Qin Cao
 T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
Qinshu Cunmu     Annotated handbook list 首頁
Qin Cao 1
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  
There are at least two different versions of Qin Cao (Qin Melodies) attributed to Cai Yong;

  1. The one included in Taiyin Daquanji; sample pages are here as well as in the top half of the illustration at right (expand). It is outlined here. 4
  2. The better known one, found in the Pingjin Guan Book Collection; it is discussed here in the main text and is illustrated in lower half at right (expand). 5

Both versions list four types of qin pieces: 5 Melodies, 12 Laments, Nine Preludes and 21 further pieces. The main differences between these two are:

  1. The closing list of the Qin Cao in Taiyin Daquanji is 21 pieces called Hejian Yage (listed below) while the Pingjin Guan edition ends with 21+3 completely different pieces referred to as Hejian Zage listed here.
  2. The Pingjin Guan edition has extended commentary with each entry while the Taiyin Daquanji version is a list only (except in editions that begin with a brief yinshi commentary: compare the upper image at right, which simply lists all the pieces, almost all on one page, with the image here, which precedes the list with yinshi commentary). By contrast, the Pingjun Guan edition (lower image at right) has not finished its commentary on the first piece by the end of the first page.

In addition to this (or to these two) Qin Cao attributed to Cai Yong, there have 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 edition 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 Qin Cao 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 (琴操校本序)
By 馬瑞辰 Ma Ruichen, 18056

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 Gulik8).

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..9)

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

  1. 鹿鳴 Lu Ming (Deer Call; Mao#161)10
  2. 伐檀 Fa Tan (Chop Sandalwood; Mao#112)11
  3. 騶虞 Zouyu (The Zouyu [a fabulous tiger]; Mao#25)12
  4. 鵲巢 Que Chao (Magpie's Nest; Mao#12)13
  5. 白駒 Bai Ju (White Colt; Mao#186)14

(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)15

(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 Yage16; 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


Significance uncertain.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Qin Cao attributed to Cai Yong
Qinshu Cunmu, which gives only an outline, gives the following as references for its Qin Cao entry. The first is an edition of the work; some of the others may be as well.

平津館校本 Pingjin Guanjiao (this is the one I have seen)
惠氏校錄本 Huishi Jiaolu
漢魏遺書輯本 Han Wei Yishuji
玉函山房輯本 Yuhan Shanfangji
讀畫齋本 Duhuazhai

21570.92 琴操 lists the pieces (giving only "雜歌 za ge for the last section, i.e., no mention of 河間 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.

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).

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
The upper image comes from a facsimile edition in the National Palace Museum, Taiwan. The lower image was copied from QQJC XXX/24. See also the next two footnotes.

4.  Qin Cao, Taiyin Daquanji edition
The top half of the image above (expanded) is from a facsimile edition, but the same 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.

5.  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 the Pingjin Guan edition of Cai Yong's Qin Cao apparently survives only because of this early 19th century copy, Qin Cao was quoted enough in early sources that it is considered quite authentic (at least to as far back as the Song dynasty). However, as can be seen from the above, there are inconsistencies both in the titles and in the accompanying explanations (or lack thereof).

6. 馬瑞辰 Ma Ruichen 1775 - 1853; Bio/82 (Return)

7. Original Chinese of this Qin Cao, preface head (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".

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

9. Commentary on each melody
Other editions may once have had commentary, but only in the Pingjin Guan edition do they seem to survive as a complete set.

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

11. 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.

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

13. 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).

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

15. 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.

16. 河間雜歌 Hejian Zage versus 河間雅歌 Hejian Yage
As outlined above there are two competing versions of Qin Cao, for unknown reasons differing mainly in the content of the "further pieces" of the fourth part. The two different versions can be found here:

  1. 河間雜歌 Hejian Zage listed above (from the the Pingjin Guan edition of the Qin Cao in 琴學叢書 Qinxue Congshu [QQJC XXX/24]; also in Qin Fu, p.739),
  2. 河澗雅歌 Hejian Yage listed here (from the Qin Cao in Taiyin Daquanji, Folio 4 [QQJC I/26-27 and 80-81]; also in Qin Fu, p. 74f).

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)

In addition to the 21 (+3) Hejian Zage being almost completely different from these 21 Hejian Yage, there do not seem to be any versions of the Hejian Yage with commentary. 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), but there are no accounts of the content of these melodies; in addition, I have not yet found the Hejian Yage listed elsewhere. On the other hand, Qinxue Congshu Book I Parts 2 has details of each Hejian Zage piece (details not yet online; it is also in Qin Fu, p. 739ff).

These two differing lists of the titles thus present a problem in studying Qin Cao, as the titles are almost completely different from each other. Further complicating matters, the 1525 commentary on You Lan (#6 in Hejian Yage) says it is included among 21 "雜弄 Zanong", making no mention of "Yage".

However, I have not yet found comment elsewhere regarding 河間雜歌 Hejian Zage vs. 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.)

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