Xilutang Qintong: Published 1525, not 1549

Tang Gao (1469-1526)'s preface to the Xilutang Qintong. The date written (1st line from the right, bottom left page) is the point of concern.

Tang Gao (1469-1526)’s preface to the Xilutang Qintong. The date written (1st line from the right, bottom left page) is the point of concern.

Translator’s Foreword: John Thompson  has stated skepticism over the dating of the Xilutang Qintong (lit. “Qin anthology of the Hall in the Western Foothills”) over the Facebook Guqin International Group since 2009. The 1549 date was widely accepted in reference to master Zha Fuxi’s preface in the Qinqu Jicheng – an identification and compendium project back in the 1970’s for all surviving qin manuscripts and was not completed until its third reiteration and edition in 2010. By arguing that the book was completed in the early Jiajing years rather than its middle overturns several assumptions that other manuscripts, namely the Taiyin Daquan and Fengxuan Xuanpin, were the original sources of numerous melodies and essays found in the Xilutang. Beyond the guqin world, this would also provide valued raw evidence in high Ming material culture, particularly in witnessing and tracing a genealogy at the height of the Daoist paraphernalia fad in the Zhengde to Jiajing era (approx. 1500-1560’s), as proven in the particular preference of Daoist-related melodies and essays referencing Daoist mysticism concepts.

Original title:

Research and Analysis of the Written Time of Xilutang Qintong by Wang Zhi of the Ming Dynasty

TANG, Chen*. Musicology in China, 2014:3, pp. 52-54.
* 唐宸 (1988~), PhD student in Zhejiang University, Research Institute for Ancient Books. (Hangzhou, Zhejiang Prov., China. 310028)

Original Abstract: 本文通过考证,认为《西麓堂琴统》成书时间为嘉靖四年乙酉(1525),而非目前学术界所认为的嘉靖二十八年己酉(1549)。大量赖此书传世的琴曲,不仅存世时间均得提前,文本演变也应重新比较,明代古琴学史的发展承继关系也须重新梳理。

Abstract (Translated): This essay proves that the Xilutang Qintong was published in Jiajing 4 (1525), Yi-you 乙酉 on the sexagenarian cycle, and not the commonly recognized Jiajing 28 (1549) year of Ji-you 己酉. A vast range of surviving repertoire relying on the record in this work not only will have to push back to an earlier date, but also rewrite the comparative narrative that ultimately reorganizes the history of Ming-era guqin development and tradition.

Keywords: Birth-death textual research; publication date textual research; guqin (history); Qinqu Jicheng
中图分类号 CLC Number:J609.2   文献标识码 Source type:A   文章编号 Article Registration:1003-0042(2014)03-0052-03

The Xilutang Qintong is a guqin manuscript edited by Wang Zhi (汪芝), a Huizhou resident in the mid-Ming era. It is reputed for preserving a large repertoire of melodies from ancient times, and is the largest collection of individual pieces in the Ming dynasty. The Xilutang holds a crucial position in guqin studies and history, and was lauded by our previous generation’s masters such as Guan Pinghu and Zha Fuxi, of which Zha Fuxi wrote a “foreword abstract”in his compendium Qinqu Jicheng: [Bold emphasis added by translator]

“The Xilutang Qintong, as collected by Mr. Li Yunzhong of Tianjin, is 25 folios, hand-copied. It is a compilation by Wang Zhi of the Ming period. Wang Zhi lived in his self-built Xilutang [Hall of the Western Foothills], in She County. This book’s theses mostly came from the Qin Tong [Qin Systems] by Xu Li during the Southern Song period, hence called Xilutang Qintong. In Qing scores such as Erxiang Qinpu later on, this score was listed in its bibliography – signs of the Xilutang‘s continued promulgation. There are currently several hand-copied versions, of which this photocopied facsimile is one of them, has twenty-five folios. In the front was a preface written by Tang Gao in the autumn 7th month of Jiajing 28 year ji-you (1549 CE). Folio 1 to 5 are theses on tones and pitch (mostly copied from Xu Li’s Qin Tong), instrument forms (mostly from Taigu Yiyin, see the first work in Vol.3 QQJC), tablature and miscellany. The fingering tablature section in Folio 5 are now largely lost, with the exception of the first two pages; while the following folios 6 to 25 collect 170 pieces and melodies. Another version only contains folios 22 to 25, while yet another only the melodies Chang Ze and Duan Ze from Folio 10 survive. In various Ming dynasty scores, this one records the largest collection of traditional pieces.

