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5. Ballad of the Highroad
- gong mode:2 standard tuning 5 6 1 2 3 5 6
康衢謠 1
Kangqu Yao

This melody and title appear only here in Xilutang Qintong. It has seven sections, with the lyrics of the short ballad translated below at the beginning of the sixth section. These lyrics, as well as the title itself, show that the melody was inspired by a story in the Daoist text Liezi. The translation by A. C. Graham is as follows:4

When Yao had ruled the Empire for fifty years, he did not know whether the Empire was in order or not, whether the millions desired to carry him on their heads or not. He turned to his courtiers and asked them, but his courtiers did not know. He questioned visitors who came to court, but his visitors did not know. He inquired in the provinces, but in the provinces they did not know. Then Yao wandered in disguise on the highroads. He heard a boy singing a ballad (中文):

'You raised us up, the multitudes;
All observe your standards.
Unknowing, unremembering,
We obey the laws of God.'

Yao, delighted, asked him:
'Who taught you to repeat this saying?'
'I heard it from a high official.'
He asked the official, who knew only that it was an old verse.
Yao returned to his palace, summoned
Shun and, because of what he had seen, abdicated the Empire. Shun made no formal excuses and accepted at once.

The suggestion here is that Yao abdicated not because he was doing a poor job, but because the empire was so well run that he was no longer needed. Regarding the reference to "God", the original Chinese word is "di", which also means emperor: the emperor was originally considered as a deity, but commentary on this text says the reference is to the tiandi: god of heaven.

Original Afterword 5

After Fang Xun (i.e., Yao) had ruled 50 years the world was transformed and so there was harmony. (The people) had no learning and did not know anything, but they followed the laws of God. Hearing the Ballad of the Highroad, this qin melody was created.

Music of Kangqu Yao
7 sections, untitled; Section 6 begins with a setting of the lyrics translated
above (Chinese; timings follow my recording)

00.00   1.
00.34   2.
01.00   3.
01.35   4. (harmonics)
02.07   5.
02.55   6. (Begins with the lyrics translated above)
03.41   7.
04.16         Closing harmonics
04.37         End

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Ballad of the Highroad (康衢謠 Kangqu Yao)
9566.201 康衢: 大路也 kangqu is a great road, giving Er Ya as its earliest reference. Qu by itself means "thoroughfare", while kang suggests "robust".
9566.202 康衢謠 refers only to the Liezi story related here. The original text of the story, translated above, is from 列子,仲尼 Liezi, Confucius (Chapter 5), as follows:

堯治天下五十年,不知天下治歟,不治歟?不知億兆之願戴己歟?不願戴己歟 ? 顧問左右,左右不知.問外朝,外朝不知.問在野,在野不知.堯乃微服 游於康衢,聞兒童謠曰:


堯喜 問曰:「誰教爾為此言?」童兒曰:「我聞之大夫.」 問大夫.大夫曰:「古詩 ].」堯還宮,召舜,因禪以天下.舜不辭而受之.

For my commentary I also examined the annotations on p.151 of the 台灣古籍出版社 Taiwan Guqi Chubanshe edition.

2. Gong mode (宮調 Gong diao)
For more on gong mode see Shenpin Gong Yi and Modality in Early Ming Qin Tablature. Standard gong mode melodies published around this time treat the tuning as 5 6 1 2 3 5 6, with 1 (the open third string) as the primary tonal center (most phrases end on gong) and 5 as the secondary tonal center. The lack of punctuation in the present tablature means that instead of using phrase endings to confirm the mode, the above understanding of the mode led to many decisions about phrase endings.

4. Story in Liezi
See Graham p.90. as well as the original text.

5. Afterword
The original text is:


The statement here about harmony is similar to the statement in the 尚書, 虞書, 堯典 biography of Yao in the Shang Shu that under Yao the "黎民於變時雍 the black haired people (i.e., the Chinese) were transformed and so there was harmony". As for 「不識不知,順帝之則」, this is found in a number of ancient sources. Other translations include,

"Without consciousness of effort on your part, In accordance with the pattern of God." (Legge)
"You do not try to be clever or knowing, But follow God's precepts." (Waley)

The latter two are describing King Wen in 皇矣 Huang Yi: Song 241 in the Book of Songs.

Return to the annotated handbook list or to the Guqin ToC.