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The Qin in Popular Culture: Novels and Opera
Boyi Kao and Daji 2
A perusal of existing qin melody titles shows that they do in fact most often deal with nature and the lofty and pure attitudes of qin players; and purists (some might say fundamentalists) even wrote that one shouldn't play the qin for merchants, courtesans, foreigners or other sorts of vulgar people.7 Certainly, they wrote, the instrument of the sages should not be associated with gain or romance, only with the Confucian desire to serve or the Daoist urge to remain aloof.8
On the other hand, it is important to note that depictions of the qin in popular culture often show the instrument in a somewhat different light. Novels and operas often mention the above attitudes towards the qin, but they also sometimes mock the pretence involved.9 They also temper these ideals with depictions of worldly activities. And the mention of qin is often confined to such stock phrases as "qin and books", qin and sword, and qin, chess, books and painting.
Relevant novels/stories and operas can be divided into two types, those which mention the qin, and those which have the same theme as qin melodies.10
I. Novels and operas with significant reference to the qin (and/or specific qin melodies11):
Selective list, in rough chronological order, operas first then novels.
There are quite a few more that can also be considered.12
II. Stories found in the repertoires of both qin and opera:
Chronological listing; pre-Qing dynasty titles only (LXS13 generally refers to these as qu or qupai14)
In addition, the 1833 commentary connecting Wild Geese on the Frontier (Saishang Hong) with kunqu suggests that this and hence perhaps other qin melodies may have been inspired by or even taken from opera. In this regard it should be useful to examine qin songs that share lyrics with existing operas,15 or melody titles that have also been identified as qupai (opera tunes).16
Finally, the detail with which qin melodies were written down compared to the sketchy written indications of music for traditional operas, opens up the question of whether there are melodies written for guqin that could help with the recovery of opera melodies. In this regard, one should put special focus on melodies and commentary in qin handbooks that seem specifically to have adapted opera melodies for guqin. These perhaps include Qinxue Canbian (1829?) 17 as well as Zhang Jutian Qinpu (1844). 18
Comments by Zha Fuxi outlined in his article Differentiating Qin Songs point out clearly some of the issues that would be involved in such an endeavor.
Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)
The Qin in Popular Culture
For qin in popular art, see some preliminary comments under Women and the qin. Opera references are mostly to 崑曲 kunqu if only because there is much more literature on this opera than on other forms.
Image: Boyi Kao and Da Ji, from Fengshen Yanyi
The flavor of modern popular illustrations is usually very different from pre-modern illustrations (compare the old Boyi Kao). The above illustration accompanies Chapter 19 in the 1992 English edition of Fengshen Yanyi (thanks to David Keffer).
Literati and popular culture
R. H. Van Gulik (Lore, pp. 48-9) wrote the following about the reality of the rôle of the qin in Chinese society.
The use of incense is discussed further
Changing attitudes towards guqin over time
James Watt's article The Qin and the Chinese Literati argues through analysis of paintings that from the Ming dynasty onward there was a shift from people naturally interacting with nature while playing the qin to people saying, "Look at me I am interacting with nature as I play the qin". This was perhaps connected to the rise of popular culture through commercial media such as printed books and popular opera.
Guqin in modern media
The focus of this page is qin references in classical times. For some more modern references see some Wikipedia pages, such as answers.com and schools. The latter mentions a Cantonese feature film for which I wrote and played qin music, House of the Lute (1979). (2010 update: someone seems to have removed that mention. My own page on House of the Lute has a relevant appendix called Guqin in Film.)
Restrictions on playing qin
Certain handbooks list sets of rules for when and where not to play qin. Complementing these rules about for whom one should not play are the statements in the first three paragraphs of Zhu Quan's Shen Qi Mi Pu preface saying who should not be playing (but who were at that time). The modern reader then must decide: How many people actually followed these rules? Was Zhu Quan accurate? Perhaps this is simply evidence of the qin's broader role in society. In this regard it is interesting to note illustrations 35 and 36 in Van Gulik's Lore of the Chinese Lute (between pp.224 and 225). In one someone is playing a qin facing a woman (geisha?) playing a sanxian three string banjo. In the other some merchants are playing qin, sanxian, sheng mouth organ and xiao end-blown flute.
