Standards of the Guqin Third Edition: In stores now!

Buy Standards of the Guqin 3rd Edition Today!

Buy Standards of the Guqin 3rd Edition Today!

After a very productive four years of use, Standards of the Guqin Second Edition has served guqin players and students worldwide as a comprehensive, modern source for entry to the Chinese seven-stringed zither. Thanks to all your constructive feedback, the Third Edition is now live for distribution! Here are some of the new features:

  • Over a dozen typos and tablature misprints have been fixed.
    • Tablature is now crisper, and Zhao Yin (List A) now has lyrics appended.
    • Repertoire E: Daming Yitong and O Canada are added.
  • 20 new pages of content, including:
    • Fingering chart overhaul, some things are compacted/merged for easier reference
    • New essays on modern aspects of playing, and how digital technology assists study and creation
    • A detailed, explicit harmonic tuning exercise, with detailed explanation on how and why it is – that means:
    • A whole new chapter on TEMPERAMENT and how it is applied to practice and performance.

Click on the cover on the right of this post, or on the small cover on the right column to buy now!

Towards A Computerized Dapu Process: A History

Dapu is the analytical reinterpretation of a written passage of guqin tablature manuscript, translating it from a written piece of music. According to the Zhongguo Yinyue Cidian (Chinese Musical Dictionary), dapu is “a term referring to the process of playing out a qin melody from a qin manuscript. Since qin manuscripts do not directly record musical notes but only string positions and fingerings, as well having a considerable flexibility in rhythm interpretation, dapu’ers must be familiar with conventions in and performance technique to deduct the melodies’ progression, and then to recreate it. Its aim is to reproduce the state in which it was originally performed – since most surviving pieces are lost in practice, one must undergo the dapu process to restore the music.” (p.64)

The traditional guqin manuscript system was conceived by Cao Rou presumably around the 10th century CE. It supplemented the musician as a reminder for fingering technique in case of forgetfulness, assuming that the melody and rhythm are already impressioned into the player’s mind. As primarily an oral tradition, students studying under a master would not have to encounter the dapu process as melodies would have been passed from performance imitation, without drawing from a written medium. John Thompson posits that the tradition of learning guqin pieces directly from a book, without aid of a teacher or another musician transmitting a predetermined rhythm was nonetheless existent and popular.

Much of the discussion on dapu in guqin circles and academia discuss on whether the act of dapu is an “archaeological” rediscovery of an ‘authentic original’ performance through surmising or deducing missing elements required in musical performances from the imperfect information on existing tablature, versus a form of original artistic creation by the contemporary guqin artist derived from the historical text. Regardless of where artists may lie on this spectrum, the process of dapu remains the same.

Technically, sight-reading an original text for musical performance is possible and crudely fits into the definition of dapu as translation from text to performance, and its credibility and authenticity may be verified through various kinds of audio/visual recording devices. However, as a scholarly tradition, the legitimacy of the translation is recognized only through the quantifiable, empirical medium of the text – in other words, while the common definition iterates dapu’s ultimate purpose is for the music to ‘transcend’ or ‘liberate’ from the textual realm into the aural one, in reality it never escapes this plane of existence but rather becomes increasingly confined by the empirical scrutiny of increasingly meticulous annotation and establishment of parameters.

Hence, dapu in the modern sense means the meticulous recording or revising of necessary components to guqin music, which involves the use of jianzipu tablature, as well as another system that records pitch and rhythm. The common method involves three major steps:

  1. rewriting the tablature in compatible layout with the score for the pitch and rhythm (typically from vertical layout to horizontal layout, when dealing with historical sources),
  2. determine the number of sounds and correlate the characters to each of its pitches according to tuning, accounting for any mode changes should a solfege-based recording system (e.g. jianpu) is used, and
  3. assign and record the tempo and rhythm of the performance, based on the dapu’er’s deliberation.

