Guqin

Last updated by fabiowzgogo at 2014/9/1

The guqin (gu qin  =  "ancient qin", or "ancient stringed instrument" [古琴]) begins with the qin. The qin, which we will promptly state is not necessarily – in fact, in all likelihood, is not at all – the same instrument that we know today as the guqin, has an ancient history, and an even more ancient legendary "history". To take the latter first, the qin was created by two of the Three August Ones, namely Shennong, The Human Sovereign [泰皇], and his elder brother, Fuxi, The Heavenly Sovereign [天皇] (while the third member of the Three August Ones is the two brothers' sister, Nüwa, The Earthly Sovereign [地皇]). The Three August Ones are also known as the Three Sovereigns (San Huang [三主權]), the legendary (think: mythical) three sages who created mankind and all of the essential kit that mankind would need in order to prosper on Earth (at least initially, all the rest – such as the Blackberry, the iPod and the Wii – mankind could figure out for himself, over time), such as the plow, the fishhook, the spear, and of course the qin, because all work and no play is not much fun, and the Three August Ones naturally wished for their "offspring" to have a bit of fun!

The ancient history of the qin – which (or rather, one of which, since there were apparently several different instruments that were referred to as a "qin") was surely the predecessor of the guqin – is such a complex but interesting story that it is deserving of its very own chapter... 

The Origins of the Qin

The qin – and just to be clear, we are speaking of the term "qin" that seems to have been used to describe a wide range of musical instruments, not just stringed instruments (of which the qin is one among many) – appears in pictographic form on so-called oracle bones that stem from the Shang (BCE 1700-1027) Dynasty, and later, during both the Shang Dynasty and the subsequent Zhou (BCE 1027-221) Dynasty, in the form of a graph type script (i.e., a script that is slighly more stylized than the pictograph) called [Guwen 古文], that appeared both on oracle bones, on pottery and on bronzewares. The first historical reference to a qin is from the 6th century BCE and is found in the Shi Jing ("Book of Songs" [詩經]), though the Book of Songs does not describe the instrument in question; thus it is impossible to know whether this was even the qin that was the forerunner of the guqin.

The earliest extant musical instruments that might conceivably be qin (by definition, they are indeed qin, as will be seen farther below) were unearthed from various tombs in Hubei and Hunan Province during the period 5th century – 3rd century BCE (see the sketches of three such instruments below, plus a fourth that belongs to the Southern Ming (CE 1644-62) period).

3 Qin and 1 Guqin

Fig 1: Three early period qin (1-3) and a Ming period guqin (4)

 

The sketch numbered 1 above is a 10-stringed qin excavated from the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng in Leigudun, Suixian, Hubei Province that is determined to be from BCE 433. The second sketch shows a possibly 9-stringed qin excavated from Wulipai Tomb 3 in Changsha, Hunan Province, 3rd century BCE (exact date not determined). The third sketch shows a 7-stringed qin excavated from Mawangdui Tomb 3, Changsha, Hunan Province, 2nd century BCE (exact date not determined). The fourth sketch shows a 7-stringed qin that belonged to Zhu Changfang, the Younger Prince of Lu and the third son of Zhu Yiliu (1568-1614), known as the Prince of Lu (who also happened to be the younger brother of the Ming (CE 1368-1644) Dynasty Wanli Emperor).*(1)

*(1) The Younger Prince of Lu served as the ruler of the Southern Ming Dynasty for a brief spell in 1645 (note that the Southern Ming, remnant of the fallen Ming Dynasty, overlapped with the Qing (CE 1644-1911) Dynasty the first 18 years, or until 1662). In 1646, Zhu Changfang fled Weihui in Henan Province for Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, where he was captured by Qing forces, taken to Beijing and executed along with other Ming princes sympathetic to the Southern Ming.

The Younger Prince of Lu owned several qin, whereof ten are extant. He was an avid qin player, and is believed to have either made his qin himself, or had them made specially for him. The qin shown below is the earliest exemplar of the prince's extant ten qin, this one made in 1634 and bearing the number 18. It hangs today in the Metropolitan Museum, New York City.

Prince Lu Guqin #18

Fig 2: Prince Lu's (Zhu Changfang's) Guqin # 18, Metropolitan Museum, NYC

The reverse side of Qin # 18 belonging to the Younger Prince of Lu bear's the maker's seal and date. It also bears the words "Capital Peace" and the following poem:

The moonlight is being reflected by the river Yangtze
A light breeze is blowing over clear dewdrops,
Only in a tranquil place
Can one comprehend the feeling of eternity.

