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Du Fu 杜甫

Du Fu (712 - 770),1 though "one of the great geniuses of world literature,"2 was little known until the 11th century. Now a great deal of information about him is generally available. Here, after a brief sketch, this page will focus on his connections to the qin.3

Biographies of Du Fu like to place his poetry into three distinctive periods of his life, not including his childhood. He was born in Henan,4 but his cultured family had its roots in Jingzhao, a region which included the Tang capital, Chang-An.5 During his first productive period, from about 731 to 745, he traveled, mostly in eastern China, though he also went to capital Chang'an, where he failed the Imperial Examinations. From 745 to 759 he lived in or near the capital, finally passing the Exam in 753. After the rebellion of An Lushan in 755, but during its extension by Shi Siming from 757 to 763, Du Fu moved west, spending his third period, 757 - 770, mostly in Gansu, Sichuan and Hunan provinces. Best-known is the period at his thatched cottage in Chengdu.6 He died in Changsha.7

Du Fu as a poet was so prolific that, although many of his poems were lost, almost 1,500 survive. At least 20 of these poems mention the qin.8 However, the collection of qin poems in Qinshu Daquan seems to have only one these:9

    琴臺 Qin Terrace Folio 20B, #7 (V. 451)10

Other relevant poems which have been translated include the following,

  1. 絕句漫興   Free Mood (I know well that my thatched hut)
  2. 絕句漫興九首 Nine Versicles Written on Impulse, #3 (same as previous)11
  3. 夜燕左氏莊 Evening Feast at Zuo's Manor12
  4. 螢火     Watching Fireflies13
  5. ________ Facing Night14
  6. ________ Thoughts, Sick with Fever on a Boat (excerpt?)15
  7. ________ Wandering Breezes, #4 of Nine Short Songs16

Lyrics by Du Fu have been used for several qin songs, including,

  1. Yinzhong Baxian Ge17
  2. Ke Zhi18

Xu Jian, Chapter 6 discusses his lyrics later borrowed by Wen Tianxiang.19

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Style name 子美 Zimei

2. ICTCL p.813

3. Collections of his poems in translation include:

  1. David Hawkes, A Little Primer of Tu Fu; Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1967 (bi-lingual)
  2. Wu Juntao, Tu Fu - A New Translation; HK, Commercial Press, 1981 (bi-lingual)
  3. Li Weijian, Selected Poems of Du Fu; Sichuan, People's Publishing House, 1985 (bi-lingual)
  4. David Hinton, The Selected Poems of Tu Fu; NY, New Directions, 1989
  5. Arthur Cooper, Li Po and Du Fu; England, Penguin, 1973

Online the translations of Du Fu by L. Cranmer Bing, Lute of Jade, include one called A Night of Song that mentions lute-strings. Perhaps this refers to qin.

4. By modern 巩義,康店鎮 Kangdian district of Gongyi, south of the Yellow River between Luoyang and Zhengzhou.

5. 京兆 Jingzhao. His clan was particularly associated with 杜陵 Duling, in the southern part of Jingzhao, and 少陵 Shaoling, within Duling. There is a grave there said to be his, though he died in 潭州 Tanzhou (Changsha), where there is also a grave.

6. The thatched cottage is now a major tourist site in Chengdu.

7. Then called 潭州 Tanzhou. There is a grave site north of here in 岳陽市平江縣小田村 Pingjiang, near Yueyang, now being restored.

8. See Ronald Egan, Music, Sadness and the Qin, HJAS 57, p.53. Compare Bai Juyi, over 160.

9. See QQJC, Vol V, Folio 18 to 20

10. It mentions Feng Qiu Huang

11. Wu Juntao, op.cit, p.134.
     Liu and Lo, Sunflower Splendor, Indiana U. Press, 1990 (1975), p.135 (also "lute")

12. Minford and Lau, p.808
     also: Wu Juntao, op.cit, p.46 (qin translated as "lute").

13. Firefly Glow (螢火 Ying Huo)
David Hinton, op.cit, p.89, translates the poem as "Watching Fireflies", translating "qin" as "koto".
There is also a translation in David Young, Five T'ang Poets.
The original Chinese text is:


14. David Hinton, op.cit, p.98.

15. David Hinton, op.cit, p.112.

16. Arthur Cooper, op.cit, p.199. (qin translated as "lute")

17. 杜甫,飲中八仙歌 Du Fu, Song of Eight Drinking Immortals
The yinzhong baxian of the title can also be translated as the Eight Immortal Drinkers, the Eight Immortals while Drinking, Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup, Eight Immortals Indulged in Wine, etc. "Immortals" here is consciously metaphorical and the Eight Immortal Drinkers (45037.3) are not to be confused with, for example, the Eight Immortals. Du Fu apparently originated the appellation, which was again used in Li Bai's original official biography. The poem was later copied by some well-known calligraphers, and it can also be found as a theme in painting in both China and Japan.

The Eight Immortal Drinkers were as follows:

  1. He Zhizhang 賀知章,會稽人,自稱秘書外監 (659 - 744)
  2. Wang Jin 王璡,讓皇帝長子璡,封汝陽王 (? - 750)
    (Grandson of 李旦 Li Dan [Tang emperor Ruizong], so original name would be 李璡 Li Jin,
      but enfeoffed 汝陽王 Ruyang Wang (king), hence Wang Jin or Wang Ruyang)
  3. Li Shizhi 李適之,天寶元年爲左丞相 (in the poem 左相 Zuo Xiang; 694-747)
  4. Cui Zongzhi 崔宗之,日用之子,襲封齊國公 (name sometimes written "崔宋之 Cui Songzhi")
  5. Su Jin 蘇晉,珦之子,官至左庶子 (676-734)
  6. Li Bai 李白 (ca 705 - 762)
  7. Zhang Xu 張旭,善草書 (8th c. calligrapher; Wiki)
  8. Jiao Sui 焦遂,甘澤謠,布衣焦遂,爲陶峴客

One can find a Song of Eight Drinking Immortals on some old lists of ancient qin melody titles, such as this one, but actual tablature survives only from Lixing Yuanya (VIII/290; 1618); there the melody sets Du Fu's lyrics of this title to a melody that uses a very rare non-standard tuning (seventh string raised a whole tone, meaning most players would instead have to lower the other six strings). These lyrics (i.e., Du Fu's poem) are as follows (see also in Chinese Wiki):

宗之瀟灑美少年,舉觴白眼望青天。 皎如玉樹臨風前。

The fourth line of the poem describes 崔宗之 Cui Zongzhi as follows: "A young genius of great beauty. Lifting his cup, he proudly gazes at the blue sky. His features are pure white, like a jade tree caught in a breeze." (Translation from Regina Krahl, Clarissa Von Spee, Chinese ceramics from the Gulexuan collection.) The phrase "jade tree caught in a breeze" (yushu lin feng) was later used as the title of another qin melody, 玉樹臨風 Yushu Lin Feng (21298.742 玉樹 Yushu quotes this poem but omits a phrase so that it reads, "宗之瀟灑美少年,皎如玉樹臨風前"); the dictionary entries make no mention of music. And although this reference suggests that "jade tree in a breeze" describes the appearance of a handsome person, later (modern) introductions to the melody of that name may ignore this and say it actually describes a beautiful tree.  

18. 客至 Ke Zhi (A Guest Arrives)
Wang Di, Qin Songs, p. 26, is a song named Ke Zhi, with lyrics by Du Fu (translation in Minford and Lau, p.791). The tablature is said to be from 1585, but I have not been able to locate it there.

19. The story concerns Wang Yuanliang and Wen Tianxiang meeting in prison shortly before Wen's execution.


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