Wednesday, January 30, 2019


Thanks to my sister sent me the article of master Wu Zhaoji 's (1908-1997) writing of what he thought about Sheng qi mipu. I suddenly had a feeling that the world is changing so fast, that I almost lost in this world. Master Wu's words reminding me the original mind of guqin, that I have forgotten. I have to pick up the "sunny spring" "white snow" again soon.

This picture is about Master Wu believed that studying the guqin, one should focus on few pieces that match his or her personality and keep practicing it years and years until really master it. For example, The Yushan school master Yian Tianchi (1547-1625) studied "Sunny Spring" all his life and he only felt that he had reached the flavor of this piece until he was really old. And Master Wu himself played Misty Clouds over Xiao & Xian River, Sunny Spring, and Fishermen Song for 60 years, but still not dared to claim that he had mastered those pieces.

Let me quote one saying from Master Wu which I agree:


" Literature and art is to emphasize the "one family statement" which means academic works of an independent thought which have formed a school of its own. Only in this way can the author's or artist's (or qin player's) unique style and achievements be fully reflected.

I will spend some time to try to translate the whole article of Master Wu's thought of SQMP. Stay tuned!

目前翻譯了頭三段, 已能了解吳老所要強調的其實很單純, 也很實際, 就是一個"人心"的問題, 朱權在那樣一個環境下, 長期用盡心機生存, 如此如何能將琴藝推到高峰? 而現在世人還是瘋迷一個多樣, 多彩, 振奮, 刺激的感官享受, 對於修身養性是不會有所助益的. 古琴的高深奧妙就更不可能涉足到了.

So far, I have translated the first three paragraphs. I think master Wu’s emphasis is very simple and practical. It is a question of "human's heart". In such an environment, Zhu Quan was thinking of conspiracy all day long to try to survive, so how could he play the qin and cultivate his qin art to a higher level? Nowadays, the world is still crazy, aim for variety, colorful, inspiring, and stimulating sensory enjoyment. It will not help the self-cultivation, and the profound status of Guqin is even less likely to be reached.

Below is my translation of the whole article, and the green color is my extra note. I use the initial letters of Sheng Qi Mi Pu through the whole article except the first time mention. Thanks to my husband's checking and correcting on my English.

"My Opinion of Sheng Qi Mi Pu"  by Wu Zhaoji (1908-1997)

The early Ming dynasty feudal lord, Zhu Quan, 1378-1448, edited [Sheng Qi Mi Pu], which is a guqin handbook that was lost for many years until the 1950's. It was found in Shanghai (this book was kept at someone's home in Shanghai. In 1941,  Zhuang Jiancheng from Chengjiang once hand copied several qin pieces from this handbook).  Zhu Quan, this feudal lord who had political ambitions, was using the studying of literature and art to cover his ambition and was thinking of conspiracy all day long, how could he concentrate on the "outstanding achievement of guqin art?"

For sure, of the 61 qin pieces that are collected in the [SQMP], most of them were collected by the retainers of qin masters (a special social group who lived as dependents under a noble, an officeholder, or a powerful landlord), who managed, corrected, and edited the qin pieces during their teaching of the qin. The ancient saying: "the qin, (is to) restrain (oneself)," from the early time, the most important thing about studying qin is the emphasis on qin virtue. During the feudal kingdom, rebellion was a great threat. Those who had dignity, and cultivated literati, did not dare to live as dependents under a traitor.

Some people said that these qin pieces, "most likely have been group studied, edited and corrected by those qin masters. Most other qin handbooks only emphasized 'one school statement'  (which means academic works of an independent thought which have formed a school of its own) ,"  and claimed that "this (group study) is the great advantage of this qin handbook." I (master Wu) don't agree with this claim. Literature and arts are different from natural science. Natural science can be group discussed, though can also be discovered, developed, and created by individuals as well, but literature and arts are not like that. Obviously, we never hear that there is a great literature developed by a group discussion. The works of Beethoven were created by him alone. Lu Xun's ( a leading figure of modern Chinese literature) writings were written by him. Poetry, literature, calligraphy and painting, none of that is not like this, and there are endless examples. Literature and art emphasize "one school statement."  Only in this way can the author's or artist's unique style and achievements be fully reflected.  The development of guqin schools often start with one generation. They all had their own style during their own period of time, and so become "one school." There is no exception domestic or foreign, now or in ancient times. How can they denigrate it by saying that they are merely "one school statement?"  