Ancient, or traditional, musical instruments can be divided into four overarching categories, whereof the category chordophones covers stringed instruments. Although there are no extant, pre-Han era exemplars of these instruments, oracle bone writings (in gu wen script) indicate that they did indeed exist in the pre-Han era. Chordophones can further be divided into five subcategories: zithers, lutes, harps, lyres and musical bows.

There is no evidence that suggest that lutes or harps existed in China prior to their introduction during the Han Dynasty. Similarly, there is no evidence to suggest that lyres and musical bows existed in China prior to the modern era (i.e., prior to the birth of Jesus Christ, or during the BCE era). However, there is evidence, in the form of gu wen graphs on oracle bone, suggesting that zithers, which is the family of musical instruments to which the qin/ guqin belongs, existed as early as the Shang (BCE 1700-1027) Dynasty. Which leads us to the different types of zithers...

 

Types of Chinese Zithers

Unfortunately, there are no oracle bones with characters that specifically depict a stringed instrument (as opposed to oracle bone script, such as gu wen script, that also appeared on bronzewares) . On the other hand, the oracle bone graphs (somewhat pictograph-like) for music suggest what appears to be pieces of twisted string stretched over wood (oh, we forgot to mention that the strings of the qin – of all ancient Chinese zithers, in fact – are made of twisted silk, which produces a very special, very soft sound). Therefore it is conjectured that there may well have existed zithers – maybe even several zither types that simply did not "catch on", i.e., which, in hindsight, can be considered as prototypes that never developed into an instrument that could stand the test of time – early during the Shang Dynasty.

The Zhou Dynasty historical records indicate, however, that there were two distinct types of zithers in widespread use at the time, namely, the qin and the se. It is therefore tempting to believe that of the many zither type instruments being experimented with during the previous Shang Dynasty, only the qin and the se survived. Preliminary evidence suggests that the se was made with movable bridges, while the qin was made without.*(2) Unfortunately, since the historical record does not specify whether all se were made with movable bridges and whether all qin were made without, it is possible that early exemplars of these two instruments each came in two varieties: one with and one without movable bridges, but that over time, all se were made with movable bridges while all qin were made without, which is at least the result that one sees much later in history.

*(2) A bridge is a wedge of sorts that lifts the string up, and since the bridge is also in contact with the resonating surface, it thus shortens the length of the string, altering the octave of the music produced on that string. If one reduces the length of a vibrating string by half, the note produced by plucking on that shortened string is raised one octave. With movable bridges, therefore, the instrument can play an even broader range of notes.

At the time of the Western Zhou (BCE 1027-771) Dynasty, there were only two zithers mentioned in the literature: a 7-string qin [琴] without movable bridges (and without frets, i.e., without spaced ridges located on the "neck" of the instrument and just underneath the strings, allowing the musician to press down on the string near a fret, thus additionally shortening the string in much the same way – but not exactly the same way – as a movable bridge shortens a string) and a 25-string se [瑟] with a movable bridge under each string.

By the time of the Eastern Zhou (BCE 770-221) Dynasty, two further zithers were developed, the zheng (similar to the se but with fewer strings [箏]) and the zhu [筑], the latter whose strings were struck with a piece of bamboo. Still, short of specific descriptions, it is impossible to know whether qin and se – or zheng and zhu, for that matter – were generic terms or not. Some experts have therefore suggested that instead of referring to the qin and the se, it would be better to refer to "qin style" and "se style" to describe the early zithers. In fact, the two instruments were commonly mentioned in pairs, which might mean that the two terms were used interchangably, or that where the one was used, it was often accompanied by the other. Indeed, there is an old expression, "the qin and se resonate together", which eventually became an expression for marital harmony, as in the English expression, "two peas in a pod".

This leaves one wondering whether earlier, Zhou dynasty qins excavated from the imperial tombs of southern China of the types depicted in the above sketches – and which are quite different when compared to modern qins – weren't instead predecessors of the present-day qin. The earliest qin that is described in literature sources and which resembles the qin of today, i.e., with roughly the same shape and length, and replete with the standard seven strings of today – a qin that stems from the early 3rd century CE period, or the Three Kingdoms (CE 220-280) Period – is described in such a way as to suggest that it had possessed this same size, shape and number, as it were, for quite some time. The Three Kingdoms qin is also the same physical qin that we know from the surviving qins of the Tang Dynasty period, which, in turn, are the same as the qin of today.

