Remembering the Spirits: Old Refugees, Past Struggles (Part 1)

Source: 转:杨典博文:《从裴铁侠之死到溥雪斋失踪》 (Yang Dian: From the Death of Pei Tiexia to the Disappearance of Pu Xuezhai)
Translated by: Juni L. Yeung

Translator’s foreword: On the 23rd anniversary of the June 4, 1989 Tian’anmen Massacre, here is the first part of a remembrance towards those whose talent was drowned away in the torrent of Chinese modernity.

The 20th century was an era of constant turmoil and revolution. Never in any previous period of Chinese history seen war, regime change, revolution and reform, and inquisitions in such an intense timeframe. “Scar literature” is a particular type of literature produced in form of fiction and non-fictional accounts from people retelling the tales of those times, particularly on hardship, death and persecution from the Communist revolutions. Here we have true accounts of how such scars have left its mark on the qin world.

From the Death of Pei Tiexia to the Dissapearance of Pu Xuezhai

Lvhe Qin Society in Sichuan along with Zha Fuxi and Hu Yingtang from Shanghai Jinyu Qin Society in Year Dingchou (ROC 26, 1937). Pei Tiexia is 2nd from right in the front row.

Ever since I started learning the qin as a teenager, I’ve heard of Sichuan school master Pei Tiexia’s fame, but never of his playing’s recordings, let alone his published manuscripts during the Republican era. Pei Tiexia is a Chengdu resident during the late Qing and Republican era, born to a family of landowner bourgeois reactionary classes, and is a Fanchuan (Pan-Sichuan) school player. Many Sichuan-school players then also had roots in Yushan-school style (from Changshu, near Shanghai). Pei Tiexia was the prime example of such a player. His lineage was from Cheng Fu, the disciple of Zhang Ruishan. Why is it that we seldom see information about him? I only learned later on that during the 1950’s, he committed suicide after an abhorration. Why did he commit suicide? How did he do it? With the rumours urging for silence, I only knew after checking the records that he perished during the land-reform era.

In Autumn 2007, Sichuan qin maker He Mingwei visited Beijing, and I invited him for dinner. Mr. He talked about many things and anecdotes in the past about Pei Tiexia. Later, I received in the mail from Mr. He’s disciple Tang Qiao the facimile of Pei’s works Shayan Qinbian 《沙堰琴编》 manuscript and Qin Yu 《琴余》, dated 1946. I was read these works excited through the night, sight-reading through these once-forgotten scores, and reminiscing of the sounds of Shuanglei, the “Twin Lei qin owner”, with bittersweet thoughts.

The Pei household is on Tongren Road in Shaocheng District of Chengdu, and is a secluded compound in the city. Pei intended to be a qin teach all his life, hence a sign read outside the door: “This studio teaches the elegant music of the seven-strings.” Pei’s compound had two zhennan trees in the courtyard, hence his studio is called Shuang-nan Tang, or “Twin Zhennan Hall”. Also because Pei Tiexia and his wife Ms. Shen each had a Tang dynasty qin, one large and one small, made by the famous Lei clan, his home was also called Shuang-lei Zhai, or “Twin Lei Studio”. It was also because of the famed Twin-Lei story that led to one of the largest incidents in modern qin history.

Looking back on Pei Tiexia’s suicide, the most famous account and eulogy was written by Sichuan University Literature professor Zeng Zhen, who wrote a prose titled Shuanglei Yin 《雙雷引》, quote:


A scholar by the alias Lanqiao, has a home near Zhijishi of Chengdu, is a bluntly honest character removed from worldly matters. He loved to play qin, and could play Gaoshan Liushui, Chunshan Dujuan, Wanhe Songfeng, Sanxia Liushui, Tianfeng Haitao and many other pieces, and was reputed for so. The Royal Conservatory of Music in England invited him as a professor to teach there. He refused, and people respected him all the more for it. His home had a qin made by Tang dynasty maker Lei Wei, which he quite treasured. Later, his wife Ms. Shen reacquired another qin, slightly smaller than the former, with the inscription “Lei Xiao” inside the Dragon Pool. Hence the two qins were called “Da-Lei” (Big Lei) and “Xiao-Lei” (Small Lei).


