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Qin Cao 1
"Qin Melodies"; by Cai Yong (133 - 192), with added comment on other Qin Cao 2
  A sample page from two versions of Cai Yong's Qin Cao 3  
A Qin Cao attributed to Cai Yong (133-192) was often mentioned or even quoted in subsequent centuries4 but there are no surviving copies of any works of that actual title prior to the Qing dynasty. The closest possible example of such a work prior to the Qing dynasty seems to be a listing in the Chu Xue Ji by the Tang dynasty literatus Xu Jian.5 This in turn seems to be the source of the listing of melodies found in the Ming dynasty handbook variously known as Taigu Yiyin and Taiyin Daquanji.6

After this there do not seem to have been any further Qin Cao listings until the Qing dynasty, when many such "Qin Cao" attributed to Cai Yong were produced (partial list). These generally have commentary on the melodies, but their content varies quite a bit and their sources are generally unclear. It is thus difficult to assess the significance of any or these surviving versions.

The focus of this page is on the two most readily available versions in print today, which are as follows:

  1. The earlier one, outlined here and based on this Tang dynasty source but without the title "Qin Cao"; it was included in a Ming dynasty edition of Taiyin Daquanji. Sample pages are here (red #8) as well as in the top half of the illustration at right (expand). 7
  2. A better known one, typical of those found in the Qing dynasty; it was included in the Pingjin Guan Book Collection. This one is discussed here in the main text of Taiyin Daquanji and is partially illustrated at right in the lower half (expand). 8

Both versions list four types of qin pieces: 5 Melodies, 12 Laments, 9 Preludes and 21 further "Hejian" pieces (compare the Pingjin list and Taiyin list). The main differences between these two are:

  1. The Qin Cao in Taiyin Daquanji adds 21 titles where the Tang dynasty list says only "Hejian Zage 21 pieces"; it also calls the list Hejian Yage (listed here). In contrast, the Pingjin Guan edition ends with 21+3 completely different pieces referred to as Hejian Zage.
  2. The Taiyin Daquanji version is a list only (except in editions that begin with a brief yinshi). In contrast, the Pingjin Guan edition has extended commentary with each entry.9

As mentioned here, some skepticism has been expressed as to whether there ever was a "Qin Cao" actually written by Cai Yong. Such an argument might suggest that Cai did somewhere list qin melodies, and that it was one such list that was included in the Chu Xue Ji. The same argument might then add that then during the Qing dynasty some person or persons decided to take such a listing, introduce the listed melodies as Cai Yong might have done, then refer to the resulting text as the Qin Cao of Cai Yong. This, however, is little more than speculation.

In addition to these two types of Qin Cao attributed to Cai Yong himself, there have also been various other Qin Cao attributed to other writers. Sometimes this may refer to a single piece, other times specifically to (lists of) "cao", other times to (lists of) melodies in general. This leads to some confusion because "Qin Cao" is quoted extensively in Yuefu Shiji, Qin Shi and elsewhere, but the author/source is almost never identified. This suggests the quote should be from the most famous version, by Cai Yong. However, the quotes there are not always the same as what is given the Pingjin Guan or other existing editions of the surviving Qin Cao attributed to Cai Yong. This leaves open the question of differing editions as well as competing titles. Here comments about this are generally referenced through links or in footnotes.

The "cao" in Qin Cao has the basic meaning of "melody" or "melodies", but cao can also mean "lament". Both of these meanings can be found in the individual qin cao in the list attributed to Cai Yong: it divides melodies into various types, one of which is the cao, or lament.

Contents of Qin Cao (Pingjin Guan edition)

Preface to the Revised Edition
By Ma Ruichen, 180510

Preface Head
In the Pingjin Guan edition this is as follows:

Fu Xi made a qin, whereby to restrain falsehood, to guard the heart against low desires, that man might be cultivated and his nature regulared, to make man return to what is truly heavenly in him (Van Gulik12).

The qin is 3 chi, 6 cun, 6 fen long, resembling the 360 days in a year. It is 6 cun wide, resembling the 6 harmonies. Above the (文?) is called a "pool"; below is called a "cliff". A pool is a pond; it speaks of being level. Below (this? is the area) called a "shoreline"; a shoreline is a guest, it speaks of being ready to serve. It is broad in front and narrow in back, (thus) resembling social rank. Above it is round, below it is square, (thus) following the plan of heaven and earth.

