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Xishan qinkuang 谿山琴況 "The Art of the Zither from Valed-Mountain Studio"


The Xishan qinkuang 谿山琴況 "The Art of the Zither from Valed-Mountain Studio" is a book on music for the small zither (qin 琴) written by the late Ming period 明 (1368-1644) scholar Xu Shangying 徐上瀛, actual name Xu Hong 徐谼, courtesy name Xu Qingshan 徐青山, style Shifan shanren 石泛山人. He came from Taicang 太倉, Jiangsu and was a famous zither player of the Yushan school 虞山派, to which also Zhang Weichuan 張渭川, Chen Aitong 陳愛桐, Yan Cheng 嚴澂, Shi Jianpan 施{石+間}槃 and Shen Taishao 沈太韶 belonged. When the Ming empire fell apart, he "discarded the zither and took the sword", and after the conquest of China by the Manchus withdrew from public life.
During the Ming and Qing 清 (1644-1911) periods there were more than a hundred collections of music scores for the qin zither, but only a lesser part of these collections discussed the music instrument in a theoretical way. Books that did include such a theoretical part explained tuning, the key modes, methods of playing by various finger techniques, the shape and production of the music instrument, as well as the most important schools of zither players. Xu Shangying's book is one of the few that discussed the music on the zither from the viewpoint of art and performance.
The oldest text on the art of playing the zither was Liu Xiang's 劉向 Qinshuo 琴說 from the Former Han period 前漢 (206 BCE-8 CE) where he explained seven methods, but this text is lost. This means that Xu Shangying's book is the oldest text on the art of the zither. He explains 24 "standard situations" (kuang 況) to play the zither, namely eight types of qualities and styles: he 和 "peaceful", jing 靜 "quiet", qing 清 "pure", yuan> 遠 "far-reaching", gu 古 "antique", dan 澹 "tranquil", tian 恬 "peaceful", and yi 逸 "at ease"; twelve tone colours and finger skills: ya 雅 "elegant", li 麗 "with beauty", liang 亮 "lucid", cai 采 "plucking", jie 潔 "pure", run 潤 "smooth", yuan 圓 "tactful", jian 堅 "solid", hong 宏 "broad", xi 細 "with detail", liu 溜 "gliding" and jian 健 "vigorous"; and four methods of "treatment": qing 輕 "light", zhong 重 "heavy", chi 遲 "retarding", su 速 "hasting".
In spite of this broad bandwith of modes to play, the zither master Su Jing 蘇璟, author of the "eight principles of playing the zither" (guqin baze 鼓琴八則, part of Chuncaotang qinpu 春草堂琴譜), explains that in fact all tempi and modes are based on the patterns qing "pure" and he "peaceful".
The Xishan qinkuang was finished before 1641, but was first printed in 1673 as part of the collection Daguange qinpu 大還閣琴譜.


Source: Lan Yusong 藍玉崧 (1989). "Xishan qinkuang 谿山琴況", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Yinyue wudao 音樂•舞蹈, Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe, p. 717.
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November 22, 2013 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail