The Qincao 琴操 "Guide to the Zither" is the oldest surviving book of zither (qin 琴) tunes. It was written by the Later Han period 後漢 (25-220 CE) writer Cai Yong 蔡邕. The text describes the author, content and background of 47 tunes, and for some of the songs also related stories. Only for a smaller part of the songs, the text has survived.
The songs belong to four different types, namely "songs" (geshi 歌詩, 5 tunes), "drills" (cao 操, 12 tunes), "guidances" (yin 引, 9 tunes), and "miscellaneous songs from Hejian" (Hejian zage 河間雜歌, 21 tunes). Of a small amount of songs, the title is mentioned, but no further information is given.
The Qincao is transmitted in three different versions. The first is a compilation of fragments collected by the Qing period 清 (1644-1911)
master Wang Mo 王漠 , to be found in his collectaneum Han-Wei yishu chao 漢魏遺書鈔, and the second a collection with an anonymous preface from 1798, and a third one with a preface written by Zhang Dunhe 張敦仁 and dated 1800. The last two versions are not divided into juan "scrolls", and quote from ancient books that include fragments of the Qincao, like the Tang period 唐 (618-907) encyclopedia Chuxueji 初學記. The Qincao is also to be found in the collecaneum Pingjinguan congshu 平津館叢書, where the text is divided into 2 juan. The wording of the second part of this edition differs somewhat form that of the other editions.
Source: Ji Liankang 吉聯抗 (1989). "Qincao 琴操", 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. 529.