The five strings (are gong?.... elsewhere the words 宮也 are omitted; perhaps some other editions include the four names of what were considered the five original strings), resembling the five elements (metal, wood, water, fire, earth). The big (first) string is the master; it is broad-minded and genial. The small string (second string) is the servant, modest and not disorderly. Wen Wang and Wu Wang each added a string (see Zhu Quan comment); this was in order to draw together the affections of the master and vassal. Gong (string) is lord, shang (string) is servant, jue (string) is the people, zhi (string) is affairs, yu (string) is objects.

Qin Cao had five melodies for Book of Songs poems. The first was (all five are listed as below); the 12 laments were (listed as below); the 9 preludes were (listed as below). There were 21 Hejian Zage (not listed in the preface).

(List of the melodies in Qin Cao, with introductions to each (as in QQJC XXX/17-30)
(Not yet translated; follow the links or footnotes for further details of each piece..13)

(Five Melodies for Book of Songs Poems 歌詩五曲)

  1. 鹿鳴 Lu Ming (Deer Call; Mao#161)14
  2. 伐檀 Fa Tan (Chop Sandalwood; Mao#112)15
  3. 騶虞 Zouyu (The Zouyu [a fabulous tiger]; Mao#25)16
  4. 鵲巢 Que Chao (Magpie's Nest; Mao#12)17
  5. 白駒 Bai Ju (White Colt; Mao#186)18

(Twelve Laments 十二操)
(Individual melody titles should perhaps also render "cao" as "lament")

  1. 將歸操 Jiang Gui Cao (About to Return Melody)
  2. 猗蘭操 Yilan Cao (Esteemed Orchid Melody)
  3. 龜山操 Guishan Cao (Turtle Mountain Melody)
  4. 越裳操 Yueshang Cao (Yueshang Melody)
  5. 拘幽操 Juyou Cao (Gloomy-Detention Melody)
  6. 岐山操 Qishan Cao (Melody of Mount Qi)
  7. 履霜操 Lü Shuang Cao (Walking-in-the-Frost Melody)
  8. 朝飛操 Zhi Zhao Fei Cao (Melody of the Pheasant Flies in the Morning)
  9. 別鶴操 Bie He Cao, see under Bie Gu Cao (Parting Snowgoose Melody)
  10. 殘形操 Can Xing Cao (Partial Form Melody)
  11. 水仙操 Shuixian Cao, (Water Immortals' Melody); see Shuixian Qu (and text)
  12. 懷陵操 Huailing Cao (Cherished Mound Melody)19

(Nine Preludes 九引)

  1. 列女引 Lienü Yin
  2. 伯姬引 Boji Yin (see the Governess of Boji)
  3. 貞女引 Zhen Nü Yin (see the Woman of Lu)
  4. 思歸引 Si Gui Yin (see also the Woman of Wei)
  5. 霹靂引 Pili Yin (also see Fenglei Yin)
  6. 走馬引 Zouma Yin (see Shuli Mugong)
  7. 箜篌引 Konghou Yin (see Huoli Zigao)
  8. 琴引     Qin Yin (see Tumen Gao)
  9. 楚引     Chu Yin (see Longqiu Gao)

(21 Hejian Zage 河閒雜歌二十一章 ; compare Hejian Yage 20; QQJC XXX/24-30)