There are other conundrums as well, such as the fact that early paintings that depict the use of the qin do not suggest that those who played it were the scholarly type, yet Confucius (BCE 551-479), who was apparently an aficionado of the qin, is decidedly of the scholarly type. We know that the qin was eventually adopted by romantic, "Dead Poet" type scholars (think: champions of hopeless causes) and that as a musical instrument, the qin of the romantic scholars produced a delicate sound that made it an instrument not at all suited for public performances, but rather, suited only for private get-togethers.

We also know that the earlier qins were shorter and stockier and often had ten or more strings, but that they eventually became long and elegant with only seven strings. It is therefore tempting to conclude that the qin of the Three Kingdoms period and thereafter had become the qin that we now associate with romantic scholars. Indeed, during this period, any Chinese scholar worth his ink stone (yantai [硯臺]), as it were, was as expected to be proficient in playing the qin as a 17th century European scholar was expected to be proficient in Greek and Latin.

Yet again, we have a conundrum, for we have an instrument that seems to follow a progression toward greater refinement, where the number of strings decreases, finally settling on the number seven, while the ancient legends surrounding the development of the qin suggest that the instrument was born with only five strings, then another and yet another was added, presumably thus creating the ideal qin.

These conundrums will probably never be resolved, partly because the qin, being made of wood and being made to resonate musical notes, not made to survive the forces of nature, did not survive certain acidic soil types, meaning that we have only a few surviving qins from the earlier period, with large time gaps in between them, all of which only adds to the qin's mystique.

Some have suggested that the reason why the qin became the preferred mode of expression of China's romantic scholars – and romantic scholars are, by definition, conservative – is that also the China of those years was being bombarded with a myriad of intrusive foreign influences (think: the Silk Road and the introduction not only of exotic foreign goods but also of foreign ideas and customs, such as Buddhism, Islam and Nestorian Christianity) which caused many scholars of the period who took pride in homegrown Han Chinese culture to rebel.

Therefore their preoccupation with the qin became a symbol of their unspoken yet band-of-brothers resistance to the rapid changes that were taking place around them.*(3) This is of course pure conjecture, but the concept is not so very different from the equally effete romantic love (think: platonic love) of the chivalrous knight of medieval Europe. Of course, given that the latter was typically a crusader returning from some pretty horrific battlefields in the Levant, his strange preoccupation with chivalrous love was perhaps the then equivalent of today's PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) : ).

* (3) This social phenomenon is not at all unusual... according to recent evidence, Turkish men are exceedingly sentimental and/or romantic, and the reason offered for this abnormal (for Turkish men) behavior is that Turkey has been undergoing such manifest social upheaval in the past two decades, compared to earlier times, that Turkish men may be clinging to vestiges of the recent past as a buffer against these waves of change.

 

Construction of the Qin

All ancient stringed instruments were essentially made of wood with strings typically made of gut, i.e., cat gut (the European tradition), or of twisted silk (the Chinese tradition). The wooden frame of the stringed instrument, in order to provide the necessary resonance, or accoustics, of a stringed instrument, needed to be hollow to one degree or another. The qin/ guqin follows this same overarching construction recipe, though with twisted silk for strings. As we have seen in the above, there have been several variations on the construction theme of the qin, with a gradual lengthening of the qin combined with a reduction in the number of strings down to the apparently ideal number of 7 such strings.

The body of the qin is made of two parts (see the drawing below): a flat bottom – symbolizing Earth – and a rounded, or arched/ semi-cylindrical (seen in cross-section), top – symbolizing Heaven. The flat bottom was generally made of Chinese catalpa wood (Catalpa ovata) while the arched top, aka the sounding board, was made of Chinese parasol wood (Firmiana simplex), though today, the guqin is typically made of a wood sort belonging to the cypress (Cupressaceae) family, such as the Cunninghamia (the Cunninghamia konishii or the Cunninghamia lanceolata). The body of the ancient qin/ guqin was painstakingly varnished repeatedly with a thin layer of lacquer mixed with ground (powdered) deer antler; the lacquering process could take months to complete.

Over time, the qin's lacquer would develop cracks, but it was believed that these cracks actually helped to improve the accoustic quality of the instrument, since the cracks in the varnish enabled the wood to vibrate, however infinitesimally, thus producing a more pleasing, more rounded sound. The so-called snake-like pattern of the cracks in the qin's lacquer was even given a name: duanwen ("disjointed (i.e., patternless) cracks" [断璺]). Moreover, it is said that the age of an ancient parasol wood/ catalpa wood qin lacquered in this painstaking manner can be determined from examining these "tea leaves" as it were, i.e., by studying the details of the patternless cracks, though just how this is done is not explained to lay folk like us!

