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Nie Zheng
- Qin Shi #50 (appended)
聶政 1
琴史 #50 2
Nie Zheng stabs the Han king3                  
Nie Zheng (4th c. BCE) is particularly associated with a melody called Nie Zheng Stabs the Han King.4 A title first mentioned in Qin Cao (#19 of the Hejian Zage), it is often said to be the origin of the famous melody, which still survives, Guangling San.

The main source for Nie Zheng himself is Annals of History Shi Ji, Chapter 86, Assassin-Retainers.5 In both cases the story takes place in the Han kingdom, which during the Warring States period straddled what are today parts of Shanxi and Henan provinces.6 Otherwise many details of the two versions are quite different.

According to the story in Shi Ji, as well as similar accounts elsewhere, Nie Zheng, from Zhi in modern Henan, killed a man and had to flee for fear of revenge. Some time in the early fourth century BCE (397 BCE?) he went to the Han capital, killed the Han minister 俠累 Jia Lei (Xia Lei?) on behalf of a man who had befriended him, then committed suicide so no revenge would be taken on his family. However, his sister claimed the body an herself died on the spot. There is no mention of the qin or any other music instrument.

The original biography in Qin Shi, as appended to that of another man who sought revenge, Shuli Mugong, is as follows.

Qin Cao also has the melody Nie Zheng Stabs the Han King. Nie Zheng once met an immortal who taught him to play the qin. This accomplished he went to Han. This matter is in the Biography of Nie Zheng in the Shi Ji, but there it is quite different, saying that he stabbed the Han minister Xia Lei. (Qin Cao) says Han King, so it is different from Shi (Ji). This melody, although it records the musicians, concerns the affairs of assassin-retainers; 非管弦所宜也 it is not appropriate for ensemble music.

The Shen Qi Mi Pu Preface to Guangling San tells only of Xi Kang playing the melody of this name, with no mention of Nie Zheng; meanwhile the Nie Zheng story here makes no mention of Guangling, not to mention Guangling San. Further details on the Qin Cao and Shi Ji versions of the story and their connection with Guangling San can be found in the article by Wang Shixiang.

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 29829.20 聶政 Nie Zheng

2. 4 or 8 lines

3. Nie Zheng Stabs the Han King
聶政刺韓王 Nie Zheng Ci Han Wangci. Versions of the story are told in an article by Wang Shixiang. For a translation from Shi Ji Annal 86 see Nienhauser VII, pp. 323-5.

4. Nie Zheng Stabs the Han King
The image above is cleaned up from the original rubbing. See this comparison with the original.

5. Nienhauser, GSR VII, p. 323, says the same story is told in Zhan Guo Ce while there are also versions in Han Fei Zi and several other places.

6. Places mentioned in the story
Mostly within the Zhou dynasty 韓國 Han Kingdom (Wikipedia) they include:

Before 375 BCE the capital of the Han kingdom is said to have been 陽翟 Yangzhai; after that it was 新鄭 Xinzheng, now a county on the south side of 鄭州 Zhengzhou city. The Wikipedia entry for Xinzheng says it is "one of the birth places of Chinese nation", home to the Yellow Emperor, capital of 鄭 Zheng then 韓 Han during the Warring States period, then seat of power for the 秦 Qin after it unified China.


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