Let us backtrack, Chengdu had a master appraiser by the family name Shen, who owned the Small Lei as a family treasure. He had a daughter, whom he told on his deathbed to her, “If you so wish, whomever can play this qin, shall be my son-in-law.” The scholar was recently widowed, and was moved by such news. He went to the lady’s house and asked to see the qin, whom he later played. He went home, and sent out a marriage proposal. As such, the qin and the lady both went to the scholar. With two famous qins and young children, they were happy in their secluded living, as if in some otherworldly paradise.


After the Revolution, the family declined, and they sold all their clothing for sustenance. When the qin came under threat, he responded with great emotion, telling his wife, “Both you and me hold the twin Lei’s as our own lives. If it comes down to this, for what have we left to live for!” He and his wife took out the two qins, smashed them to bits and burned them, and died together from an overdose in soporific drugs.


After they died, his family found a letter on the desk, along with ten or twenty gold inlaid pieces. The letter wrote, “The two qins are both now in Heaven, the gold inlaid hui markers I leave behind as burial fees.” The gold inlaid pieces were then used to pay for the coffins and laid to rest along Shayan. Shayan was the other work of the scholar’s life, as he wrote “The Shayan Qin Compilation” (Shayan Qinbian) in this very place.


At first when I have not had the chance to meet this gentleman, he eventually invited me to visit his place after hearing about it through word of mouth. One day, I saw an official invitation coming, and I went to his place. I saw three people sitting, one was Mr. Xie Wuliang, the other Yang Zhuping, and the last one I knew not his name. I was introduced to him as “This is Mr. XX, of bear trails and bird paths. The guests invited were no ordinary people, the gardens were elegant and secluded, and the dining and tea wares were all exquisite. After the banquet, the scholar showed his qins for all to see. Zhuping examined them, and said, “There are Tang [qins], and there are Songs, and there are Yuan-Ming and so on. Tang (dynasty) specimens were the best of all, and small ones particularly so.” The scholar was greatly surprised, and claimed that he saw no greater appraiser of instruments as himself, and never expected Zhuping also to be proficient in such. He sat straight up, took the small Lei qin, and played Pingsha Luoyan (Geese Landing on Flat Sands). After the piece ended, he looked toward his guests, “What do you think?” and the response came as, “Quite well.” He laughed and said, “You say it was good, but only because you may not understand what it was about!” His boastful attitude as such was often like so.


During the beginning of the Revolution, the scholar was engrossed in the qin and cared naught for worldly matters. He was ignorant of the message and importance of the Revolution, and the people had nothing to tell. If he was still alive today and saw the flourishing of the new state, he certainly would strum the strings to praise its prosperity. Alas, what is born must someday cease. As I live in the Western suburbs, a strike of melancholy hits me as I pass Shayan every time. As both the man and his instrument are gone, I write this “Twin-Lei Prologue” to remember the occasion.

Zeng Zhen’s poem is too long, as it mainly describes Pei’s obsession with the qin and his life. I shall quote four lines from it:

郎殉瑶琴妾殉郎 The man dies for the qin, the lady dies for the man,
人琴一夕竟同亡 Alas, man and qin suddenly decease in one night.
流水落花春去也 Gone is the spring with flowing water and fallen flowers,
人间天上两茫茫 As realms mortal and Heaven both look bleak.

Zeng wrote this essay during the 50’s or 60’s, during the sensitive period of the Revolution, and was published in Chongqing Shici  anthology Vol.3 in 1994. Zeng Zhen, courtesy name Shengyan, is a native of Malingxiang of Xuyong in Sichuan Province. He died in public persecution during the Cultural Revolution, due to some of his prose and poetry. Zeng’s works often used indirect reference, and this “scholar of Lanqiao” is an alias for Pei Tiexia, its origins coming from a Tang era tale anthology Chuanqi.