  1. 箕山操         Jishan Cao (see under Dunshi Cao)
  2. 周太伯         Zhou Taibo (= Aishang zhi Ge?)
  3. 文王受命     Wen Wang Shou Ming (see Wen Wang)
  4. 文王思士     Wen Wang Si Shi (see Wen Wang)
  5. 思親操         Si Qin Cao (see in 1511)
  6. 周金縢         Zhou Jin Teng (see under Feng Lei Yin)
  7. 儀鳳歌         Yi Feng Ge (see Xiaoshao Jiucheng, Fenghuang Laiyi)
  8. 龍蛇歌         Long She Ge (elsewhere called Shi Shi Zhi Cao)
  9. 芑梁妻歎     Qi Liang Qi Tan (by the Wife of Qi Liang)
  10. 崔子渡河操 Cuizi Du He Cao ("by Minzi")
  11. 楚明光         Chu Ming Guang (see Chu Ming Guang)
  12. 信立退怨歌 Xin Li Tui Yuan Ge (see Bian He)
  13. 曾子歸耕     Zengzi Gui Geng (see under Zengzi)
  14. 梁山操         Liangshan Cao (also under Zengzi)
  15. 諫不違歌     Jian Bu Wei Ge (see Shi Yu)
  16. 莊周獨處吟 Zhuangzhou Du Chu Yin (details)
  17. 孔子厄         Kongzi E (see Confucius)
  18. 三士窮         San Shi Qiong (see Three Gentlemen)
  19. 聶政刺韓王 Nie Zheng Ci Hanwang (translation; Hejian Yage has Guangling San, about which see further)
  20. 霍將軍歌     Huo Jiangjun Ge
  21. 怨曠思惟歌 Yuankuang Siwei Ge (concerns Wang Zhaojun)

  22. 處女吟         Chu Nü Yin (commentary missing; see YFSJ)
  23. 流澌咽         Liu Si Yin (commentary missing; see YFSJ)
  24. 雙燕離         Shuang Yan Li (commentary missing; see YFSJ)
Qin Cao Supplemental Notes 琴操補遺
Seems to introduce old melodies, citing the sources.

  1. "魯哀公十四年西狩新者獲麟...." (獲麟操 Huo Lin
  2. 伍員奔吳.... Wu Zi Xu Flees to Wu
  3. 伍子胥歌曰:俟罪....
  4. 伍子胥歌曰:庶此....
  5. 甯戚飯牛車....: Ning Qi Feeds the Ox (Pulling his) Cart
  6. 孔子遊於臈山,見取薪而哭....: Confucius travels to Ji Shan (? Elsewhere 山, 臘山, 隅山....) and cries when he is offered a salary.... (see 論語憲問 Lun Yu, Xian Wen 1)
  7. 孔子遊於泰山,見薪者哭....:Confucius travels to Tai Shan and cries.... (compare previous)
  8. 雍門周說:孟嘗君....:Yongmen Zhou says, Lord Mengchang....
  9. 得天下之意.... (only title and source)

There seems to be significant variety in the Supplemental Notes of the various editions.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Qin Cao attributed to Cai Yong
This page has been revised in 2022 with help from 陶冉 Tao Ran, whose M.A. thesis at Nanjing University is entitled "《琴操》的文本生成與影響流變" ("The Text Generation and Variations of Influence on Qin Cao)". The thesis discusses the significance of the differences between the varying versions, but "is not yet ready for publication."

琴書存目 Qinshu Cunmu entry 12 outlines the book, giving the following as references. Most of them seem to be Qing dynasty collections containing editions of a Qin Cao.

平津館校本 Pingjin Guanjiao (this is the one most readily available)
讀畫齋 Duhuazhai (1799; missing 五曲#4 explanation + 河閒雜歌 7 & 8); 補 diff.
漢魏遺書輯 Han Wei Yishuji (1802)
惠氏校錄 Huishi Jiaolu
玉函山房輯 Yuhan Shanfang Ji

21570.92 琴操 lists the pieces (giving only "雜歌 za ge" for the last section, i.e., no mention of 河間/河閒 hejian or 雅歌 ya ge). There is some skepticism that any of the versions of Qin Cao surviving today actually date back to Cai Yong himself. Of this David R. Knechtges, Ancient and Early Medieval Chinese Literature, p.65, writes:

"Cai Yong was a skilled zither player.... He is attributed with the Qin cao 琴操 (Zither tunes), but some scholars have disputed his authorship. The monograph on bibliography in the Sui shu lists a Cai Yong ji 蔡邕集 (Collected works of Cai Yong) in twelve juan. It also notes that a Liang dynasty catalogue listed his collection in twenty juan with a one-juan table of contents. Cai’s collection seems to have survived into Song times. It is listed as a twenty-juan work in the Xin Tang shu. There was a printing of Cai’s collection by Ouyang Jing 歐陽靜 in the northern Song. This printing did not survive, but his preface, dated 1023 is included in later printings of Cai’s collection...."

This suggests that tracing the existing materials to before the Song dynasty will be very difficult. Could it also mean that the passage copied here from Taiyin Daquanji is an outline of some text connected only in some uncertain way to Cai Yong, but that was later expanded to form a work called "Qin Cao" and attributed to him?

