T of C 
Qin as
Qin in
/ Song
Analysis History Ideo-
Personal email me search me
Qin Bios   首頁
Yongmen Zhou
- Qin Shi #41
雍門周 1
琴史 #41 2

Yongmen Zhou is largely famous through the story, related below from Qin Shi, about his qin playing bringing tears to Lord Mengchang (d. 279 BCE).4 This story is also told in Huan Tan's Xin Lun,5 and also mentioned in connection with the qin melody Ji Ming Du Guan.

According to the Qin Shi account, Yongmen Zhou learned this qin skill from a player named Han E;6 it is not clear why Qin Shi does not mention him in the title. Another player who could move people to tears with his qin play was Sun Xi (also called Xun Xi).

The following passage from Taiyin Daquanji, Folio 5, 7 a section introducing fingering techniques, suggests that Yongmen Zhou was the first person to write qin tablature.8 It then says either that it became widespread9 or was continued by a man named Zhang Fu.10

Written Tablature: The systemization of qin tablature began with Yongmen Zhou and became widely used (or "and Zhang Fu"). As a result, other ways of writing tablature were not transmitted to later periods. The tablature of Zhao Yeli filled two satchels; its fame made it useful for old and new, so it became easy to understand (?). These former worthy people wrote clearly their intentions, but their writing was very troublesome, with more than two lines needed to complete one phrase. Later Cao Rou created the simplified tablature method; it was especially easy to understand.

Unfortunately, no source is given for this rather questionable tracing of qin tablature back to the Warring States period.11

The Most Ancient section of the Tablature List of Qin Melodies by Seng Juyue (see #66) says that Yongmen Zhou wrote Feng Ru Song Ge. A version of this story has Yongmen describing Mengchang as living in a mansion that has silk nets through which clear breezes came: this is the closest connection I have found between Yongmen and Wind through the Pines, which is more commonly attributed to Xi Kang.

The Qin Shi entry for Yongmen Zhou is as follows.

Yongmen Zhou was a man of Qi (in Shandong). Yongmen was the east gate of Qi.

When Han E was traveling east of Qi he ran low on provisions. Coming to Yongmen he was sold his songs in order to eat. He left, but the sound continued, reverberating for three days. People all around there thought he hadn't left, and people who met him on the road criticized him. So Han E (played a) Long Song and cried mournfully. People for one li around, young and old, were all sad. They cried in front of each other and could not eat for three days. Quickly they ran (to Han E) and asked him to come back. Overjoyed, this time Han E played a Long Song which made everyone for one li around so joyous they hopped and danced to the rhythm, unable to stop themselves, and they forgot their sadness of the previous day. Thus the people of Yongmen enjoyed singing and crying at the same time, and they studied the precious sounds of (Han) E.

Zhou (of Yongmen) became especially good at skills (of Han E). Using this method he first cried for Lord Mengchang, then continued this using the qin. Mengchang Jun said. Sir, you play the qin. Can you also cause people to be 悲 (emotionally moved, usually suggesting sadness)? (From here on the passage is paraphrased rather than translated: Zhou replied that he could only affect those who were now rich and mighty but would later be poor and lowly, and not effect the ordinary person or the gifted person who never attained anything. He then went on to say that since Lord Mengchang was so wealthy and successful, how could even a great qin player make him sad. However, Zhou then proceeded to tell him that in the future Mengchang would die and eventually even his grave markers would disappear and his descendants forget him. At this Zhou took out his qin, first playing slow tunes in 宮 gong and 徵 zhi modes, then continuing with 羽 yu and 角 jiao, at which point Mengchang began crying. He then approached Zhou and said, "You have shown me that I am one of those who will lose all his wealth and position." The writer, presumably Zhu Changwen, adds his opinion that Zhou must have been an advisor to Mengchang who used qin playing to admonish his lord's failure to listen to advice.)