Wang Zhi claimed, “I have valiantly attempted to defy the tradition of passing down scores, collected afar and studied from various schools, which built to amount. I then clarified names and determined its meanings, clearing away at the chaff and dregs, and converged into this compilation, with the intent to return to the origin. The Five Sounds and Six Tones are categorized and attached, and listed for all to see, both the holistic and meticulous without remainder. The music scores and phrases are worded without obscurity. Ever since coming of age (ie. 19 years old) unto the greying of my two hairs, I have spent thirty years in preparation, and the day of its completion is nigh.” Upon inspection of the pieces in this score, except for those explicitly noted to be copied from Song dynasty manuscripts, they are for the large part extremely rare ancient surviving relics, such as the ancient tunes from Han and Tang Guangling SanJianxian Yi, Ming Jun, or Song Yu Bei Qiu composed by a certain Song musician. These surviving ancient pieces contribute significantly as proof of artistic and compositional pattern references of music from the Han, Wei and Six Dynasties.” (1)

In this abstract, Zha has affirmed the value of the Xilutang Qintong, and dated the work based on Tang Gao’s preface at Jiajing 28 (1549). Scholars have cited this without question ever since, and extended this to mean that the book was published in that same year. But regrettably, this decision was a mistaken one, and led to problems in the genealogy of guqin melodies’ traditions. First, I will analyze the publication date of the Xilutang Qintong.

The birth and death dates of Wang Zhi are both unknown. From Tang Gao’s preface and Wang’s self-prologue we can see his courtesy name is Shirui and alias Yunnan Shanren, and originated from She County of Huizhou Prefecture (now She County of Anhui Province). Because he lived in Xishan in the county town, he also gave himself the alias Xilu (“Western Foothills”), and judging from the tone of Tang Gao’s preface, Wang belonged to the same generation, perhaps slightly younger. Tang’s Preface to the Xilutang Qintong is as follows: [bold emphasis by translator]

A grass that bends to the wind has no spine, and a rolling ball knows no rest – this is insistence. This is especially so for most common folk, for when they try to be with the times, they often fail to persist. Hence, only the knowledgeable persevere and succeed. Here we have such a case, the Master of the Western Foothills [ie. Wang Zhi]! Since childhood, he has been inquisitive to the Confucian canon, and diligent to write. Upon coming of age,  his talent and achievements were already outstanding, and even if we were to compare with other nations, would his talents not cause the flurry of counter-sticks [archery ritual reference, a high-scorer] and banquets to come to him [ie. his career as a scholar-official is sure to be successful]? So when he dedicated himself to the playing of the qin, his ambitions shake up even the deaf and ignorant. To put it exactly, it can be said that: He has the clay xing on the straw mat and not upon the music of the seasons [ie. he gives up on being an official and a path to fame and glory]; He assumes a lone position and proper path, and favors little on womanly beauties. To degrade the sounds of Zheng and Wei [entertaining but morally degrading music] but celebrate the intentions of Shao and Hu [virtuous, elegant music] is ignorant. To make traps for catching fish and rabbits [out of wanton desire] is dangerous. How could a superior person [junzi] abide by such ignorant and dangerous paths? He delves into deliberations and pontificates in the profound, searches for the strange and collects them, refines the barren, corrects the contradictory, and establishes himself without leaving remainder, and over time we now have this written work. Its categories and flourish vocabulary are clear as black and white. How clear it is to see his passion on such an esoteric subject! Nowadays, we may have a legion of works written by a Hundred Schools, but this work we can truly slap our thighs in excitement of its brilliance. Without this book as the standard, we may still be blinded by the chaff and confused of our orientation, still holding fast to our mistaken views. This is why I say: O how magnificent is the Master of the Western Foothills! His given name is Zhi, courtesy name Shirui, ancestrally based in Xishan, of the Wang clan. His work is called the Qin Tong (Qin Systems, Qin Standards).

Jiajing ji/yi-you [己酉/乙酉?], autumn, waning gibbous of the seventh moon; written by Appointed jinshi-jidi [first-class graduate of the court Civil Exam], Hanlin Academy Academician Expositor-in-waiting, Fengxun dafu [TL: Honorary title, deputy 5th rank], Lecturer of the Canon and Editor of Imperial History, former Choson Korea envoy with first-rank regalia appointment, Tang Gao of She. (2)