2. The various 琴操 Qin Cao
Because in the materials referenced on this website there is so much mention of "Qin Cao" without further qualification, these references are not always clear. Since the most famous list called "Qin Cao" (whether it is the annotated version or not) is said to be by Cai Yong, there is a tendency simply to ascribe these references to his listing. The first problem with this is the fact that, as mentioned in the first paragraph above, there are at least two versions of the Qin Cao list attributed to Cai Yong (see in particular the two different Hejian sections). This issue is discussed further in this footnote.

In addition, there were also some early Qin Cao written by others. Thus, for quotations simply attributed to a "Qin Cao", especially those that do not seem to refer to either of the Cai Yong versions, one must consider that they are from one of the other books of that name, all apparently lost. The ones known by name include,

  1. Qin Cao by Huan Tan (ca. 43 BCE - 28 CE; QSCM, #10)
  2. Qin Cao by 孔衍 Kong Yan (268 - 320; QSCM, #17)
  3. Qin Cao by two anonymous authors (QSCM, #18

In addition there are a number of collections of poetry or lyrics called Qin Cao. These include,

  1. Qin Cao by Han Yu (all set to music in (Taigu Yiyin)
  2. Qin Cao by various writers, collected in Qinshu Daquan, Folio 13, Part I.

In some cases it is not clear even whether "Qin Cao" is referring to the title of a list (annotated or not), or whether it simply means "a qin melody".

3.  Image: two editions of Qin Cao
This shows the short version plus the beginning of the long version.

Further detail in the next two footnotes.

4.  Early references to a Qin Cao by Cai Yong
To be added.

5.  Source of the list in Taiyin Daquanji
This information comes from the thesis of
Tao Ran, which cites the original source of this list as a Tang dynasty publication by 徐堅 Xu Jian (659–729; Wiki) called 初學記 Chu Xue Ji([唐]徐堅:《初學記》卷十六《樂部》,中華書局,1962,第386頁。). His work lists the content of Qin Cao is as follows (reformatted here):


Note that the last section is called Hejian Zage and its "21 melodies" are not named.

6.  Qin Cao, Taiyin Daquanji edition
The top half of the image above (expanded; "強觧" [i.e., 強解] comes from the end of the "音釋" yinshi, translated there in two parts) is from a facsimile edition, but the same text can be found in Qin Fu p. 74 as well as QQJC I/26 (except that there the last section of Qin Cao melodies is called 河間雅歌 instead of 河澗雅歌). In both cases the list is identified as from Qin Cao only at the end. Red marks were added to show that statement as well as the headings for each group of pieces.

7.  Qing dynasty editions of Qin Cao attributed to Cai Yong
The Ming dynasty listing, as mentioned above, differs from the later editions in that the last section is called 河間雅歌 Hejian Yage rather than 河間雜歌 Hejian Zage. The earliest edition with 河間雜歌 Hejian Zage is apparently the one in the 讀畫齋叢書 Duhuazhai Congshu (1799), followed shortly by one in 漢魏遺書鈔 Han Wei Yishu Chao (1802). On this see further

8.  Qin Cao, Pingjin Guan edition
平津館叢書 Pingjin Guan Congshu (9371.241; compiled by 孫星衍 Sun Xingyan, 1753-1818) was published in the early 19th century but the date of works copied into the collection is not certain (www.chinaknowledge.de says some date from the Song dynasty). QSCM (which also includes other Qin Cao) has only an outline; I have seen two reprints of what is apparently the complete version of this edition:

  1. In Qinxue Congshu (1910), Folios 1 and 2 (QQJC XXX/17-30)
    Also in Tong Kin-Woon's Qin Fu, p.739 (p.746 begins the 河間雜歌 Hejian Zage; note however that for the Taigu Yin version Qin Fu p.74 has 河澗雅歌 for Hejian Yage).

  2. In 叢書集成初編 Congshu Jicheng Chubian, 中華書局, 1985, Vol. 1671.
    This edition has punctuation and some commentary (double-column) added.

