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Chinese Literature
Qinshi 琴史 "A History of the Zither"


The Qinshi 琴史 "A history of the zither" is a description of the history and the use of the seven string zither qin 琴. The 6 juan "scrolls" long book was compiled by the Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholar Zhu Zhangwen 朱長文 (1038-1098). The greatest part of the book covers a description and critique of 156 ancient masters of the zither from the Zhou 周 (11th cent.-221 BCE) to the Northern Song period 南宋 (1127-1279). The last juan is a discussion of the music instrument. The Qinshi is the first book that systematically collected information on the qin from all types of sources.
Zhu Zhangwen, courtesy name Zhu Boyuan 朱伯原, style Lepu 樂圃, came from Suzhou 蘇州 (modern Suzhou, Jiangsu) and profited from the large library his father had accumulated. The Qinshi was compiled with the help of the many texts he had at hand in this private library. Zhu Zhangwen has also written the books Chunqiu tongzhi 春秋通志, Lepu wenji 樂圃文集 (his collected writings), Qintaizhi 琴臺志 and Mochi yuegu 墨池閱古 (also called Mochibian 墨池編), a book on calligraphy. He was a professor (boshi 博士 "erudite") in the National University (taixue 太學) and later on served as junior compiler (bianxiu 編修) in the Palace Library (mishusheng 秘書省).
His book Qinshi is not only a description of the musical competence of ancient players of the zither, but also a kind of biographical collection on these persons that are rarely seen in the famous historiographical writings. Concerning the musician Xu You 許由, for instance, he informs the reader that his tune Jishang cao 箕上操 was not loved by the historian Sima Qian but was very popular among other persons. He narrates the story of Cai Tan's 蔡琰 Beifenshi 悲憤詩 but raises doubts about statements on the tunes. In the story of Ji Kang's 嵇康 Qinfu 琴賦 that is also told in the history Jinshi 晉書, he criticizes the story that the musician has been tought the tune Guangling san 廣陵散 by the spirit of an ancient player.
The last juan is divided into 11 chapters that cover various aspects of the musical instrument, musical tunes in general and specifially, playing methods, and theory.
Unfortunately Zhu Changwen does not provide a comprehensive discussion that connects the various descriptions of musicians through the ages, so that it can not be known which changes occurred in the couse of time. In this respect, his book remains a simple collection of information, for which he not even indicates the source.
The Qinshi was first printed in 1233 by Zhu's grandson Zhu Zhengda 朱正大, who also wrote a preface.
Zhou Qingyun 周慶云 has written the complementary books Qinshi xu 琴史續 and Qinshi bu 琴史補, and Cha Fuxi 查阜西 has compiled the Lidai qinren zhuan 歷代琴人傳 that contains biographies of famous zither players through the ages.


Sources:
Li Xueqin 李學勤, Lü Wenyu 呂文鬰 (1996). Siku da cidian 四庫大辭典, vol. 2, p. 1819. Changchun: Jilin daxue chubanshe.
Xu Jian 許健 (1989). "Qinshi 琴史", in: Zhongguo da baike quanshu 中國大百科全書, Yinyue wutiao 音樂 舞蹈, p. 531. Beijing/Shanghai: Zhongguo da baike quanshu chubanshe.


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August 24, 2012 © Ulrich Theobald · Mail