Some say that until now, about 3000 qin pieces have been collected. Dividing by same titles or similar melodies, there are about 600 pieces. Currently there are about more than 100 pieces that can be seen, and about 50 something pieces that are often played by qin masters of all schools. This gives one an impression that there are only a small number of qin melodies. Therefore, there is the action of organizing a group of people to do Dapu (reinterpret ancient qin melodies), especially from the long time lost [SQMP], which is the most important work now, to rescue, to excavate, and to manage guqin music art.  

I have my own opinion on this issue. First of all, there should be an analysis of why, from thousands of years of time, did historical qin players favor these few (30 to 50 ) qin melodies? Historically in China, most of the literati could play the qin, especially during the Ming and Qing Dynasties which were the heyday of qin study. Doing "dapu"  was not a difficult job to qin masters. Many played the qin due to personal interest besides their major career, and they treated it as self cultivation. They played qin starting as a hobby. They decided which qin melodies to play based on if the melodies matched their personality, and sentiment. We cannot prove that those qin melodies which have not been played often, have not been touched by predecessors, rather we can assume that they were abandoned. On the contrary, those 30 to 50 pieces that have been played often, actually prove that they are most likely preferred by many people and have beautiful melodies. Of course every one has a different preference, and different skill level. To some pieces, perhaps with higher difficulty, or lack of the understanding of organisation of melody and rhythm, or limited by the time, the age and personality of the qin players, that caused them to stop being played after a few attempts. Many amateur qin players give up playing due to their time being occupied by their major career. A friend of mine has reinterpreted more than 40 pieces but only plays around 10 pieces often. I have studied qin for 70 years and only studied 15 pieces, and still able to play them, I feel lucky, but the flexibility of my finger movement has declined.

The qin pieces collected in [SQMP] are from Ming and before the Ming dynasties. (It is said that "Heming Jiugao, cranes calling on the high marshland" and "Qiu Hong, autumn geese " were composed by Zhu Quan.) The fingerings in those qin pieces have emphasis on the right hand plucking, and use more of the open string sound and harmonics, allowing the melodies and rhythm to be more pleasant to the ears and easier to be touched.  It is very insufficient applied to the left hand fingerings. Things are always moving forward with non-stop development. Since the early Ming dynasty, qin players started to notice the development of the left hand fingerings, such as the application of yin, nao, chuo, zhu, shang xia, dou, and zhuang etc., techniques, which allowed the players to express, and the listeners to hear, deeper feeling and emotion. This is a great progress in the qin history.  Most of those qin handbooks published during the Ming and Qing dynasties have this quality. And that is the great contribution from the careful and mindful study of the two dynasties qin players. Taking the "Hujia" as an example, [Da Hujia, the Great Nomad Reed-pipe] and [Xiao Hujia, the Small Nomad Reed-pipe] both are collected in [SQMP] and both are very pleasant to listen to and easier to be accepted by the public. However if talking about deeper meaning and feeling that can touch people's hearts, the [Hujia Shiba Pai, the 18 beats of Nomad Reed-pipe] from [Wuzhi Zhai Qinpu] is the best.

Some fingering notations in [SQMP] are not following the fingering law. For example, the right hand fingerings that are plucked outward (towards hui dots) like Tiao (index out) and Ti (middle out), and those plucked inward (towards oneself) like Muo (index in), and Goh (middle in), that play in sequence on the 5th and 4th strings become Muo 5th Goh 4th, or Muo 5th Goh 3rd, but that is very unreasonable. Might it be the editor's negligence or the printer's mistake? Some melodies, have uncoordinated phrasing, pauses , and musical law (temperament), that often make interpreters confused and feel uncomfortable to play.

I think there are many outstanding pieces worth study in [SQMP] indeed, but I have to reserve my view on this matter that to organize such a poor number of qin players, about 200,  to focus on the rescue of [SQMP] and to excavate and manage guqin music art.

There were a large number of qin handbooks published during the Ming and Qing dynasties, among them, some really outstanding ones. Although some handbooks were only printed with a few qin pieces,  those qin pieces have been carefully and repeatedly studied throughout a long period of the editors' life time. Besides, to study qin music, quantity is not the winner. To study an ancient melody, one might spend several months. However, to fully understand and master the essence, it may take several decades, and still not be fully achievable. The Yushan qin school master Yian Tianchi (1547-1625) once said that he studied "Sunny Spring" all his life and only felt that he had reached the flavor of this piece when he was very old. I myself played Misty Clouds Over Xiao & Xian River, Sunny Spring, and Fishermen Song for over 60 years, still not daring to claim that I have mastered those pieces. Here, at the international event the first time ever in the history of the guqin, qin friends gathered here from all places, and we can discuss and exchange knowledge on several famous qin melodies, which is truly my wish in my life. 

Written in April 4th 1990.

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