Guqin(古琴, the ancient zither) is the representative of Chinese music and written into the UNESCO list of Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2003. Guqin could be the origin of Chinese music. It at least has more than 3000 years of history. As for its origin, there is no any authoritative standpoint, and its appearance mostly is connected with the legendary stories or myth, which is quite similar to the origin of humankind. But as the origin of China music, it is dependable undoubtedly. Luo Zhenyu(1866－1940, 罗振玉), who was one of the greatest scholars in modern China famous for his contribution to studying archeology and oracle bone characters inscription, and one of four oracle-bone-studying masters whose courtesy names including Tang【甲骨四堂, this honorable title was summarized by Chen Zizhan(1898－1990,陈子展), a great scholar in the aspect of studying The Book of Songs of younger generation of Chinese academic circle than them, Luo Zhenyu with a courtesy name Xuetang(雪堂), Wang Guowei(王国维)with a courtesy name Guangtang(观堂), Dong Zuobin(董作宾) with a courtesy name Yantang(彦堂) and Guo Moruo(郭沫若) with a courtesy name Dingtang(鼎堂)】, thought that the Guqin at least appeared before Shan Period(BC1600-BC1046) in accordance with his studying conclusion of oracle bone characters.
Guqin is the closest musical instrument of ancient elites of China. It is not only a simple musical instrument. In fact, Guqin is the embodiment of traditional elites’ internal spirituality and independent personality. For reasons, they can be summarized to be several aspects. Firstly, Guqin is the exterior show of traditional scholars or scholar-bureaucrats’ ultimate purist as an individual – Morality. The ancient people said that Ba Yin Zhi Zhong, Qin De Zui You(八音之中,琴德最优), which also means the embodied morality in music of Guqin is the most typical one among eight sounds. Hence, the Confucians highly emphasized the importance of Guqin to Junzi(君子), the ideal status that man can be in Confucianism. They thought that the Junzi should preserve their Guqin unless something happened beyond their ability to protect Guqin. Secondly, the music of Guqin can calm people down and tranquilize their soul, for the irrationality may mislead people to the evil, and the music of Guqin can help people keep away from the evil and return to the peace and harmony. Thirdly, Guqin used to be the closest friend of ancient saints like Fu Xi, Shun, King Wenwang, Confucius, Mencius and Xunzi. As the spiritual teachers of traditional scholars, their preference to Guqin surely deeply influences on the scholars. Fourthly, four musts of basic standards to judge a scholar to be a qualified Junzi or not rank Guqin the first place. Four Musts include Qin Qi Shu Hua(琴棋书画, Guqin, Chinese Chess, Calligraphy and Painting). The No.1Ranking reveals the priority of Guqin in the mind of scholars. In a way, Guqin is the oldest musical instrument exclusively popularized among the elites of China, and it is the best China musical art show of Chinese elite culture.
Guqin with Sages in Ancient Books
Painting of Emperor Huizong playing guqin with the calligraphic inscription of Cai Jing, who was the infamous official at the time
Profile of Fan Li
As the oldest musical instrument, over the past thousands of years, Guqin has been largely accepted, discussed and written into books. There are many ancient rare books recording the characteristics of Guqin.
Fu Xi and Invention of Guqin: Fu Xi (伏羲) was the oldest forefather of Chinese people, nearly living in the same period of Nv Wa(女娲), then China’s history still was in the mythic period. About Fu Xi, there are several books recording his biography, but all closely associated with myth. Fu Xi was a magic leader of China. His mother was called Hua Xu(华胥), who followed the footprints of the god in Leize(雷泽, a fairly old site of pre-historic China) and then gave birth to Fu Xi. It was said that Fu Xi was a man with humankind’s head and the body of snake. Fu Xi had double pupils of the eyes, which was considered as the sign of the sacred virtue of the sages. Fu Xi created Bagua(八卦, The Eight Diagrams) and invented Guqin with thirty-five strings.