Tang Gao, courtesy name Shouzhi 守之, alias Xin’an 心庵 (or 新庵), also alias Ziyang Shanren, is a She County local who was Zhuangyuan (top place in Imperial Examinations) in Zhengde 9 (1514), and served as Academician Expositior-in-waiting of Hanlin Academy and Imperial Lecturer of the Canon (翰林院侍講學士兼經筵講官), and was once Imperial Envoy to Choson Korea. His works include Xin’an JiYunfu ZengdingShijian Huibian etc. but are now lost. The author has done some source-searching and organization on his poetry (3). Tang Gao’s sixth cousin Tang Shi 唐仕 (1455-?) wrote in the Xin’an Tangshi Zongpu [Family genealogy of the Xin’an Tang clan] (now in the National Library collection) that Tang Gao was born on “Chenghua jichou [year] first month nineteenth day Wu hour” (Translator: Tuesday, March 2, 1469, between 11AM-1PM), which completely corresponds with Chen Liu 陳鎏’s Huang-Ming Like Zhuangyuan Lu [Registrar of Great Ming Imperial Examination Principal Graduates] (5), Wan Minying’s Sanming Tonghui‘s record of Tang Gao’s birthdate baziji-chou, bing-yin, jia-xu, geng-wu“. “Chenghua ji-chou” is Chenghua 5 (1469 CE). Tang Gao’s death was recorded by Tang Shi as “Jiajing bing-xu [year] third month third day Zi hour” (Translator: Friday, April 14, 1526, 11PM (prev.)-1AM). “Jiajing bing-xu” is Jiajing 5 (1526), to which according to the Shizong Shilu of the Ming Shilu [The Veritable Records of the Ming], there is a stub that records: “Ji-wei [day], Reader of Hanlin Academy Tang Gao deceased. The Emperor placed a memorial in memory of his lecturing service.” (7) “Ji-wei” is the seventh day of the fourth month in Jiajing 5 (Translator: Thursday, May 17, 1526), which is about a month away from Tang Shi’s entry. Since Tang Shi is a fellow clansman with Tang Gao, his records are believable. The time in the Shizong Shilu is the time of Emperor Shizong’s memorial service, which naturally takes place after the time of Tang Gao’s death. All in all, Tang Gao’s death in Jiajing 5 is confirmed.

The “Jiajing ji-you (嘉靖己酉)” in the Xilutang Qintong Preface refers to Jiajing 28 (1549). If Tang Gao died in Jiajing 5, then the “Jiajing ji-you” here is obviously wrong. Tang Gao signed at the end of this preface with his title “Reader of Hanlin Academy,” which according to the Shizong Shilu under the sixth month of Jiajing 4 [bolded emphasis added by translator]:

Xin-hai [day], promotion of editing historian and tutor Di Luan as Hanlin Scholar (翰林院學士), lecturer Mu Konghui as Left disciple of the Crown Prince’s Left School and Academician Reader-in-waiting of Hanlin Academy (左春坊左庶子兼翰林院侍讀學士), tutor Xu Jin as Academician Reader-in-waiting (侍讀), editor Tang Gao as Expositor-in-waiting (侍講), lecturer Zhang Bi as Left Virtue Tutor of the Crown Prince’s Left School (左春坊左諭德), Reader Xu Chengming as Right Virtue Tutor of the Crown Prince’s Left School (左春坊右諭德), Lecturers Liu Pu, Yun Shang, Zhang Chao etc. as Horse Guider of the Crown Prince’s Library (司經局洗馬)…”(8)

“Yi-you” or “Ji-you”?

This is a record of promotions for officials involved in the editorial of the Wuzong Shilu by the Shizong Emperor. From the text, we know that in the sixth month of Jiajing 4 [TL: July 1525), Tang Gao was promoted to lecturer. The previous quotation under fourth month of Jiajing 5 in Shizong Shilu notes Tang as “Reader” is obvious a mistake (Readers are lower than lecturers by a rank)[TL: Lecturers are deputy fourth rank, readers are deputy fifth rank]. Tang Gao was lecturer from Jiajing 4 to 5, which on the sexagenarian calendar are yi-you 乙酉 and bing-xu 丙戌. Since the words yi-you  and ji-you 己酉 look similar, those unfamiliar with Tang Gao’s biography would easily confuse the two when copying the preface text. As the Xilutang was a rare book in transmission, this kind of small errata are understandable.

Connecting the above facts, because Tang Gao was promoted to Lecturer in Jiajing 4 and died the following year, its “Lecturer” signature could only mean that the passage could only be written in “Jiajing 4 yi-you” and not “Jiajing 28 ji-you.” If we take the signed date of the preface as the time when the book was published, then the answer is Jiajing 4 [1525].

If the Xilutang Qintong was written in Jiajing 4, Wang Zhi’s time of birth can be extrapolate. Wang’s preface mentioned his process of compilation: “Ever since coming of age (弱冠) unto the greying of my two hairs, I have spent thirty years in preparation of this day.” (9) “Two hairs” (二毛 Er-mao) has multiple meanings – originally used to describe the greying of a person’s head, but everyone ages at different rates. For example, Pan Yue wrote, “I have passed thirty-and-two springs and autumns, and I can start seeing my two hairs [greying] (余春秋三十有二,始見二毛)”(10), which defines “two hairs” in the thirties. Su Shi also wrote, “Two-hair person seven thousand li away, one figment of a body amongst eighteen beachheads (七千里外二毛人,十八灘頭一叶身)” during Shaosheng 1 (1094) on his journey to Huizhou, at 59 sui. Hence, deducing simply from the term “coming of age” and “thirty years,” we can surmise that Wang Zhi was born around Chenghua 12 (1476), and started his project on this book at around Hongzhi 8 (1495) at around age 20, which was completed in Jiajing 4 (1525) at around age 50.

