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The Qin and the Chinese Literati     Qin influence on behavior and nature 中文   目錄
Qin Ideology 琴道

The guqin has arguably the world's oldest surviving written solo instrumental music tradition, with the first surviving tablature dating from the 7th century CE, but "the way (dao) of the qin" has sources much earlier than that.

Traditional attitudes towards the qin are often said to have been more Daoist than Confucian (rarely Buddhist2) but writings about the effects of the qin on people's behavior show a mixture of these philosophies.3 In addition, a study of qin melodies shows Confucian themes to be almost as prevalent as Daoist themes.4 Thus, as Zhu Quan states in his preface to Shen Qi Mi Pu (1425 CE):

As the qin became a physical object, the sages made it in such a way that it could correct purposeful thoughts, provide leadership in worldly affairs, bring accord to the six influences and tune the harmony of the seasons. It is indeed the divine instrument of heaven and earth, and a most ancient spiritual object; thus it became the music used by sages of our Middle Kingdom to control the government, and the object used by princely men to cultivate (themselves); it is only appropriate to stitched sleeves (i.e., scholars) or yellow caps (Daoists).

The best English language source for guqin ideology is R.H. van Gulik, Lore of the Chinese Lute (2nd ed.); Tokyo and Rutland, Tuttle, 1969.

      Do qins need strings? There are none on the qin
in this fan painting by Feng Chaoran dated 1943.
The fan inscription begins, "Wind in the pines and
a babbling brook are nature's melody. A qin was
brought along, but there is no need to play it...."

See also:

The latter two of these articles both suggest that by the Qing dynasty the common approach to the qin was changing. If this is true, perhaps it was related to the expansion of merchant culture. As part of this, books became much more widely available, art forms such as opera became widely popular, and these led to literati culture and ideas being reinterpreted by whole new groups of people.5

Footnotes (Shorthand references are explained on a separate page)

1. Nature's Melody, a fan painting by 馮超然 Feng Chaoran (1882-1954)
Related concepts are music beyond sound and the idea expressed in a famous couplet by Tao Yuanming that if you already understand the inner significance of the qin there is also no need actually to play it.

The idea of qin music as nature's melody (天然調 tianran diao) is related to attitudes about the natural materials used in qin construction (epitomized by its silk strings) and extends to cosmological connections often cited. The idea suggests that when already surrounded by the sounds of nature there is no need to play qin: qin music is just another form of nature's melody. This is also expressed in poems about so-called "wind-qin" or "wind-se", in which music is created by wind blowing through trees (examples), especially bamboo or pine (松濤 songtao; examples).

The full inscription from above is as follows:

「松風澗水天然調。抱得琴來不用彈。 (A poetic couplet, translated above; see also below)
    陟星(?)小僊筆意。癸未四月。         (The first two characters are unclear; see also below)
    慎得馮超然。(圖寫﹕)超然」 (Feng Chaoran, style name Zhende; [the seal says] "Chaoran".)

The couplet at the front of the inscription expresses sentiments found in poetry at least as early as Seeking Seclusion by Zuo Si (3rd C. CE; q.v.). The couplet itself also can be found often (e.g., see at the end of a long poem from a collection called 繪事徽言 in 四庫全書補正 Corrected Siku Quanshu (online, p. 237); there are several variations for the first half, including 「松風澗響天然韻」 and 「高山流水天然調」.

The first two characters after the couplet might be 陟星 zhixing ("ascending the stars"); 小僊 Xiaoxian was also the nickname of the famous painter 吳偉 Wu Wei (1459-1508). The date is then stated as 癸未四月 April 1943.

After this is apparently a nickname 慎得 Zhende, then the painter's proper name, Feng Chaoran (1882-1954); the seal says 超然 Chaoran. Feng was quite well known and a number of his paintings can be found on the internet


2. Buddhism
Buddhist ideas seem to be important mainly for the ways they may have affected Daoist and Confucian ones. For more on Buddhism see
Buddhism and the qin.

3. Qin influence on nature and on human behavior
Proper behavior involves various concepts, most of them rather difficult to translate. Such terms include,

Virtue (德 de, also "morality"); see, e.g., Discussion of Qin Virtue and a Cai Yong reference
Righteousness (義 yi, also "morality"); see Dasheng Yueshu reference and qin name
Moral integrity (節操 jiecao); see comment on Qin Cao
Rectify, bring order (正 zheng, as in "正人心 zheng the mind/heart"); see Baihu Tong
Ritual (禮 li); see references in the Book of Rites

Potential benefits of the qin are said to include:

Restore divine nature and restrain low passions (歸神杜淫 gui shen du yin; reference is to Shen Nong in Huainanzi 20)
Body at rest and mind at peace (體精而心閑 ti jing er xin xian; Xi Kang).
Control the universe (天下治 tianxia zhi; i.e., bring the world in line with the way it should naturally be; Fengsu Tong)

The sentiments expressed above by Zhu Quan carry this further. The Chinese original is:


4. It has sometimes been claimed that when a Chinese literatus succeeded in attaining a government position he followed the structures of Confucianism, but when he lost his position he became a Daoist, achieving all by doing nothing.

5. Changed qin ideology
It is difficult to know precisely how "pure" was the practice of qin ideology before the rise of the commercial class during the mid to late Ming dynasty. The information on pages such as The Qin in Popular Culture: Novels and Opera is available to us because the emerging media of that time has given us a fuller picture of attitudes in these later periods.

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