Fu Xi took a delicate thinking on how to make Guqin. He found that the phoenix usually inhabits wutong tree (which later extensively translated to be Phoenix Tree), and he thought wutong was the best raw material to make Guqin. He cut the wutong into three parts, which symbolize three excellences comprised of Heaven, Earth and Human, and threw away two parts, which had the over-clear and over-deep sound after knocked. The left one with a moderate sound was kept in the water for 72 days, and then Fu Xi took it out of water and had the craftsman make it be Guqin.
The record of Fu Xi inventing Guqin was also available in Shuowen Jiezi(说文解字, the first dictionary of Chinese characters edited by Xu Shen in Han Dynasty) , Study of Ancient History(古史考, an academic book created by Qiao Zhou in Three Kingdoms Period) and Record of Gleaning the Lost Property(拾遗记, an interesting ancient book written by Wang Jia in West Jin Dynasty). As for Fu Xi’s biography, the most specific details are available in the Chapter of Three Lords and Five Emperors in Extension of The Record of The Grand Historian(补史记), written by Sima Zhen(司马贞), the greatest historian of Tang Dynasty and probably the descendant of Sima Qian.
Emperor Yellow and Guqin: Huang Di(黄帝) or Emperor Yellow was another important sage that was said to be the inventor of Guqin. Actually there are many different viewpoints of the invention of Guqin. Apart from the stories of Fu Xi and Emperor Yellow, there are the stories of Shennong(Divine Farmer), Yao and Shun. Many books considered Shennong as the inventor of Guqin such as the masterpiece of Fu Yi(傅毅)in East Han Dynasty called Qin Fu(琴赋, Prose of Guqin) and Sima Qian’s The Record of the Grand Historian. But these viewpoints are not reliable indeed, because all the tentative inventors were all living in pre-historic period of China, so is Emperor Yellow. Emperor Yellow was a mythic figure in history of China, though officially recorded into the first official history of China-The Record of The Grand Historian. He created the musical tonality and created the famous Guiqin music masterpiece named Qing Jue(清角, The Clarity of Jue, and Jue was one of the five basic tonalities in ancient musical theory of China).
Almighty Yao&Shun and Guqin: In the mind of the next generations, Yao together with its inheritor Shun are both the embodiment of Morality and Justice. In ancient times, many documents recorded Yao as the inventor of Guqin music. In Record of the Grand Historian, Yao was written as the inventor of five-string qin. In History of Guqin, written by Zhu Changwen(1039—1098, 朱长文), a famous calligraphist and musician of North Song Dynasty, Yao was also taken as the inventof Guqin. Shun was another figure said to be the inventor of Guqin, in Book of Rites(礼记), Shun was said to invent the five-string Guqin and Kui was said to create the music so as to award the regional lords. Also, according to the record of Confucianism, Shun also is the famous musician, and described as a man playing the Guqin and singing the poem of south wind.
Confucius and Guqin: The oldest writing about Guqin is available in The Analects of Confucius(论语)and The Annals of Spring and Autumn(春秋). Confucius took a great notice of practicing Guqin, and aesthetically took the elegance of Guqin music as the standards to judge Junzi. In his opinion, Guqin music is the elegant music and the best way to express his viewpoint of golden mean as a Confucian. His basic thinking about Guqin – The Best Access to Appreciate the Beauty of Moderate Harmony(中和之美). Confucius at early period learnt Guqin from Shixiangzi(师襄子), a palace musician of Lu State during the period of Spring and Autumn and the greatest guqin master of China. He practiced the Guqin quite hard. It was said that Confucius can played each poem of The Book of Songs(诗经) into music when he reedited this classic.(Note: the ancient poems of China can be sung and played indeed, it was not only for reciting but also for singing and playing, especially the poems before Qin Empire). He indulged himself deeply into Shao music(韶乐) in Guqin, and even forgot the deliciousness of meat for three months. Also, in his mind, Guqin could express a person’s dignity and morality. In the Records of the Grand Historian, or Shi Ji, written by Sima Qian, During Confucius’ Exile period, he suffered a lot and each time, he always played Guiqin to relieve his internal bitterness. The typical example was that he was in trouble or even under house arrest in the border area between Chen State and Cai State. He together with his students went through six days without eating and drinking. They were absolutely in danger of starvation and thirst. During these days, Confucius continually played Guqin for six days till they were saved.