This account made no mention of the titles of any melodies connected with Yongmen Zhou. It also does not mention Yongmen Zhou writing down his music.9

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. 雍門周 Yongmen Zhou (Zhou of Yongmen [Harmony Gate])
Yongmen Zhou (42916.34) was a man of Qi named after 42916.30 雍門 Harmony Gate, the east gate of 齊 Qi. 42916.35 雍門鼓琴 Yongmen plays the qin tells the Mengchang story from 三國志 San Guo Zhi and Liu Xiang's 說苑,善說 Shuo Yuan, Shan Shuo. 42916.26 雍門調 Yongmen Diao tells of someone who played a sad song on the 箏 zheng. Xu Jian, Outline History, Chapter 1. A., p.6; see also p.22) tells the story from the chapter Way of the Qin in the Xin Lun by Huan Tan. Xu Jian does not seem to have any reference to the claim that Yongmen Zhou created qin tablature.

2. 23 lines

4. 孟嘗君 Lord Mengchang
The earliest biography of Lord Mengchang (7107.267) is Chapter 15 of the Shi Ji (The Lord of Meng-ch'ang; Giles: Meng Ch'ang-chün; see Nienhauser, Grand Scribes Records VII, p.189ff and index). Mengchang's original name was 田文 Tian Wen. Born in the 4th c. BCE of a prominent family of 齊 Qi in Shandong, he was so effective as a minister of 薛 Xue, a fiefdom within Qi, that 秦昭王 King Zhao brought him to Qin as prime minister. Here, however, he had enemies who put him in jail, and he was only able to escape with the assistance of two retainers, one who could imitate the sound of a dog barking, the other who could imitate the sound of a cock crowing. The story of his escape is told with the qin melody 雞鳴度關 Ji Ming Du Guan (At the Cock's Crow Going Through the Pass), #95 in Xilutang Qintong (1525). Mengchang subsequently became one of the great Four Lords of that period. The Shi Ji tells other stories concerning Mengchang, but does not include the one in which the qin playing of Yongmen Zhou moves Lord Mengchang to tears.

5. Huan Tan's account is included in Qinshu Daquan, Folio 16, #35). See also the Shuo Yuan of Liu Xiang.

6. Han E 韓娥
Han E (44126.231) was a contemporary of Yongmen Zhou. Here is a slightly different translation of the story here.

While traveling east of Qi, Han E ran out of supplies and had to play and sing for money at Harmony Gate. The sounds resounded for three days after he stopped, so that people came complaining. In his sadness he played a 曼聲 Long Song and cried. People for one li around, young and old, were all sad. They cried and could not stop for three days. Quickly they ran to Han E and asked him to come back. Overjoyed, this time Han E played a Long Song which made everyone so joyous they couldn't stop dancing. Thus the local people became famous for singing and crying at the same time. (Later others studied this style.

7. Taigyu Yiyin on the Origins of written tablature
In 太古遺音 Taigu Yiyin (see QQJC I, p.81 or Tong Kin-Woon's Qin Fu, p.94). There is no indication of the source for the claim. The original is:


Compare the account in Qin Jing.

8. Presumably this was 文字譜 longhand tablature.

9. 張敷 zhangfu
Zhang can mean "set forth", "publish" and fu can mean "distribute", "make known"; dictionaries do not give zhangfu as a combination, but this interpretation of the passage seems to make more sense than translating zhangfu as a person's name (see next footnote).

10. 張敷 Zhang Fu
Zhang Fu (10026.1301; Bio/1248), style name 景胤 Jingyin, was a man of 吳 Wu who lived in the early years of the Liu Song dynasty (420 - 479). His biography says he was filial, enjoyed reading abstruse writings, and held some high offices, but it makes no mention of music. The translation by Hsu Wen-Ying (pp. 220 and 404) of the passage here treats 張敷 as a person's name, Zhang Fu. This would allow the passage to begin, "The systemization of qin tablature began with Yongmen Zhou and Zhang Fu, and because of this other ways of writing tablature were not transmitted to later periods...." However, in the absence of further clues it seems to make more sense if zhangfu doesn't refer to a person at all (see previous footnote).

11. Hsü Wen-Ying (p.36) also references 移情摘粹 Yi Qing Zhai Cui by 張寧一 Zhang Ningyi, 1666, but I have not been able to examine that book/article.


Return to QSCB, or to the Guqin ToC.