Why Tradition Must Reform: The Jianzipu’s Challenges (Part 2 of 2)

The author (centre) teaching in Taichong.

The author (centre) teaching in Taichong.

Originally “Relationships Between the Physical Structure and the Score Form of Qin” (古琴的物理結構與譜式改革) by Huang Hong-Wen, PhD Candidate (Dept. of Chinese, National Taiwan Normal University), published in Yinyue Yanjiu Vol.18 (May 2013). Translated by permission of the author. Visit his blog at http://blog.xuite.net/zxy5000kimo/twblog.

This is the second half of the 7-part essay, with its accompanying footnotes converted to endnotes.

Translator’s short review: The debate of jianzipu, or “reduced character tablature,” grew heated since the repopularization of the art since UNESCO heritage recognition in 2003 and standardized examination since 2006. Since the 1990’s Chinese and Taiwanese qin scholars have attempted to “modernize” the tablature system, in use for over a millennia since Cao Rou’s invention in the mid-Tang dynasty (8th c. CE), but all have failed to establish a system as equally effective. This paper reveals some open secrets to the reasons why players prefer the traditional Chinese system rather than the Western-adapting systems, but most importantly identified the largest shortcoming of all contemporary systems to be their obsession with score-pitch correlation (a factor of ‘modernity’ they strive to import) but overlook timbre, or the nature that the qin’s consecutive tuning allows numerous variations to produce the same pitch. This paper provides a gateway for further criticism into narratives of Chinese ‘modernization’ methodology and how obsession with pursuing precision often misses its mark as it falls short in effectiveness in delivering critical contexts specifically required in the trade or attaining holistic command of the craft.

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5. Comparing to other instruments

After explaining the guqin’s unique “one note multiple positions” relationship with jianzipu notation, some may still doubt, why do many other instruments abandon their original notation style and change to number or five-line notation, and only the guqin cannot? Actually, for the sake of guqin teaching and promotion, referencing the experience of other musical traditions is indeed a question worth thinking about; even if their experiences cannot be applied on the guqin, it can only show and reaffirm the value in jianzipu. In melodic instruments’ way of producing pitches, they can be generally classified as “one note, one position” and “one note, multiple positions” types. The former applies to the guzheng, xiao, dizi etc,. while the latter goes to guqin, pipa, zhongruan etc.. Taking the dizi and pipa as contrasting examples, let us look at what the guqin has special among these two types. More

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