui's full poem is as follows:



The mention of "yahui" is in line three.

2. 劉松年:西園雅集 Elegant Gathering in the Western Garden (detail), attrib. Liu Songnian (compare other early gatherings)
Little is known of this painter other than he lived in Hangzhou during the Southern Song dynasty. According to the website of the National Palace Museum, Taiwan,

This volume depicts the grand meeting of Su Shi, Huang Tingjian, Mi Fu, Yuan Tong and other eminent dignitaries in the Song Dynasty in Wangshen West Garden. Sixteen people were divided into four groups: Wang Shen, Cai Zhao and Li Zhiyi watched Su Shi write calligraphy; Qin Guanting listened to Chen Jingyuan playing Ruan; Wang Qinchen watched Mi Fu's inscription on stones; Tao Qian went back and came back for pictures; Liu Jing talked with Master Yuantong about the theory of non-existence. Despite this extensive description of the people said to have been at the gathering, many scholars say this event never actually happened. Nevertheless, depictions of the Elegant Gathering in the Western Gardens (often, as here, with the names of the famous people written above them) are said to date back to one attributed to 李公麟 Li Gonglin (1049-1106; further), one of the supposed attendees. Although the attribution of that painting to Li is questionable, the idea of such meetings became very popular during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and they were often depicted in classical and popular art. Many of these can be found online, the one here having been selected because it is one of the ones that shows someone holding a qin: see left of center.

The following list of people said to have attended the Western Garden Elegant Gathering includes the following names. Those with online images (updated 2022) depicting or alluding to the event are listed first, with links to the images:

  1. 李公麟 Li Gonglin (1049-1106): detail; the full painting has a colophon attributed to Mi Fu.
    From the website of the Taiwan Institute of History and Philology
  2. 劉松年, Liu Songnian, as above
    This image and attribution can be found on various websites, including that of the National Palace Museum, Taiwan
  3. 趙孟頫 Zhao Mengfu : q.v. (detail shows qin and ruan)
    From the NPM website, which includes also a good discussion
  4. 宋徽宗文會圖 Literary Gathering of Song emperor Huizong (q.v.; detail showing a qin)
    The inscription top left mentions 18 Scholars; from the NPM website; details also with this 17th c. replica
  5. 馬遠 Ma Yuan (active 1190-1230): (full scroll, low resolution; detail)
    Composing Poetry on a Spring Outine, from the Nelson-Atkins Museum
  6. Elegant Gathering, by Chen Hongshou (q.v.)
    In the collection of the Shanghai Museum (Wikimedia; compare seven sages)
  7. Qing dynasty folk art: boxwood brush-holder
    There is a good description at Gathering at West Garden, a page on the China Online Museum website.
  8. Yi dynasty Korean painter 俞致鳳: q.v.
    From a Korean Website (? no longer online)
  9. Ming dynasty anonymous painting: Princeton Museum (copy)
    Instead of a single focus this painting arranges the participants as with the Four Arts. The accompanying description says, According to legend, in 1088 a group of sixteen famous statesmen, literati, and artists gathered in the Western Garden of Wang Shen, an imperial son-in-law. The scholar and artist Mi Fu (1052–1107) purportedly wrote an account commemorating the occasion, and Li Gonglin (d. 1106) is said to have painted a scene of the gathering. Regardless of whether this event indeed took place, it entered the cultural imagination and became both a model for later literary gatherings and a theme in painting. Here, the scholar Su Shi is seated at one table practicing calligraphy while Wang Shen and others look on. At another table, Li Gonglin paints a scene taken from literature. Behind them, Mi Fu stands with a brush in hand, inscribing a stone face, and across a bridge a Buddhist sits in a bamboo grove engaged in a discussion on Nirvana.
The famous people said to have attended this gathering are discussed further above.

Meanwhile, searching the National Palace Museum website for "文會圖" yields quite a number of paintings on the the following paintings on the literary gathering theme

3. Yaji as student recital
In the qin world today "yaji" most commonly refers to a gathering at which qin players play for each other. The most common attendees at such gatherings are the students of one teacher, though often their friends or other guests are invited. Such an event might include some social activities or a lecture; in other cases it might be compared in some ways to a student recital.

I do not know to what extent such gatherings for students of other instruments are also called "yaji", nor is it clear what the history is for this usage of the term.

4. Possible related events
It would be interesting to know whether there were any performances connected to the exhibion of "works related to literary gatherings or exchanges between literati figures" at this 2023 Tokyo exhibition highlighted by Wang Xizhi's calligraphy.

5. Comparing "Four Arts" and "Elegant Gathering"
Some "Elegant gathering" paintings in particular may include separate focus on "Four arts", while the four arts paintings may be separating its images by time rather than space.