There are 13 hui (button-like dots [徽]) that are ranged along the length of the top surface of the guqin and which symbolize the 13 months of the year, the extra month being of course the "leap month" in the Chinese lunar calendar. Even the precise length of the guqin is designed to fit the calendar, where the guqin's length, measured in Chinese units, is 3 chi (a Chinese foot [尺]), 6 cun ("inch" [寸]) and 5 fen (a tiny unit equal to 1/3 centimeter [分]), and the astute observer will already have noted the inherent 3-6-5 which captures the number of days in a year. The guqin has two apertures, or sound holes, from which sound can emanate, one roughly in the center of the instrument, the long chi ("dragon pool" [龍池]) aperture, and one near the guqin's narrow end, the feng zhao ("phoenix pond" [鳳沼]) aperture.

 

Exploded view of guqin

Fig 3: "Exploded view" of the guqin: its top and two views (inside and out) of the bottom

 

Guqin Playing Techniques and Their Associated Sounds

Fig 4 - Qin plucking style

Fig 4: Qin plucking style

 

There are three basic ways to produce sound on a guqin, all three of which involve a plucking motion: to pluck the string laterally – san yin ("scattered sounds" [散音]) – in the same way one would pluck, say, a guitar in Western music (except that in Western music, a lateral pluck generally corresponds to a downward pluck, since the guitar is held immediately in front of the body, usually suspended from a strap that goes around the player's neck, whereas the guqin is played on a supporting device (stand, or table of sorts) in a horizontal position, in much the same way that a slide guitar is played); to gently "hook" ("grab") the string lightly with one or more fingers of the left hand at a point corresponding to a hui (the hui are not placed randomly, but represent a given note) – fan yin ("floating sounds" [泛音]) – then lift the string up briskly, thus plucking it sharply (this probably very closely resembles the way that, say, a 12-string guitar is plucked in many kinds of folk or classical Western songs); and finally, by pressing the string down with a finger or thumb of the left hand until it contacts the surface of the wood – an yin ("stopped sounds" [按音]... note that the first character means "stopped" and the second means "sound", while putting the two together is usually translated as "alphabetical" (!) ) – then pluck it.

Fig 5 - Qin plucking style

Fig 5: Qin plucking style

 

The "stopped sounds" is the most common way to pluck/ produce a sound on the guqin, i.e., it is the technique that forms the bulk of the notes played on a guqin. For each of these three main plucking techniques, there are hundreds of variations involving multiple fingers and different nuances regarding how the pluck is performed, with, in all, some 1000 different finger techniques for the guqin, making the guqin the instrument with the most varied finger techniques in the world, bar none! However, most of them correspond to musical notes that belong to obsolete songs; in playing guqin songs today, including even many of the ancient classics, only about 50 different finger techniques are required (this is not unlike the Chinese language itself, which consists of about 56,000 individual characters in total, while everyday speech in China today, as well as everyday written language, only requires the knowledge of about 3000 characters).

Fig 6 - Qin plucking style

Fig 6: Qin plucking style

 

Fig 7 - Qin plucking style

Fig 7: Qin plucking style

 

Tablature, or Notation

Detailed notation for playing the guqin did not exist in ancient China, at least not in the form recognized in Western music that details note value, rhythm and tempo. Instead, the ancient guqin players relied on so-called tablature, which makes use of symbols, letters and other pictographic cues that would demonstrate how, for example, the hand and fingers were held in plucking a note, as well as visual cues that showed the proper placement of the fingers along the string to be plucked (i.e., in relation to the 13 hui).

Tablature was not widely used, when it originated in ancient times, to teach oneself how to play the guqin; instead, the aspiring guqin player was as an apprentice to an experienced master, learning from the master by watching the master play, even where the "master" and the "apprentice" might be artistic colleagues (perhaps one was a painter, the other a poet... guqin playing in ancient times was a hobby, not a profession, though the passion exhibited by the hobbyist would probably outstrip that of a present-day professional!). In other words, the aspiring qin/ guqin player learned by observing and emulating a friend who was proficient at playing the qin/ guqin.