The story goes like this: In Changqing, there is an Imperial examinee named Pei Hang, who passed by Lanqiao station post. He was thirsty, and saw an old lady weaving linen by a hut. He bowed and asked for a drink, and the old lady had her granddaughter Yun Ying carry a jug of wine. From inside the bamboo curtain came a pair of jade-delicate hands holding the jug, and the brew tasted like the Jade nectar, which its exotic fragrances perforated everywhere. Pei Hang wanted to return the jug, so he lifted the curtain. He was shocked at Yun Ying’s beauty, and proposed to marry her. The old lady said that he must get a jade mortar and pestle in order to marry her, which he indeed found one in Chang’an. He returned to Lanqiao post station to marry her, and it is said the couple both drifted off into a grotto on Jade Peak as immortals.

Zeng Zhen’s use of the “Lanqiao scholar” as an alias was to cover up the identity of Pei Tiexia, and his family’s tragedy.
Since the twin Lei’s were originally the Shen family’s treasure, another rumor went that Pei Tiexia married Ms. Shen for the qin, for Ms. Shen was said to only have mediocre looks, and Pei’s family was better off and Tiexia himself was proficient with the instrument. Regardless, this also reflects Pei Tiexia’s level of obsession with the qin.

In 1937, Pei Tiexia and Sichuan school representative player Yu Shaoze founded “Chengdu Lvhe Qin Society”, and “Xiuming Qin Society” in 1947. He gathered fellow qin players, and held receptions for famous players from other places like Zha Fuxi, Hu Yingtang, Xu Yuanbai and more. [TL note: Many of whom fled to Sichuan during the war or retreated with the Republican Army to nearby Chongqing.] But with the change of history and the extrematizing of society, Pei Tiexia kept his opinions to himself. Except for a selected few, he seldom made contact with others, and was fanatical in Buddhism. His third son was a Republican Army officer, hence during the first Suppressing of Counter-Revolutionaries, when even the lowest tier of landlords were publicly shot, the atmosphere of fear and ubiquitous violence made Pei Tiexia a cold and removed personality.

Pei Tiexia after 1949 was burning with anxiety towards worldly matters. His eldest son Pei Ti was bedridden in sickness, his second son Pei Yuanling was out of country, but most importantly his third son Pei Yuanjun, despite surrendering during the Communist uprising, was sent to reform school and was killed in 1951. His fourth son Pei Mohen was forced to play the Anklung. Although Pei Tiexia had many children, his couldn’t sustain his family. In early summer 1950, Pei Tiexia and his later wife, with fear and anger towards society, smashed both Lei qins, and drugged themselves to death.

What is this about? This is the glorious display of piety in the face of injustice and violence, on par with Austrian author Stefan Zweig, or Chinese author Fu Lei. Just that Pei Tiexia was less well-known to the world.

Pei Tiexia left a note, pressed by an inkstone:
本来空寂,何有于物,去物从心,立地成佛。 It is originally empty, from where is there object. Doing away with object and following the heart, and instantly one becomes the Buddha (enlightened one).
大小雷琴同登仙界,金徽留作葬费,余物焚毁,铁叟笔。Both large and small Lei qins are now in Heaven, the gold inlaids are left behind for burial fees, the rest are all burnt. Written by Tie-sao.

It was said that Pei said to his wife, “Both you and me hold the twin Lei’s as our own lives. If it comes down to this, what have we left to live for!”

Pei had many qins in his collection. Aside from the large and small Lei qins, he had over 20 top quality instruments dating from the Song dynasty onwards. For example, the Tang era instrument Gulong Yin, and Song era Longxiao. Along with the Lei qins, he called these four the “four Tang qins”. Longxiao is now in the Sichuan University Museum, and Gulong Yin is said to be in Shanghai.

Pu Xuezhai (1st from left). Note that he was given seating and a rug under his feet, denoting his status.

16 years after the death of Pei Tiexia, China was in total turmoil, and the guqin world was in that same state. Many of the guardians of traditional cultures have been drowned out in the Revolution, the Great Leap Forward, anti-Rightist campaign and other ideologies. In old Beijing, the city wall was dismantled as are its gateways. Antiques and paintings were smashed or burned. The people left behind were all like stray dogs, living their lives shivering and walking on thin ice. One of such examples was Pu Xuezhai (1893 -1966).