Sima Xiangru and Guqin Lvqi: Sima Xiangru(司马相如) was a great Guqin master, except being a master of fu-style literary writing, in West Han Dynasty. Sima Xiangru was born in Chengdu, Sichuan province. In accordance with The Record of the Grand Historian, Sima Xiangru was specialized in sword fighting in his childhood when his family was relatively rich. Later, he was selected to be one of the bodyguards of Emperor(武骑常侍) Jingdi, father of Emperor Wudi, by virtue of purchasing. But the Emperor Jingdi did not like fu-style literature, so he resigned and moved to Liang Kingdom, a regional fiefdom of King Xiaowang, who preferred fu writing. However, after Liang Xiawang died, he had to return to his hometown and became quite poor, fortunately, he was talented and had been famous nationwide for its fu masterpiece, Zixu Fu(子虚赋). During his staying in Shu region, he was invited to a party hosted by Zhuo Wangsun(卓王孙), the richest resident in Chengdu. In the party, he met with the daughter of Mr. Zhu, Zhuo Wenjun(卓文君), who was a charming widow that just lost his husband, and Sima Xiangru deeply indulged himself into loving her. For drawing her attention, Sima Xiangru took out his favorite guqin named Lvyi(绿绮), which was a quite famous guqin said to be made and possessed by Fan Li(范蠡), a top official of Yue State in Spring and Autumn Period and a rich businessman of ancient China that people called it Lord Taozhu(陶朱公, which later becomes the representative of rich man). After having helped King Goujian of Yue State defeat Wu State and become one of Five Powers in Spring and Autumn Period, he resigned, though Goujian was reluctant to let him ago, even built a gold statue of Fan Li opposite to his throne in order to have Fan Li accompany him forever. After leaving Yue State, he together with his wife or lover Xi Shi(西施, one of four top beauties of ancient China and assisted King Goujian occupy Wu State via badger game), lived on the lakefront of Taihu Lake. He played guqin and sung a famous song named Feng Qiu Huang. This became a classic guqin music in history.
Sima Xiangru, a great guqin master and literature writer in Han Dynasty. His marriage with Zhuo Wenjun extended the culture of Guqin to love.
More Books and Famous Figures Related to Guqin: Liu An’s famous guqin music named Bagongcao(八公操, The Gloomy Release of Eight Lords), Liu Xiang’s article named Qin Shuo(琴说), Huan Tan’s Xin Lun(新论) and Cai Yong’s Qin Cao(琴操) in Han Dynasty. In Wei and Jin Dynasties, the famous academic books include Ji Kang’s Qin Fu(琴赋), Xie Zhuang’s Qin Lun(琴论), Qu Zhan’s Qinsheng Lvtu(琴声律图) and Chen Zhongru’s Qinyong Zhifa(琴用指法). In Sui and Tang Dynasties, the themed books include Xue Yijian’s Qin Jue(琴诀) and Chen Kangshi’s Qinshu Zhengsheng(琴书正声). In Song and Yuan Dynasties, the books include Zhu Changwen’s Qin Shi(琴史), Yuan Jue’s Qin Shu(琴述), Cui Zundu’s Qin Jian(琴笺), Liu Ji’s Qin Yi(琴议), Chen Minzi’s Qinlv Fawei(琴律发微), Cheng Yujian’s Lun Qin(论琴). In Ming and Qing Dynasties, the books mainly have Leng Qian’s Qinsheng Shiliufa(琴声十六法), Xu Qingshan’s Xishan Qinkuang(谿山琴况) and Dai Yuan’s Guqin Baze(鼓琴八则).
