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Elegant Gatherings
雅集 1
Yaji in the Western Garden (detail) 2               
In the qin world today a yaji most commonly is a gathering at which qin players play for each other. The most common attendees at such gatherings are the students of one teacher, though often their friends or other guests are invited. Such an event might include some social activities or a lecture; in other cases it might be compared in some ways to a student recital.4

Historically, however, "yaji" might be seen in a broader sense as, in effect, multi-media events. Many old paintings depict such gatherings, one example being the one shown at right, or the ones linked here. At such gatherings the literati inspire each other through their arts: seeing calligraphy may inspire qin music; the music may inspire a poem, and so forth. There is some further discussion of this, with more associated art, under Four Arts of the Chinese Scholar. Based on the images there and here it may be tempting to distinguish between these two expressions by applying the term "yaji" to gatherings where the participants are all collected together and the term "Four Arts" where they seem to be gathered within the same space but within this there are separate focuses; this, however, is quite likely reading too much into the images.5

Literati gatherings could also focus on conversation and not necessarily include other arts. An early example of a depiction of such a gathering is Literary Garden, "after Zhou Wenju"6 "Literary Garden" apparently did not catch on as a generic title; one that did was "True Simplicity Gatherings", the originals of which were apparently organized by Sima Guang (1019–1086).7 There does not seem to be any evidence that Sima Guang's gatherings included qin, but later depictions sometimes do include them.8

The ideal of a multi-media artistic gathering is underlined by the many paintings that were done of the best-known specific yaji, said to have taken place in 1087 in the Western Gardens of 王詵 Wang Shen (1037-ca.1093), a noted calligrapher and connoisseur who had married a daughter of the Song emperor Yingzhong and lived in the capital city, Kaifeng. The famous people said to have been in attendance at this gathering includes quite a few mentioned elsewhere on this site:

  1. 陳景元 Chen Jingyuan (1024-1094; the Mi Fu inscription has him playing qin
  2. 蘇軾 Su Shi (1037-1101)
  3. 蘇轍 Su Che (or Su Zhe; 1039-1112), brother of Su Shi
  4. 李之儀 Li Zhiyi (1038-1117); poet and prose writer
  5. 黃庭堅 Huang Tingjian (1045-1105)
  6. 秦觀 Qin Guan (1049-1100)
  7. 李公麟 Li Gonglin (1049-1106); a famous painter and antiquarian (Wiki);
    he was apparently a friend of Zhu Changwen
  8. 米芾 Mi Fu (1051-1107)
  9. 晁補之 Chao Buzhi (1053-1110)

There is extant today an account of this gathering. It is attributed to Mi Fu himself, but most likely it was actually written several centuries later.9 Just as likely, at the time of its writing its account of a multi-media event involving various arts was not a presentation of a new idea. But how far back one can trace such gatherings perhaps depends on how one defines them. For example, how many arts must be included? Today qin players usually use the term yaji for occasions when they get together simply to play for each other. There may be a long history of such qin gatherings, with this term applied to it, have there been any proper studies of this? Would parties where people would be expected to write poems have been considered as ya ji"? Have there been any writings that satirize as pretentious the claims by people who call their own gatherings "elegant"?

The following are some early examples of gatherings that may include artistic expression (not to be confused with performances):

Further research is necessary to show the true origins and various natures of historical yaji. In this it might be interesting to compare yaji with the popularity of "clear talk" (Qing Tan) meetings around the time of the Six dynasties.

Footnotes (Numbers refer to entries in Zhongwen Dacidian)

1. Elegant Gathering (雅集 ya ji)
For yaji 雅集, 11/825 has "猶雅會 similar to a yahui" (further below). It then gives the following as its earliest reference:


This is identified as a phrase from a 詞 ci poem by 姜虁 Jiang Kui (ca. 1155 - 1221) called A Calix Red (一萼紅 Yi E Hong): On the 7th day of the first month going up to Changsha's Dingwang Pavilion (人日登長沙定王臺 Ren Ri Deng Changsha Dingwangtai). Yi E Hong is the name of the ci pattern (1.???); another subtitle for the poem is 古城隱 Gu Cheng Yin, after the first phrase of the poem itself.

The full poem is as follows (the first section is commentary, then the poem itself has two stanzas; the line above mentioning "ya ji" is the third line of the second stanza).




Not yet translated into English (for a translation into modern Chinese see Baike Baidu).

The second reference at 11/825 is from the Ming novel 儒林外史 Rulin Waishi Chapter 18: "吾靠今日雅集,不可無詩. I am helping today's yaji so I must have a poem."

Surprisingly 42905. seems to have nothing for yaji, since this expression is mentioned in the brief entry under .142 雅會 yahui (next).

Elegant Meeting (雅會 ya hui; here "meeting" really has the same meaning as "gathering")
42905.142 雅會 ya hui says it is "風雅之集會,猶雅集 an elegant gathering similar to a yaji". The earliest quote it gives for yahui is from 劉子翬詩 a poem by Liu Zihui (1101-1147; Bio/662; another reference):


11/826 gives the same quote for yahui, adding one each from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Liu Zihui's full poem is as follows:



The mention of "yahui" is in line three.