Although all these extended editions of Cai Yong's Qin Cao apparently survive only because of their varying Qing dynasty versions, beginning around 1800, Qin Cao was mentioned or quoted enough in early sources that all these later works are commonly attributed directly to him. However, as can be seen from the above, the inconsistencies both in the titles and in the accompanying explanations (or lack thereof) makes it impossible to know what Cai Yong himself actually wrote.

9. Differences between the two versions
The upper image
top right shows the earlier version simply listing all the pieces, with almost all on one page; the image here shows that the list is preceded by yinshi commentary. By contrast, the image from the Pingjun Guan edition (lower image at top right) has not finished its commentary on the first piece by the end of the first page.

10. Preface to the Revised Edition of Pingjin Guan (琴操校本序)
By 馬瑞辰 Ma Ruichen ca. 1777 - 1853; Bio/82. The text here begins (first 5 of 37 lines),


Colin Huehns translated the opening as follows,

‘There is not one single form to qin practice (“cao”); there are chang pieces and ge songs; in respect of shi poems, there are cao pieces and yin pieces, and all are encompassed by the generic term “cao”. Regarding pieces of the chang type, the term “chang” emphasizes their aspirational nature. Huan Tan in Xin lun: “The notion ‘connecting’ is to the benefit of the world, and there is nothing to which a progression is not made thereto.” Regarding pieces of the cao type, they exhibit moral principles. Xin lun: “Through the discipline of adversity comes the practice of solitary self-cultivation and in this way not losing moral principles thereto.”....

Translation copied from Brill.

11. Original Chinese of this Qin Cao, head of preface (琴操,平津館校本,序首) says:


The words translated here as "falsehood" and "low desires" are "邪 xie" (40180) and "淫 yin" (18095). According to 40180.44 "邪淫 xieyin" these were first brought together in Shi Ji, annals of Xia; but here they seem to be used separately, so was apparently later that they came to be used together as an expression for debauchery, the antithesis of the aims with guqin. In general, "邪淫 xieyin" seems to be the more common term, but it can also be written "淫邪 yinxie".

12. Van Gulik translated the beginning of this preface in Lore, p. 42.

13. Commentary on each melody
Some editions have different commentary. The Pingjin Guan edition is cited here as a readily available complete set.

14. 鹿鳴 Lu Ming: Deer Call
Mao#161; Seng, Most ancient;
Zha's Guide 30/237/444; 6 handbooks

15. 伐檀 Fa Tan: Chop Sandalwood
Mao#112 (坎坎伐檀兮,寘之河之干兮....); Seng, Most ancient. All set the lyrics
Zha's Index 39/267/553; 4 handbooks:

  1. 1744 (XVIII/260); 3 sections; jiaoyin
  2. 1864 (XXIV/268); 3 sections are not number; melody seems related though set very differently
  3. 1894 (XXVIII/252); similar again, closer to 1744?
  4. 1910 (XXX/206); "from 1744" (but first two notes are open 5th instead of 1st)

From 1910 there is a recording by Yang Baoyuan.

16. 騶虞 Zouyu: The Zouyu (a fabulous tiger)
Mao#25; Seng, Most ancient. Not in Zha's index

17. 鵲巢 Que Chao: Magpie's Nest
Mao#12; Seng, Most ancient.
Zha's Index 39/--/555; two handbooks, 1745 (XVI/361 & 369: only note names) and 1835
The Shi Jing poem has an allegory to a magpie raising a 鳩 cuckoo. The Qin Cao preface is missing.
No connection to Magpie Bridge (鵲橋 Que Qiao: see lyrics for Qing Ping Yue).

18. 白駒 Bai Ju (White Colt)
Mao#186; not in Seng. Not in Zha's index

19. Huailing Cao
This lament from Qin Cao, attributed here to Bo Ya (see under Gao Shan), may no longer exist, but the Song dynasty melody list Qin Shu: Qu Ming has the second version below as an alternate title for Gao Shan. Huai Ling has been written two ways.

  1. 壞陵(操) Ruined Mound (Lament). 5709.xxx, but 2/1241 壞陵 (no "cao") says it is the 12th of Cai Yong's Qin Cao. This title can be found, e.g., in Nandu Xinshu and Feng Ru Song Ge.