The early form of this notation was later referred to as "longhand" notation, wenzi pu (literally, "written notation" [文字譜]) and was compiled by a certain Yong Menzhou during the Warring States (BCE 475-221) Period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty. The "longhand" notation of wenzi pu contrasted, not surprisingly, with a newer "shorthand" form of notation, jianzi pu (literally, "reduced notation" [減字譜]), that was developed by, among others, a certain Cao Rou, during the Tang Dynasty. A single character could, with this simplified notation, express all of the details of "longhand" notation such as string number, plucking technique, the hui number and which finger to use in order to stop the string, since an yin, or "stopped sounds", remained the primary playing technique. Thus the individual note in guqin music could be represented by a single jianzi pu character, and though the jianzi pu character did not tell the musician exactly how the note should sound (its note value), it was still a great advancement in qin/ guqin notation.

The popularity of jianzi pu, especially from the Ming dynasty period onward, led to the development of numerous qin pieces – called qinpu ("qin tablature collections" [琴譜]) – one of which, Shenqi Mipu ("The Mysterious and Marvellous Tablature" [神奇琴譜]) – was compiled by Zhu Quan, the 17th son of the founder of the Ming Dynasty. The development of jianzi pu, or shorthand notation, served as the impetus for the creation of a great number of qin pieces during the Ming-Qing perid. The earliest extant exemplar of longhand (wenzi pu) notation, a song called Jieshi Diao Youlan ("Solitary Orchid in Stele Mode" [碣石調幽蘭]), stems from the Tang Dynasty period, while the earliest extant exemplar of modern shorthand notation is from the 12th century CE, or from the Song (CE 960-1279) Dynasty.

During the 1960s, a large find of 130 qinpu, encompassing over 3000 pieces of shorthand notation, was discovered. Unfortunately, it is estimated that countless earlier qinpu works, written on fragile paper and subsequently subjected to the ravages of war and other manmade catastrophes – as well as natural catastrophes – are forever lost.

 

Eastern Transcription, Western Staff Notation

Transcription, or dapu, is a multifacted term, i.e., the word has more than one meaning. It is also a term that belongs to the modern era, though some rudimentary transcription of qin music involving dot notation (cf., the qin's 13dots) appeared toward the end of the Qing Dynasty and indicated the rhythm of the qinpu. If fact, experts tend to agree that the word dapu spans three different but related meanings. The most straightforward meaning of the term dapu is simply "playing a piece of qin music using qin tablature". As it turns out, there is more than one way to play a piece of qin music using qin tablature!

Basically, it boils down to either playing the music piece exactly as the qin tablature describes it, or using the qin tablature as a guide to playing the music piece in question, but not necessarily slavishly, as described. Note that qin tablature did not attempt to describe note value, rhythm or tempo as does Western music notation (aka staff notation); rather, qin tablature described where, on the instrument, one placed the fingers on a given string with one's left hand and how one plucked the string in question with one's right hand; in other words, qin tablature was a mapping from technique to music, suggesting that if one followed the qin tablature slavishly, the result would be that one would reproduce the music piece exactly as it had been played by the musician who wrote down the qin tablature for that particular piece of qin music.

This leads to two ways of thinking about qin tablature in the context of dapu:  the descriptive (following the tablature slavishly) and the interpretive (using the tablature as a guide to how the music piece might be played, but leaving it up to the individual player to use his/ her own discretion regarding – or creative sense of, or feeling for – qin music, to impart individuality to the music piece in question, though interpretive qin play is decidedly not carte blanche permission to play as one pleases!). These two different ways of thinking about dapu can also be called, respectively, "reconstructing" and "recreating".

Most modern-day students of the qin/ guqin take a somewhat conservative approach to dapu, where they suggest that in order to permit oneself the privilege of "recreating", or interpreting, a piece of qin music, one must needs first be very good at "reconstructing", or playing the piece of music exactly as the qin tablature describes it. Indeed, qin tablature was not specifically written by the masters as a guide, to be used by others (or by posterity), to how to play the piece of music in question; rather, qin tablature was written descriptively, i.e., as a way for the artist to say to others "here is how I play the piece of music in question". The distinction is somewhat subtle, and from it stems the two different ways of thinking about dapu, because the qin master did not preclude that his contemporaries – much less later generations – reading his tablature, might wish to play the piece of music in question somewhat differently.

Modern qin music is often played using Western staff notation as a supplement to the qin tablature, but only as a supplement; qin tablature remains the best way to comprehend how to play this very unique instrument, even if certain details of certain passages of the music might profit from supplementary Western music notation.

