Sunday, March 24, 2019

Stories of Qin Players in Ancient China - I

On 3/24/2019 the 3rd International On-line Guqin Yaji, Peiyou gave a brief talk of three stories of qin players in the Spring Autumn period.

Before the first dynasty of Imperial China, Qin, there were many feudal states, like small countries, and they constantly fought among those countries. In Chinese history, these unpeaceful periods were called the Spring Autumn period and the Warring States period. They were called the Spring Autumn period, for two reasons:

First,  according to the date of the year, and the order of the four seasons, the historical officials of the Lu State (where Confucius was from)  recorded the major events of the countries in the Spring and Autumn Period. Second, the ancient events occurred frequently in the spring and autumn seasons. Therefore, people generally call the chronicle "Spring and Autumn."

Here I have two maps to show some geographic concepts between China now and back then during the Spring Autumn Period. You can see the major two big rivers, the Yellow river in the north and the Yangzi River in the south, and those feudal states were located in the lower reaches of both rivers during the Spring Autumn period.

There is the Wu state, which is the yellow green color on the right side of the map, and that area was and still is the most rich land in China. The lineage of the qin school we are following, which is the "Wumen" (Gate of Wu) qin school, came from this Wu area. On the north side of the Wu state is the Lu state where Confucius and Shi Xiang, one of the qin players I will talk about, were from. On the left of the map is the Qin state which later became the Qin empire, after the First Emperor of Qin unified all the states.  Next to the Qin state is the Jin state, where another qin player I will talk about, Shi Kuang, was from.  And the qin player, Zhong Yi was from the Chu state.

The first qin player I will talk about is Zhong Yi who was a hereditary court musician from the Chu state, majoring in zither.  The Chu state was known for its distinct music and shamanistic rituals. In 1977, China unearthed a very important archaeological site, the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng and found many musical instruments including the magnificent bronze bells. The location of the Tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng is in a village called Sui which was in the Chu State. This find, gives us a sense that the Chu state music could have been developed to a high level.

The story about Zhong Yi is that back in his time, the Chu state was friendly to the Zheng State. The Jin State was not happy about that and caught the Duke Cheng of Zheng while the duke was visiting Jin. Jin then had their troops attack Zheng. The Zheng state sent a messenger for peace along with the Chu court musician Zhong Yi. The messenger was killed by Jin and Zhong Yi was kept as a prisoner. One day the Duke of Jin patrolled the military jail and saw Zhong Yi, and asked the warden: The tied prisoner wearing a southern hat, who is he? The warden answered: Chu prisoner dedicated by Zheng. The Duke of Jin requested the warden to untie Zhong Yi and let him come to the Duke’s office. When Zhong Yi was in the Duke’s office, he knelt down and bowed to the Duke a couple times. The Duke then asked Zhong Yi about his family, Zhong Yi answered that his family are musicians. Duke Jin asked: Can you perform music? Zhong Yi answered: Playing music is the mission from my ancestors, I dare not to do any other job. Duke Jin had someone bring Zhong Yi a zither and asked him to play. Zhong Yi played a southern melody. Duke Jin asked him more questions about the leader of Chu and Zhong Yi’s answers were praised by one of Duke Jin’s military leaders Fan Wenzi. Fan commended that Zhong Yi is a gentleman who respects his own leader and is loyal to his origins, is trustworthy, and suggested Duke Jin to let Zhong Yi go back to Chu to maintain a good relationship between Jin and Chu. Duke Jin released Zhong Yi. A couple years later, Chu and Jin formed an alliance.

The next qin player I will talk about is Shi Kuang, who was a blind court musician, active around 572-532 BC from the Jin State, He was good at Qin and Se playing, and so sensitive to music that he could recognize which bronze bell was not tuned correctly while the bell was being made. There is a story about a Chinese proverb, "light up a candle to brighten the way"... Duke Ping of Jin one day asked Shi Kuang: I am 70 years old now, and want to study new knowledge, am I too late? Shi Kuang answered: Why not light up the candle? Duke Ping said: Is there an official making a joke with his king? Shi Kuang said: How dare a blind official like me make fun of his king? I heard that when a young man likes to learn, that is like the light is shining from the morning sun; When a middle aged man likes to learn, that is like the sun light from the midday; When an aged man likes to learn, that is like lighting up a candle to shine his way, isn't that stronger than walking in the dark?" Duke Ping then said: Well said.

The story of Confucius learning the qin piece "Praise the King Wen of Zhou" came from the book, Family Sayings of Confucius 孔子家語 from the 3rd century. This story is actually to praise Confucius. The story is: When 10 days after Confucius learned the piece “Praise the King Wen of Zhou” from Shi Xiang, Shi Xiang suggested that he move on to learn a new piece. But Confucius said that he felt that he hadn’t mastered the playing technique and rhythm yet.  After a period of time, Shi Xiang said to Confucius that he thought Confucius had achieved the playing techniques and rhythm and that he could move on to a new piece. Confucius then said that he had not got the meaning of the piece yet. After a period of time, Shi Xiang said to Confucius that now he had learned the meaning of the piece, he could move on to a new piece. Confucius said that he still had not been able to picture the spirit of King Wen from the playing yet. After a period of time, Shi Xiang heard Confucius’ playing of Wen Wang Cao and said to him:
“your playing has qualities of respectful and solemnity with deep thought; pleasant with lofty prospects.”
Confucius then said: “ I have gained the characters of King Wen who is slender and tall, dark; broad as looking at the ocean; truly a king of four states. If he is not the King Wen, who could be qualified?”
Shi Xiang was very impressed and stood up to bow to Confucius, then said:  “you are really talking about the Wen Wang Cao here."

A wise man playing the qin not only with good skill but also knowing the meaning behind it. Shi Xiang’s learning of the guqin was only to know the melody. Confucius was really far more talented than Shi Xiang. The old way of teaching qin playing was to teach the melody first without teaching the meaning behind the melody, and to let the learners figure out the meaning themselves. This way the learner would understand more deeply and be able to achieve success.

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