The Cultural Embodiment of Guqin
Story of Yu Boya and Zhong Ziqi: Guqin in China in some way is the representative of elite culture. Especially the story of Yu Boya and Zhong Ziqi, who were the bosom friends known each other by Guqin. One day, Yu Boya(俞伯牙), a famous guqin player, was playing the music of Gaoshan Liushui(高山流水), and his music deeply attracted Zhong Ziqi(钟子期), a recluse living on selling firewood, and Zhong Ziqi specifically expressed his appreciation to Yu Boya and deeply knew the internal thinking of Yu Boya as well. Yu Boya was quite touched. They knew each other and became the best friends. It was said that Yu Boya broke down his guqin into pieces and stopped his guqin music any more when heard of Zhong Ziqi’s death. This is the story that Chinese called it Zhiyin Zhijiao(知音之交, making friends via understanding the music of Guqin).
Cultural Heritage of Guqin: Guqin in some way is also the symbol of Chinese civilization and the oldest and most sophisticated and lively artistic form. In the music history of China, Guqin has the superior statue of leading the grand elegance(大雅) and collecting the merits of all the musical instruments. It is not only a musical instrument, but the embodiment of Chinese philosophy in pursuit of the oneness of human and nature or a harmony between internality and externality. Guqin unites the thoughts of Confucianism and Taoism, which emphasizes the non-hearable sound from the Guqin music(弦外之音). It focuses on the release of thought of moderate harmony, far-reaching heart tranquility. The masters of Guqin always say: the core of Guqin music is to apprehend the soul of matter via player’s heart to reach the ultimacy of the universe. In Confucianism, Guqin has a role of self-cultivation, and it is the embodiment of traditional spirituality of scholars, and the must to cultivate their morality and talents. Thanks to its long history, Guqin leaves us a fabulous cultural heritage. Today, the study of Guqin has been a popular aspect of traditional sinology. The specific guqin music available consists of more than 3,000 pieces. In ten top ancient music of China, the number of Guqin music covers seven of them. In 1977, United States of America launched its first artificial satellite, which carries a best seller of showing the humankind civilization. This music collection is comprised of 27 world-famous music strictly selected by musicians all over the world, and one of them is Guqin-played music named Liu Shui(流水).
The painting of guqin music themed with Gaoshan Liushui. The guqin music played by Yu Boya, and the listener was Zhong Ziqi. By the way, it is also the most famous painting highlighted with Guqin
The Performance of Guqin by Chen Leiji, a Famous Guqin Master at the modern times of China Born in a family of musicians in Shanghai in 1967, Chen Leiji started to learn guqin when he was nine years old under the guidance of guqin performer and educator Mr. Gong Yi and enrolled in the middle school attached to Shanghai Conservatory of Music when he was 12 and later in university, thus laying an impressive solid foundation of techniques. His performance releases vigorous, precise and penetrating timbre, expresses straighforward and naive feelings by discarding all mannerisms and values skills rather than appearances, thereby presenting a melody of unconstrained boldness weaving with flowing rhythm of infinite significance.