 

How The Guqin Is Played

The guqin is an instrument that makes a delicate sound and therefore it does not lend itself well to be played with other instruments, save the se, which is no longer played. The last person who knew how to play this 25-stringed instrument with moveable bridges was Wu Jinglüe (1907-87), who had a long career as a music professor at Beijing's Central Conservatory of Music.  Wu's demise was roughly synonymous with the opening of China under Deng Xiaoping, but this was simply too late for outsiders to have saved the se as a viable, playable musical instrument. One can't help but wonder, therefore, if the opening of China had occurred 15-20 years earlier, whether the art and science of playing the se could not have been preserved for posterity (note that there are several guqin aficionados in the West today, some of whom of course belong to the Chinese diaspora).

However, of late, some guqin players are teaming up with musicians who play other delicate but contrasting instruments such as: the xiao (a kind of bamboo flute – see below); the xun (an ocarina-type wind instrument, somewhat gourd-shaped and with a mouthpiece in the form of the pointed end, and with air holes like the flute and orginally made of wood, clay or ceramic, but often made of ceramic today – see below); the more conventional flute instrument, the dizi (a transverse, or side-blown, bamboo flute); the pipa (a 4-stringed, pear-shaped lute –see below); and of course the guqin can be played with other guqin, and it can be accompanied by a singer, albeit, a singer who sings in a style that is currently unknown in China and which is more akin to the way that Tang Dynasty poetry was recited.

This special form of reciting/ singing is very low-pitched (not to exceed 1½ octaves) and deep, and contrasts sharply with the high-pitched singing of modern Chinese Opera.

Figure of a xiao player

Fig 8: Figure of a xiao player excavated from an Eastern Han Dynasty era Sichuan Province tomb

 

Ceramic xun

Fig 9: Ceramic Xun

 

A pipa

Fig 10: A Pipa

 

Zha Fuxi (1895–1976) of Jiangxu Province, who co-founded the Jinyu Qin Society, then later became the head of the Beijing Qin Society, was both an accomplished guqin player and singer of guqin songs.  Zha also served as the vice-chairman of the National Musical Association and was a department head at China's Central Institute of Folk Music. Very few recordings of Zha's guqin songs exist. Like Wu Jinglüe, Zha Fuxi's art died with him. Indeed, the last ten years of Zha's life corresponded to the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), a time when many older works of art were reviled and disfigured or outright destroyed, so it was doubtful whether the guqin songs of Zha would have been in favor during this period.

 

Famous Guqin Players and Songs

In ancient China, men of letters played the guqin; it was not an instrument played by "professionals". This surely also explains why the art and science of playing the guqin was more a 'learning by doing' tradition than a written-instructions tradition, even though guqin tablature existed. Two of the most illustrious Chinese figures who were associated with the guqin were Confucius and Qu Yuan (BCE ca.340–278), the latter being a scholar who also served as a minister to the King of Chu during the Warring States Period (Qu's death is commemorated each year during the Dragon Boat Festival). Numerous Chinese emperors played the guqin to one degree or another, among whom was Song Dynasty Emperor Huizong, who reigned from CE 1100-1126. Indeed, so elegant and refined was the playing of the guqin considered that there are bodhisattva figures who are depicted playing this very special instrument (see below).

Bodhisattva playing the guqin

Fig 11 Bodhisattva playing the guqin, Musee-Guimet, Paris

 

The most important historical guqin songs can be found in classical collections such as the Qin Shi ("Qin History" [琴史]), the Qin Shi Bu ("Qin History Supplement" [琴史補]) and the Qin Shi Xu ("Qin History Continuation" [琴史續]), which also include biographies of many guqin players from ancient times up to the modern era.

o-o-0-o-o

 

As indicated, there are guqin aficionados the world over, some of them serious guqin players in their own right. They were drawn surely firstly to the beautiful music of this most unique instrument, and perhaps secondly to its scholarly tradition. One of the most famous contemporary guqin "player-scholars" is the American, John Thompson, who lived many years in Hong Kong where he fell in love with the guqin. It is said that Thompson plays the guqin so well that when even older Chinese people hear one of Thompson's recordings, they believe it to be a recording by a Chinese master... quite a compliment! This article has borrowed heavily from both Wikipedia's treatment of the Guqin and John Thompson's guqin-dedicated website, John Thompson on the Guqin Silk String Zither. Thompson's website is clearly worth checking out if you desire to know more about the guqin, from its construction to its history to the sublimely delicate music it produces.

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