  2. 懷陵操 Cherished Mound Lament. Taiyin Daquanji and Qinxue Congshu (TKW, QF, p.739) both write Huai Ling Cao in this way. 7/790 has no 懷陵 huailing but 11716.117 huai ling says it is a grave name; this and the above-mentioned connection to Gao Shan lead one to speculate that the title refers to the grave of Bo Ya's qin friend Ziqi. However, there is no mention of a melody. Neither name is in Zha Fuxi's index of melodies in existing handbooks.

20. 河間雜歌 Hejian Zage versus 河間雅歌 Hejian Yage
ZWDCD has no 河間; its 17634 has only .153 河閒樂 Hejian Yue and I have not found other dictionary references. (I have also seen the hejian of 河間雜歌 written as 河澗 but 17634 has no 河澗.) Furthermore, as outlined above, after the listing surviving from the Ming dynasty Taigu Yiyin with its 21 Hejian Yage there seem to have been a variety of Qin Cao with longer commentary and for unknown reasons differing content of the "further pieces" of the fourth part, generally called "Hejian Zage".

It thus remains unclear why these two representative versions, as outlined here, have completely different content for the fourth part. It is also not clear why the various Za ge listings in the Qing dynasty editions such as those listed here, also have considerable differences.

The 21 Hejian Yage titles are as follows:
(上古, 中古 and 下古 refer to the list of
Seng Juyue; there does not seem to be a version of this list with commentary)

    河間雅歌 Hejian Yage

  1. 蔡氏五弄 Cai Shi Wunong (Five melodies of the Cai Clan; see in 1511)
  2. 雙鳳     Shuang Feng (Paired Phoenixes; see Zhang Anshi [or Qing Anshi])
  3. 離鸞     Li Luan (Parting of the Fabulous Luan; see Zhang Anshi [or Qing Anshi])
  4. 歸鳳     Gui Feng (Returning Phoenix; see under the qin of Zhao He but compare 歸風 Returning Wind in the You Lan list, connected to Zhao Feiyan)
  5. 送遠     Song Yuan (Seen off to a Distant Place; see Zhao Feiyan)
  6. 幽蘭     You Lan (Solitary Orchid; 上古 ; in Jieshi mode?)
  7. 白雪     Bai Xue (White Snow; 上古 ; see in 1425; no Yang Chun!)
  8. 長清     Chang Qing (Long Clarity, 下古 ; see in 1425)
  9. 短清     Duan Qing (Short Clarity, 下古 ; see in 1425)
  10. 長側     Chang Ce (Long Slant; see in 1525)
  11. 短側     Duan Ce (Short Slant; 下古 see in 1525 )
  12. 清調     Qing Diao (Clear Tune; a YFSJ, melody type?)
  13. 大遁     Da Dun (Great Concealment; 5960.xxx)
  14. 小遊     Xiao You (Short Ramble; 7632.xxx)
  15. 明君     Ming Jun (see in YFSJ)
  16. 胡笳     Hu Jia (Barbarian Reedpipe; 中古 ; see in Da Hujia, etc.)
  17. 廣陵散 Guangling San (Guangling Melody; 下古 ; see in 1425. The Zage has Nie Zheng Ci Han Wang.)
  18. 白魚歎 Bai Yu Tan (White Fish Elegy; 23191.709xxx)
  19. 楚妃歎 Chu Fei Tan (Chu Concubine Elegy; 上古 ; see Fan Ji)
  20. 風入松 Feng Ru Song (Wind Enters the Pines; see in 1511)
  21. 烏夜啼 Wu Ye Ti (Evening Call of the Raven; 下古 ; see in 1425)

As mentioned above, the 21 (+3) Hejian Zage are almost completely different from these 21 Hejian Yage, but these Ya Ge may have originally themselves been called Za Ge, though that listing has no content. As yet I have not found any other lists called "Hejian Yage". And although the Hejian Yage list in Taiyin Daquanji says it is from Qin Cao, and just above it are also listed the contents of the first three sections (though with no mention of Cai Yong), there are no accounts of the content of the Ya Ge.

This thus contrasts with what is Qinxue Congshu Book I Parts 2, which has details of each Hejian Zage piece (details not yet online; it is also in Qin Fu, p. 739ff). All the later Qin Cao seem also to have this commentary, though its lists also differ.

Note that the 1525 commentary on You Lan (#6 in Hejian Yage) says it is included among 21 "雜弄 Zanong", making no mention of "Yage".

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