The qin ideology section has more on orthodox attitudes towards the qin.
Satire on attitudes towards qin
Specific references to be added, but they include in particular the mention of qin in The Plum in the Golden Vase (Jin Ping Mei, below).
Opera titles often change or have variants. Only one title is included here.
Specific qin melodies played or mentioned in novels and operas
In opera the reality is that "played" means an actor pretends to play the melody; the music heard is probably unrelated. The melody titles include:
See also the qupai below.
Other novels and operas considered
In preparing this topic I have come across a number of works that mention qin but for which either the mention is not significant enough to warrant a separate page, or I have not yet found significant enough such information. Examples include:
To find the references search the indices for "zither" under "Musical Instruments". Most are passing references but there is a clear element of satire involved in the author's presentation of people who give lip service to the lofty ideals connected to the qin.
Searching for more such references remains an ongoing process.
Qu Pai (qupai) titles shared with qin melody titles
The Wikipedia entry on qupai defines it as a,
The ICTCL entry on qu seems to suggest an even stronger connection to opera. It says,
These 350 seem to be the so-called "qupai", though the ICTCL article does not specifically mention this term.
Qin songs set for opera lyrics
See for example Feng Yun Hui Si Chao Yuan from the famous opera Pipa Ji?7
Ming dynasty qin melody titles identified in
ZWDCD as qupai
There is no particular information suggesting any melodic connection between the following qin melody titles and the qupai with the same titles, but no one has studied this topic so it cannot be stated that there is no connection. Relevant qupai titles include:
This list was compiled by searching this site for 曲牌 or qupai, so it would have only yielded identified Yuan opera or opera tunes. Hence it does not include the titles listed above, which came later.
Qinxue Canbian (琴學參變; 1827?)
See QQJC XX/351-361. Zha Fuxi's preface (attached .pdf) mentions kunqu. It seems to have seven melodies, all with lyrics and opera connections, but they are not paired in the standard way: fewer characters! The handbook was copied by 錢一桂 Qian Yigui at the age of 74(?).
The seven apparent melodies are:
This book was not included in Zha's Guide and I am not clear on some of these titles, so I have not yet completed all the links to the index. In addition, I have not yet yet confirmed the specifics of the opera connections.
Zhang Jutian Qinpu (張鞠田琴譜; 1844)
QQJC XXIII/209-340 and QSCB Chapter 9, p.172, entitled, "Zhang Jutian who dared to 'follow the inelegant'" (~1779 - ~1846)
Zhang, from Zhaoyang (northeast of Yangzhou), was an artist as well as a qin player. QSCB says that previously local songs had been adapted for qin (e.g., compare Cheng Xiong), but Zhang did it in a much larger way; he also added gongche notation (but no apparent note value indications). Later people who also made these sorts of settings included such players as Zhu Fengjie, Zhang He and Yang Shibai.
Zha Fuxi's preface to the handbook (attached .pdf) says "only the last 15 entries are traditional qin melodies. The rest, such as Yangguan Qu, Xie Ben, Ban Qiao Dao Qing, Tie Luo, Wu Gua Mei and Hua Gu from the 11 Kunqu melodies, come at the front...." All seem to have some sort of notation as well as the tablature. They do not seem strictly to be paired in standard way.
A complete list of melodies in Zhang Jutian Qinpu is as follows (note that it is actually the beginner's melody at front then the last 14 melodies that actually are traditional qin melodies):
(Traditional qin melodies:)
To my knowledge none of these melodies has been reconstructed from the tablature in this handbook.
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