Pu Xuezhai is a Manchu, a great-grandson the Qing Emperor Daoguang. His grandfather was Fifth Prince Yicong, and his father was beile Zaiying. Pu himself inherited the title bei-zi as a result. His original name is Aisingioro Puxin, alias Xuezhai. He studied literature and arts since a young age, and specialized in guqin, sanxian, calligraphy and painting. He studied qin under Jia Runfeng, disciple of modern qin master Huang Mianzhi. After the Xinhai Revolution of 1911, Pu Xuezhai once sold calligraphy and paintings for a living, and taught as professor and Fine Arts department head of Fu-Jen University in the 1930’s. There, he organized the “Songfeng Painting Club”. He specialized in painting landscape, horses and orchids, and his calligraphy modelled after Mi Fei and Zhao Mengfu. He organized a guqin society in the 1940’s, connecting fellow qin players and encouraging interchange. In the 50’s, he was the Guqin Research Association’s Vice-president, and was often invited to play at Zhongnanhai (the central government). Today, we can hear several of his recordings through Wang Di’s recording of what is now known as “The Old 8” CD collections.

But as a reminent of the previous dynasty, even his service towards the new state couldn’t shield him from the mess and darkness. At the start of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, many guqin professors in the Central Conservatory like himself , Zha Fuxi and Wu Jinglue were all attacked. As former royalty, naturally his entire family was publically ostracized and his family belongings confiscated. He could not bear with the shame and pain, and suddenly left his home on August 30. Since then, he has become the Chu Anping of the guqin world, the only difference being Chu was already missing during the Anti-Rightist campaign, but Pu went AWOL during the infamous “Red August” period. Since then, nobody knows where he went or where he died. His remains are left nowhere to be found.

For a long time, many people thought that Pu has only hid himself. He did not die.

People fantasized that one day, they would meet a talented and refined old qin player, suddenly appearing from the streets into a yaji, in a long flowing goatee, playing Pu’an Zhou or Oulu Wangji for everyobody in-house. That day never came. Pei Tiexia only left behind his manuscript and no audio recording. Sometimes, I will pull out Pu Xuezhai’s recording instead. What kind of feeling is that? In Pei’s case, my deepest impression is not in how he died, but in that he could think up something as delicate as “leaving the gold inlaid markers of the qin behind as burial fees”. In Pu’s case, it is not in where he has disappeared to, but his playing immortalized on record. Not long ago, I read Lung Ying-Tai’s “Big River, Big Seas – Untold Stories of 1949” [TL note: This book is banned in China], in it was a line that went like this: “At times, when the greatest events are unravelling, the things you will remember sixty years later, are those that may sound the most trivial.” This is what I got from listening to Pu Xuezhai’s recordings. In the era of great turmoil, the music said nothing – just some notes, simple, lofty and distant and grave, but leaves you unthinking, and hence unforgettable.

In guqin history, the only time when large amounts of qin players died of unnatural causes was during the late-Ming, early-Qing era, including figures like Kuang Lu, Hua Xia, and Li Yanshi. This is a suicide out of being those orphaned in a lost dynasty, drowning in despair. Pei Tiexia and Pu Xuezhai’s occurance are also sort of similar as a sentiment of reminents of a bygone time – in a time of terror, holocaust and an irrational totalitarian maelstrom, a person lost their final say about their old time, their old origins, and their old culture. I still feel that both Pei and Pu could somehow make it through, and didn’t have to choose their own destruction. Aren’t there plenty who suffered the same fate and survived by biting the bullet? At least, we don’t have information showing that they had to die. As common proverb says, “old people are most afraid of death,” they are already old men at the time, but they chose death over life. This kind of mental state, sorrow and anger, is what Wang Guowei would describe as “after this change of events, there is already no greater shame” (經此事變﹐義無再辱). This is the kind of death only old-style literati would commit out of anxiety towards society. Martyrdom or not aside, life and death is no trivial matter. I believe, our qin players or literati today often talk of glory, and boast their depth and profoundness. However, once they stand in the face of totalitarianism, profit, the allure of commercial capitalism and the influence of people, what these people lack is, at the most basic level, is a sense of anxiety and uncooperation towards them.

2010-4 in Beijing

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June 2012
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