T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
Qin biographies     Studying qin     Xing Tan 首頁
- Qin Shi #11
孔子 1
琴史 #11 2
- Further under Confucian Qin Themes
upper: "A true image of Confucius" 3
lower:   Confucius playing the qin 4 
The Book of Songs (Shi Jing),
5 said to have been compiled by Confucius (traditional dates 551 - 479 BCE), has the earliest known literary references to the guqin. And the biography of Confucius in the Hereditary House of Confucius (Kongzi Shijia), Annal 47 of the Annals of History (Shi Ji) by the Grand Historian Sima Qian, stated that Confucius learned the qin from Shi Xiangzi.6 Nevertheless, there seem to be no actual descriptions of a qin until much later (in Xi Kang's Rhapsody on the Qin) and there is little historical evidence from earlier sources to suggest that Confucius actually played the musical instrument we know today as the qin or guqin (old qin).7 Nevertheless, there is a long history of stories featuring Confucius playing an instrument called a qin,8 as well as of images showing him playing specifically the seven-string qin9. In addition, some old melody lists attribute at least 12 qin melodies directly to Confucius,10

In old surviving handbooks as well as in the active repertoire there are quite a few further pieces associated with, if not directly attributed to, Confucius. My own focus is on the earliest versions of those melodies that survive from Ming dynasty tablature;11 there are in addition a few new titles from Qing tablature.12

The rather long entry in Qin Shi about Confucius mentions at least three of these melodies (Yi Lan Cao, Jiang Gui Cao13 and Guishan Cao), plus You Lan (YFSJ p.840) and Wen Wang Cao (which Seng ascribes to Shi Xiang).

Qinshu Cunmu, Folio 16 quotes six stories about Confucius and the qin from a book called The Household Sayings of Confucius (Kongzi Jiayu).14

The story of Confucius studying qin with Shi Xiangzi is not told here, but with the biography of the latter (#32). Qin illustration 6 in Taiyin Daquanji claims to be a depiction of his Confucian Style [仲尼 Zhongni] qin.)

The Qin Shi biography of Confucius begins,15

Confucius was born during the period of the Zhou (dynasty). Experiencing disorder in Lu he got in his cart and traveled everywhere, but he was not living in the proper generation. In (Lu) he remained with the duke for 14 years. When he was 56 years old....

(Translation incomplete.)


Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Kongzi 孔子 (551 - 479 BCE)
See also in Wikipedia, as well as the comments below.

2. 43 lines

3. "孔子真影 True image of Confucius" (see also below)
Source uncertain.

4. Traces of the Sage Confucius: Confucius playing qin
The above image, an extract from "晝息鼓琴 Daytime leisure playing the qin" (the full image shows 閩子 Minzi and 曾子 Zengzi listening), is from 孔子聖蹟圖 Kongzi Shengji Tu,河北美術出版社,1996 (Traces of the Sage Confucius, Hebei Fine Arts Publishing), an illustrated book of the life of Confucius originally published ca. 1930 but copying old images. These books, which go back at least to the Ming dynasty, are also called simply 聖蹟圖 Shengji Tu (

There have been many such popular illustrations showing Confucius playing qin. Some are listed here, but in addition this site has a number of melodies illustrating Confucian themes rather than Confucius himself.

5. Book of Songs: Confucius' 詩經 Shi Jing (Wiki)
Also called Classic of Poetry or Book of Odes, it has 305 poems. Many of these poems have been arranged with qin melodies. There is some further mention of this here. In addition, at least 8 poems specifically mention the qin, though usually together with se. These could be instrument types rather than specific instruments.

The best known English translation of the Shi Jing is probably the one by Arthur Waley.

6. Confucius in the 史記 Shi Ji (Wiki: (Records of the Grand Historian)
See also, for example, "詩三百,夫子皆弦歌之,以求合韶、武、雅、頌之音。"

7. Historical information on Confucius
As pointed out by Annping Chin (Wiki) in her Confucius, A Life of Thought and Politics (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), the closest we have to actual historical details of the life of Confucius come from two classical texts most closely associated with him:

  1. The Analects (論語 Lun Yu; Wiki); and
  2. The Spring and Autumn Annals (左傳 Zuo Zhuan; Wiki).

For online versions of the original text of these two sources see the Chinese Text Project, The Analects and Chun Qiu Zuo Zhuan.

8. Early references to Confucius and qin
As for the earliest sources on Confucius (see previous footnote), The Analects mentions only a 瑟 se (translated by Legge as "lute") while Zuo Zhuan seems to have 11 references to 琴 qin. None of these has him playing one.

Qinshu Daquan, Folio 16, includes many early references to "qin", including the references from the Book of Songs, said to have been compiled by Confucius. However, as discussed under Origins of the Qin, it is not certain just whether at that time the characters 琴 qin and 瑟 se referred to the instruments we now know by those names. The earliest historical evidence for the long zither with seven silk strings that came to be known as "qin" dates from only the 3rd century CE. That information, though, does suggest it had been in existence in that form for quite some time.

9. Tradition of images showing Confucius with a qin
It is not certain when this began. This website includes a number of them, mostly linked here.

10. 12 melodies commonly attributed to Confucius
The listing here comes from the Song dynasty list of qin melodies compiled by Seng Juyue. The 12 melodies attributed to Confucius are #24 - #35). The titles are:

  1. 歡樂操 Huan Le Cao (not in 16602.88 歡樂 etc.)
  2. 將歸操 Jiang Gui Cao (YFSJ p.841)
  3. 龜山操 Guishan Cao (YFSJ p.842)
  4. 猗蘭操 Yi Lan Cao (YFSJ p.839)
  5. 獲麟操 Huo Lin Cao (compare Huo Lin)
  6. 畏匡操 Wei Kuang Cao (
  7. 厄陳操 E Chen Cao (or 厄於陳 E Yu Chen;, or Kongzi E [#17])
  8. 閑居操 Xian Ju Cao (or 閑居樂 Xian Ju Le; nothing with 42162.32 閑居 or .33 閑居賦 Xian Ju Fu)
  9. 東武泰山操 Dongwu Taishan Cao (or Dongwu Taishan; Dongwu and Taishan?)
  10. 回風操 Hui Feng Cao (or 風操 Feng Cao)
  11. 悲風操 Bei Feng Cao (or 悲風 Bei Feng)
  12. 憶顏回 Yi Yan Hui (survives as alternate title for Ya Sheng Cao)

As shown by the links, there are actual melodies associated with at least five of these titles

11. Surviving melodies associated with Confucius
See under Confucian qin themes.

12. Qing dynasty melodies associated with Confucius
See Later melodies on the theme of Confucius under Confucian Qin Themes.

13. Jiang Gui Cao: also called 陬操 Zou Cao 42622.10

14. Confucius' Household Sayings (孔子家語 Kongzi Jiayu)
This is a collection of stories attributed to Confucius, but most of them are thought to have originated at a later date. The earliest surviving compilation is by 王肅 Wang Su (195 - 256), who is thought to have added some of them himself. This book is quoted variously on this site: see especially the "six selections from four books" given in Qinshu Daquan Folio 16 #13.

I have an annotated Chinese edition with unnumbered chapters, published by 山東文藝出版社 1994. It presumably has been re-arranged: the titles do not correspond with the list of its 44 chapters online at the China Knowledge website, which translates the title as The School Sayings of Confucius.

15. Original text
The complete Chinese entry is as follows:






Punctuation mostly from Wang Mengshu and The original was not separated into paragraphs.

Return to QSCB, or to the Guqin ToC.