6. 周文矩 Zhou Wenju (fl. 942-961; Bio/1537; Wiki) "Literary Garden": early elegant gathering?  
His name may sometimes be romanized Zhou Wengui. He is said to have worked at the Southern Tang court and specialized in paintings of figures, but apparently no actual works survive, only paintings 仿 copying his or in his style, such as the one at right, an anonymous painting called Literary Garden (文苑圖 Wen Yuan Tu; here copied from the China Online Museum), or this painting called "Court Ladies".

Other paintings in his style on this site include Song Dynasty: Listening to the Qin (also noted for depicting qin with ruan) and Ladies of the Court.

7. Other terms for artistic gatherings
Ones so far mentioned:

  1. "Literary Garden": 13766.376 文苑 wen yuan says it is a gathering of literati. The related image above right is the one most commonly associated with this term.
  2. "True Simplicity Gatherings" of Sima Guang himself; may not have included music but see next footnote.

Other terms should also be considered.

8. "True Simplicity Gatherings" (真率會 Zhen Shuai Hui)   "True Simplicity Gathering" in Suzhou (source)        
Although there is no evidence these originally included music, later adaptations may have done so; examples include some clubs in 18th century Japan and the one from Suzhou depicted at right by 胡洤 Hu Quan (胡芑孫 Hu Qisun), called "任薰吳郡真率會圖 卷1".

9. Famous scholars and artists at the Western Gardens Elegant Gathering
These are usually named as,

  1. 陳景元 Chen Jingyuan (1024-1094; the Mi Fu inscription has him playing qin
  2. 蘇軾     Su Shi (1037-1101)
  3. 蘇轍     Su Che (or Su Zhe; 1039-1112), brother of Su Shi
  4. 李之儀 Li Zhiyi (1038-1117); poet and prose writer
  5. 黃庭堅 Huang Tingjian (1045-1105)
  6. 秦觀     Qin Guan (1049-1100)
  7. 李公麟 Li Gonglin (1049-1106); a famous painter and antiquarian (Wiki);
    Li was apparently a friend of Zhu Changwen
  8. 米芾     Mi Fu (1051-1107)
  9. 晁補之 Chao Buzhi (1053-1110)


  10. 張耒     Zhang Lei (1054-1114)
  11. 鄭靖老 Zheng Jinglao ()
  12. 王欽臣 Wang Qinchen ()
  13. 劉涇     Liu Jing ()
  14. 蔡肇     Cai Zhao ()
  15. 圓通大師 Yuantong the Great Monk ()
Once again, there is no specific confirmation of these details.

10. 米芾 Mi Fu (1051-1107) and his "account"
Mi Fu Wiki was a famous poet, painter, calligrapher and eccentric. There are at least two somewhat different versions of the account attributed to him:

The Account of the Elegant Gathering in the Western Garden (西園雅集圖記 Xiyuan Zaji Tuji):


This was the way it was copied in the Ming dynasty by the famous artist 董其昌 Dong Qichang (1555-1636):

李伯時效唐小李將軍。為著色。泉石雲物草木花竹皆絕妙動人。而人物秀發。各肖其形。自有林下風味無一點塵埃氣。不為凡筆也。其烏帽黃道服捉筆而書者為東坡先生。仙桃巾紫裘而坐觀者為王晉卿。青衣據方机而凝竚者為丹陽蔡天啓。捉椅而視者為李端叔。後有女奴。雲鬟翠飾。侍立自然。富貴風韻。乃晉卿之家姬也。孤松盤鬱。上有凌霄纒絡紅綠相間。下有大石案。陳設古器瑶琴。芭焦(蕉)圍繞。坐於石傍。道帽紫衣。右手倚石。左手執卷書者為蘇子由。團巾繭衣。手秉焦箑而熟觀者為黃魯直。幅巾野褐。據橫卷畫淵明 歸去來者為李伯時。披巾青服。撫肩而立者為晁無咎。跪而捉石觀畫者為張文潛。道巾素衣。按膝而俯視者為鄭靖老。後有童子執靈壽杖而立。二人坐於盤根古檜下。幅巾青衣。袖手側聽者為秦少游。琴尾冠。紫道服。摘阮者為陳碧虛。唐巾深衣。昻首而題石者為米元章。袖手而仰觀者為王仲至。前有鬅頭頑童捧古硯而立。後有錦石橋。竹逕繚繞於清溪深處。翠陰茂密。中有袈裟坐蒲團而説無生論者為圓通大師。傍有幅巾褐衣而諦聽者為劉巨濟。水石潺湲。風竹相吞。爐烟方裊。草木自馨。人間清曠之樂不過於此。嗟乎。洶湧於名利之域而不知退者豈易得此耶。自東坡而下凡十有六人。以文章議論。博學辨識。英辭妙墨。好古多聞。卓然高致。名動四夷。後之攬(覽)者。亦足仿佛其人耳。己巳(西元一六二九年)三月稧日。董其昌書。

However, like the painting it accompanies, this account is thought to date from much later.

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