An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Zhongyuan yinyun 中原音韻

Jan 3, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Zhongyuan yinyun 中原音韻 "Rhymes of the Central Plain" is a rhyme dictionary written during the Yuan period 元 (1279-1368) scholar Zhou Deqing 周德清 (1277-1365). The two juan "scrolls" long book was finished in 1324. Zhou Deqing himself was an expert in the northern style of airs (beiqu 北曲), a sung poem very popular in northern China during the Yuan period. He had observed that a lot of composers did not accurately use the proper rhymes in their poems and therefore started compiling a handbook on the accuracy of rhymes, the structure of the verses, and the right words, in order to elevate the literary niveau of the northern airs.
The book Zhongyuan yinyun is divided into two parts. In the first part, the correct rhyme patterns are explained. Zhou arranges the common 5,866 rhyme words according to 19 rhyme groups, indicated with two-character headlines, of which the first has a voiced initial, the second a voiceless initial. Each rhyme group is divided into four parts covering the respective tone pitches, namely voiceless level tone rhymes (yin pingsheng 陰平聲), voiced level tone rhymes (yang pingsheng 陽平聲), falling-rising tone rhymes (shangsheng 上聲) and falling tone rhymes (qusheng 去聲). There is a total of 1,586 groups of homophones (xiaoyun 小韻). The second part of the book, called Zhengyu zuoci qili 正語作詞起例 "Examples for composing airs with the correct words", deals with the composition of airs on the background of the underlying rhyme patterns. It seems to have been compiled in several parts over a longer period of time. Zhou explains to his readers, what is important to observe if composing an aria: the correct rhyme, the right words, the right field of words, the appropriate characters, the treatment of the entering tone words as level tone ones, the right application of voiced and voiceless initials, the right beginning of the text, paired verses, the correct rhymed ending of the verses, and the general composition of the song. The correct rhyme in the appropriate musical key was of such a high importance that the proper meaning of the words could even be neglected, as could be seen in some arias of the Jurchen period. Zhou describes 12 different musical keys or modes (gongdiao 宮調) and analyses their aptitude for the 335 model tunes (qupai 曲牌).
The rhyme patterns of the Zhongyuan yinyun can be compared with contemporary books on the same topic, like the Gujin yunhui juyao 古今韻會舉要 by the Song period 宋 (960-1279) scholars Huang Gongshao 黃公紹 and Xiong Zhong 熊忠, or Zhu Zongwen's 朱宗文 Menggu ziyun 蒙古字韻 from 1308. By this method, it is possible to reconstruct the northern Chinese language during the 13th and 14th centuries. Yet it is not known, in which region this standard language was spoken. Some scholars speak of Luoyang 洛陽, others of Kaifeng 開封.
The first scholar to investigate the language of the Zhongyuan yinyun was Luo Changpei 羅常培 (1899-1958). There were, according to his research, 21 consonant initials (or up to 25) and 46 finals. There are several phenomena showing a transition from the middle Chinese pronunciation to modern Chinese, like a growing voicelessness (qingyin 清音, called yin 陰 pitch) of the once voiced consonants (zhuoyin 濁音, called yang 陽 pitch). The syllables with level tone voiced consonant initial changed to the falling tone in the course of time. The entering tone (rusheng 入聲, which is not dealt with separately, had probably diseappeared, and words once bearing an entering tone were distributed among the voiced level and the falling-rising tones. A lot of old initials were merged into one sound, especially such of the labial group [p], [b] and [f].
Zhou Deqing's book influenced writers of southern China who also compiled similar books for the southern airs, like Fan Shanqin 范善溱 (Zhongzhou quanyun 中州全韻), Wang Jun 王鵕 (Zhongzhou yinyun jiyao 中州音韻輯要) or Zhou Shaoxia 周少霞 (Zengding Zhongzhou yinyun 增訂中州音韻).
The Zhongyuan yinyun was printed in 1333. There are three versions from the Ming period 明 (1368-1644) preserved: the Tieqintongjian Studio 鐵琴銅劍樓 version, the Xiaoyupu 嘯餘譜 version, and the Ne'an Studio 訥庵 version. The print from 1341 by Luo Zongxin 羅宗信 is already lost. The print from the early 16th century, kept by Master Zhai 瞿, was reprinted as a facsimile in 1922, and again in 1926, together with the collection Chongding quyuan 重訂曲苑. In the 1960s, a print from 1441 was discovered, namely the Ne'an version. This is the earliest surviving original. It was reprinted in 1978 by the Zhonghua shuju press 中華書局. The version of the Xiaoyupu dates from 1619, resp. from 1662, as a reprint.
The Zhongyuan yinyun was commented by the Ming period scholar Wang Wenbi 王文璧. Zhao Yintang 趙蔭棠 has made a text-critical study. Xie Tianrui 謝天瑞 has studied the book in view to rhymes in yuefu 樂府 poetry and has written the Yuefu tongyong Zhongyuan yinyun 樂府通用中原音韻, which was printed in 1599. It includes the ryhme table of the Zhongyuan yinyun.

Table of rhyme groups (yunpu 韻譜)
1 東鍾 dong zhong
2 江陽 jiang yang
3 支思 zhi si
4 齊微 qi zhi
5 魚模 yu mo
6 皆來 jie lai
7 真文 zhen wen
8 寒山 han shan
9 桓歡 huan huan
10 先天 xian tian
11 蕭豪 xiao hao
12 歌戈 ge ge
13 家麻 jia ma
14 車遮 che zhe
15 庚青 geng qing
16 優侯 you hou
17 侵尋 qin xun
18 監咸 jian xian
19 廉縴 lian qian
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