Ever since Zha’s Qinqu Jicheng noted incorrectly of the Xilutang Qintong‘s date of completion, many scholars have followed upon it, and had widespread consequences. Here are a few examples from key journal publications, doctoral and master’s dissertations: First, since the Xilutang Qintong had a huge repertoire, the largest of its kind in the Ming dynasty, scholars benchmark pieces and its transmission using this work, but all of this should be pushed back to an earlier date. Reputed guqin master Cheng Gongliang in his analysis of Dongting Qiusi versions noted that the piece was “first seen in Jiajing 28 of the Ming dynasty,” (12) an obvious effect of this mistake. Another example is Sima Xiangru’s Feng Qiu Huang and the two versions of Guangling San, Qingyun Ge and Songyu Bei Qiu by a Song dynasty composer have their sole surviving entry in this manuscript, and their date of prominence and transmission must also be pushed back. Academic papers involving the Xilutang Qintong have also incorrectly noted its publication date as 1549. (13)

Secondly, Xilutang Qintong’s relationship with other contemporaneous guqin manuscripts must be re-investigated. For example, Huang Xian’s Xinkan Faming Qinpu (Jiajing 10, 1531), Prince Hui Zhu Houjue’s Fengxuan Xuanpin (Jiajing 18, 1539), and Yang Jiaxin’s Qinpu Zhengchuan (Jiajing 26, 1547) are all key sources in Ming dynasty guqin literature. These manuscripts are all, in fact, successors from Xilutang Qintong, but were mistakenly seen as the sources to be succeeded by the Xilutang, hence creating countless misunderstandings. For example, Zha Fuxi once postulated that Fengxuan Xuanpin was the beginning of the collection of qin theory treatises (14), when the honor should go to the Xilutang. Also, some pieces collected amongst all of these books, such as Gao Shan and Liu Shui should also again come under scrutiny for variations across manuscripts.

Thirdly, since the Xilutang Qintong plays a pivotal role, scholars often use it as a watershed in the development of qin culture in the Ming. For example, in the dissertation Mingdai Qinyue Chutan: “This essay uses the creation of the Xilutang Qintong as proof of the critical divide in the periodization of Ming-era qin development, in other words from 1368 – 1549 as early and mid era, and 1550-1644 as the later era.”(15) If the date of the book’s publication is wrong, then periodization would logically also show significant discrepancy.

The dating and periodization of historical sources is a matter where “the whole body moves when a hair is touched,” and the Xilutang Qintong is exactly one of those examples. I hope that with this work, I will elicit response from my fellow peers.

Addendum: This essay was financially supported by the “Chinese Traditional Ritual Studies Historical Source Research Project” (Registry 13AZD023), and advice by guqin expert John Thompson. My thanks to both!


① 查阜西:《西麓堂琴统》据本提要,中国艺术研究院音乐研究所、北京古琴研究会编:《琴曲集成》(第三册),北京:中华书局,2010 年。
③ 唐宸:《明状元唐皋诗文辑佚》,上海大学硕士学位论文,2013 年。该论文受到上海大学第五届研究生创新基金立项资助,特此致谢。
⑫ 成公亮:《〈洞庭秋思〉流变考略》,《中国音乐学》1996 年第2 期,第55 页。
⑬ Many of such examples exist, with recent ones being Victor Tse Chun-Yan’s “Dahuange Qinpu and the Shift of Guqin Temperament (〈大还阁琴谱〉与古琴律制的转变),” Musicology in China, 2013:2, p.36.
⑭ 赵春婷:《明代琴谱集考——兼及明代琴学史》,中央音乐学院博士学位论文,2010 年,第85 页。
⑮ 王雅晖:《明代琴乐初探》,福建师范大学硕士学位论文,2007 年,第57 页。

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Charles Henry Wolfenbloode
    Jun 22, 2015 @ 12:31:28

    I just came across something else which also confirms the date of 1525. Zhou Qingyun’s Catalogue of Existing Qin Books 周慶雲《琴書存目》 states: 明汪芝撰。芝新安人。見汪與古齋考存琴譜目。汪云:嘉靖乙酉。So I went and checked the 與古齋 which confirms it so the writers of the past certainly had the date as 乙酉. It seems ZFX made a big blunder in reading up his sources for this…


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February 2015
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