The Masterpieces of Guqin Music and The Classic Guqin: The famous masters of playing Guqin include: Fu Xi, Yao, Shun, Confucius, Sima Xiangru, Liu An, Liu Xiang, Shi Kuang, Shi Xiangzi, Emperor Yellow, Yu Boya and Zhong Ziqi, King Zhuangwang of Chu State, King Huan of Qi State, Cai Yong, Huan Tan, Su Shi, Li Xiangting, Guan Pinghu and so on. There are also a lot of famous masterpieces of Guqin like Gaoshan Liushui(高山流水), Hangong Qiuyue(汉宫秋月), Meihua Sanlong(梅花三弄), Yangguan Sandie(阳关三叠), Guangling San(广陵散), Pingsha Luoyan(平沙落雁), Xiaoxiang Shuiyun(潇湘水云), Fengqiuhuang(凤求凰), Puanzhou(普庵咒), Changmenyuan(长门怨), Yangchu(阳春), Baixue(白雪), Lisao(离骚), Changqing(长清), Longxiangcao(龙翔操), Mozi Beisi(墨子悲丝), Kongzi Duyi(孔子读易), Qiusaiyin(秋塞吟), Zhizhaofei(雉朝飞), Guguan Yushen(孤馆遇神), Qiujiang Yebo(秋江夜泊), Daoyi(捣衣), Oulu Wangji(鸥鹭忘机), Wuyeti(乌夜啼), Yuzhou Changwan(渔舟唱晚), Guanshanyue(关山月), Yueqiao Wenda(渔樵问答), Hujiashibapai(胡笳十八拍)and Yulou Chunxiao(玉楼春晓). The famous guqin in history include: Haozhong(号钟), Raoliang(绕梁), Lvqi(绿绮), Jiaowei(焦尾), Chunlei(春雷), Duyou(独幽), Jiuxiao Huanpei(九霄环佩), Meihualuo(梅花落), Dasheng Yiyin(大圣遗音) and Taigu Yiyin(太古遗音), and surely there are many other famous guqin recorded in many different books.
The Symbols and Standards of Guqin
The Symbols of Guqin: The shape of Guqin was finally fixed approximately in Han Dynasty. The shape is highlighted with the body of humankind and formation of phoenix. It also has head, neck, shoulder, waist, tail and foot, and is made up of two wutong woods. The most popular types of Guqin are Fuxi style, Shennong style, Shikuang style, Ziqi style, Zhongni style, Lianzhu style, Luoxia style and Jiaoye style. The main face of Guqin is round and inside-oriented suppression, and it symbolizes the heaven and Yang side. The opposite is quadrate and flat, and it symbolizes the earth and Yin side. The between is two sound slots named Longchi and Fengzhao respectively, which symbolize the variety of universe. The head of Guqin is wide and the tail is narrow to show the four seasons and eight festivals. On the external side of Guqin, thirteen remarkable signs are enchased to show the site of phoneme, and symbolize twelve months and an intercalary month. There are usually seven strings, and the external side is the undertone region, and the whole tone gradually rises from the outside to the inside. The seven strings respectively represent seven tones: Gong(C宫), Shang(D商), Jue(F角), Zhi(G徵), Yu(A羽), Shaozhi(c少徵) and Shaoyu(d少羽). The length of Guqin is 125cm or so, in ancient standard is Three Chi, Six Cun and Five Fen, which symbolize a year made up of 365 days. The width is roughly 20cm, in ancient standard is six Cun, which symbolizes the six sides of the universe, and the depth is roughly 6 cm, and in the traditional standard is 6 cm, which symbolizes the Yin-Yang Qi of Heaven and Earth.
The Standards of Playing Guqin: The Guqin players have a higher requirement to the sounds from Guqin. They summarize nine features of Guqin as Nine Moralities: Uniqueness, Oldness, Clarity, Tranquility, Mildness, Roundness, Clearness, Evenness and Elegance. There are also 24 perfections that the Guqin players try to reach: Peace, Harmony, Clarity, Remoteness, Ancientness, Lightness, Tranquility, Ease, Elegance, Beauty, Brightness, Colorfulness, Cleanness, Mildness, Roundness, Hardness, Grandness, Thinness, Smoothness and Healthiness, Gentleness, Heaviness, Slowness and Rapidness(和静清远，古淡恬逸，雅丽亮采，洁润圆坚，宏细溜健，轻重迟速), the performances of Guqin generally consist of three parts: the solo performance, song with Guqin music and concert.
The Taboos and Prohibitions of Playing Guqin: Playing Guqin has six taboos and seven prohibitions. Six taboos are mourning, tearfulness, worry, grief, desire and fright. Seven prohibitions: meeting the occasion of heavy wind and rain, the mood of sorrow and grief, the clothes worn informally, overdrinking and over-craziness, lack of incense burning, the sound apt to vulgarity as well as impurity.