2. 劉松年:西園雅集 Elegant Gathering in the Western Garden (detail), attrib. Liu Songnian
Little is known of this painter other than he lived in Hangzhou during the Southern Song dynasty. There is extensive description of the people said to have been at the gathering, but many say it never really happened. Nevertheless, depictions of the Elegant Gathering in the Western Gardens (often, as here, with the names of the famous people written above them) are said to date back to one attributed to 李公麟 Li Gonglin (1049-1106; further), one of the supposed attendees. Although the attribution of that painting to Li is questionable, the idea of such meetings became very popular during the Ming and Qing dynasties, and they were often depicted in classical and popular art. Many of these can be found online, the one here having been selected because it is one of the ones that shows someone holding a qin: see the upper left corner.

In 2011 available online images depicting this gathering included examples attributed to:

  1. 李公麟 Li Gonglin (1049-1106): detail; the full painting has a colophon attributed to Mi Fu.
    From the website of the Taiwan Institute of History and Philology
  2. 劉松年 Liu Songnian, as above
    This image and attribution can be found on various other websites
  3. ??? (looks more like a gathering of the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove): q.v.
    Removed from big5.ce.cn?
  4. 趙孟頫 Zhao Mengfu : q.v. (detail shows qin and ruan)
    From the NPM website, which includes also a good discussion
  5. 馬遠 Ma Yuan (active 1190-1230): q.v.
    From the big5.ce.cn
  6. Qing dynasty folk art: boxwood brush-holder
    There is a good description at Gathering at West Garden, a page on the China Online Museum website.
  7. Yi dynasty Korean painter 俞致鳳: q.v.
    From a Korean Website
  8. Ming dynasty anonymous painting: Princeton Museum (copy)
    Instead of a single focus this painting arranges the participants as with the Four Arts. The accompanying description says, According to legend, in 1088 a group of sixteen famous statesmen, literati, and artists gathered in the Western Garden of Wang Shen, an imperial son-in-law. The scholar and artist Mi Fu (1052–1107) purportedly wrote an account commemorating the occasion, and Li Gonglin (d. 1106) is said to have painted a scene of the gathering. Regardless of whether this event indeed took place, it entered the cultural imagination and became both a model for later literary gatherings and a theme in painting. Here, the scholar Su Shi is seated at one table practicing calligraphy while Wang Shen and others look on. At another table, Li Gonglin paints a scene taken from literature. Behind them, Mi Fu stands with a brush in hand, inscribing a stone face, and across a bridge a Buddhist sits in a bamboo grove engaged in a discussion on Nirvana.
The famous people said to have attended this gathering are discussed further above.

4. Student recital
I do not know to what extent such gatherings for students of other instruments are also called "yaji".

5. Comparing "Four Arts" and "Elegant Gathering"
Some "Elegant gathering" paintings in particular may include separate focus on "Four arts", while the four arts paintings may be separating its images by time rather than space.

6. 周文矩 Zhou Wenju (fl. 942-961; Bio/1537; Wiki) "Literary Garden": early elegant gathering?  
His name may sometimes be romanized Zhou Wengui. He is said to have worked at the Southern Tang court and specialized in paintings of figures, but apparently no actual works survive, only paintings 仿 copying his or in his style, such as the one at right, an anonymous painting called Literary Garden (文苑圖 Wen Yuan Tu; here copied from the China Online Museum), or this painting called "Court Ladies".

Other paintings in his style on this site include Song Dynasty: Listening to the Qin (also noted for depicting qin with ruan) and Ladies of the Court.

7. Other terms for artistic gatherings
Ones so far mentioned:

  1. "Literary Garden": 13766.376 文苑 wen yuan says it is a gathering of literati. The related image above right is the one most commonly associated with this term.
  2. "True Simplicity Gatherings" of Sima Guamg himself; may not have included music but see next footnote.

Other terms should also be considered.

8. "True Simplicity Gatherings" (真率會 Zhen Shuai Hui)   "True Simplicity Gathering" in Suzhou (source)        
Although there is no evidence these originally included music, later adaptations may have done so; examples include some clubs in 18th century Japan and the one from Suzhou depicted at right by 胡洤 Hu Quan (胡芑孫 Hu Qisun), called "任薰吳郡真率會圖 卷1".

9. 米芾 Mi Fu (1051-1107) and his "account"
Mi Fu Wiki was a famous poet, painter, calligrapher and eccentric. There are at least two somewhat different versions of the account attributed to him:

The Account of the Elegant Gathering in the Western Garden (西園雅集圖記 Xiyuan Zaji Tuji):


This was the way it was copied in the Ming dynasty by the famous artist 董其昌 Dong Qichang (1555-1636):


However, like the painting it accompanies, this account is thought to date from much later.

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