At any point during these three steps, the dapu’er also has to make decisions and be held accountable for discrepancies and changes between the source text and the new score, whether they’d be intentional or accidental. For example, one may discover that a cadenza may not end in a typical matching paired interval but one pentatonic tone apart, that can be easily corrected by using the subsequent string. The artist will then have to deliberate on whether that is intentionally required by the piece, or if it is a misprint due to error in its transmission (such as a scribal mistake or faulty photocopying). If such a deliberation is made, regardless of whether an actual change is made from the original text – it is also up to the dapu’er to record such changes in writing to be held accountable for future reference and scrutiny.

A flowchart of how the scores are produced in Standards of the Guqin. The final product is a PNG image.

A flowchart of how the scores are produced in Standards of the Guqin. The final product is a PNG image.

Even in the early 21st century, dapu for the most part is a manual process – scores are written and rewritten by hand, and the pitches linked up by hours of tedious cross-referencing with the instrument’s pitch charts. Although publisher-grade scores now involve computer-assisted drawing, the musical work itself remains unchanged. Taking my work Standards of the Guqin as example, the tablature is rewritten digitally by a database of prearranged vector images of strokes that resemble parts of jianzipu that are formed together by entries that group them together, as well as separately creating the five-line staff music using a market-available typing and output program for such purpose.

To date, there is no available software (commercial or open-sourced) that can perform this task because the technology to digitize jianzipu itself is young and tentative. With the exception of Guangling Shenqi developed by, all other projects struggle along how to account for all possible variations, much less categorize and designate a dynamic input system. Once that logistical issue is resolved, the next logical step is for the computer software to parse the text as a generated sound and pitch. To effectively actualize this, the computer-generated jianzipu previously mentioned will need profiles of each character with a breakdown of the necessary parameters for the computer to process.

A typical parsing of an actual notation character will follow this heuristic: First, determine the current tuning of the piece. Based on the pitches of the open strings, all given pressed or harmonic positions are extrapolated from there, and it reduces the chance of miscalculation or inflexibility to external tuning. Next, determine if the left hand information is an open, pressed, or harmonic note. Once these pieces of information are gathered, a pitch (and type of tone) can be derived, but it would be up to the musician to mold the notes into a sensible piece of music by the addition of rhythm, and optionally annotations on performance style. When the missing elements are edited into the new score, a computerized printout or rendition will forego the need of another manual rewrite for spacing and cleanliness as notes are automatically spaced and formatted to the page.

Currently, some experimental projects in China also explore in developing a ‘fuzzy AI’ in allowing the computer to determine the missing rhythms and other stylistic treatments – in other words, to fully automate the process. This objective is no smaller than developing an independent thinking computer that can freely compose a musical masterpiece, and belongs to a different category from the scope of developing a digital guqin manuscript archive and dapu assistant mechanism. Another pursuit is in Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology integration with guqin tablature to allow speedy archive and digitization of the classic texts, which may speed up the process greatly as compared to data entry using existing techniques (ie. typing characters in long form).

Commercially, digitally simulated guqins are marketed mostly as novelty apps or addons to larger virtual realities. While these show promise for a market-ready dapu software, the final step has yet to be taken, and measures have yet to be perfected.

Further reading: Zhou Changyue. Guqin Yishu de jiqi yanyi (Mechanical interpretation of the art of guqin). Beijing: China Science Publishing. 2013. Table of Contents available at

Chang Hong. “MIDI Guqin yanzou: Kexue yu yishu de chuangxin jiehe (MIDI Guqin performance: A culmination of science and artistic innovation),”, snapshot backup at Last accessed September 17, 2015.

Zhang Yingxue. “ChinAR,”!project01/c1mqf. Last accessed September 17, 2015.

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 More

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

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.


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

Why Tradition Works: The Jianzipu’s Success (Part 1 of 2)

When “modern precision” is simply more trouble than its worth. From Wu Wenguang’s abridged “Liu Shui (Flowing Water)” score.

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:

This is the first 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.

Abstract (translated from Chinese version): The controversy in reforming the guqin’s jianzipu (reduced character notation) has long origins, since qin players long have listed the tablature alongside rhythm punctuation (、) and Gongche notation in order to solve the problem of ambiguous rhythms. Since Wang Guangqi [t.n.: 1892-1936], modern scholars have used the five-line score as the notational basis, appending further simplified fingering symbols onto the cipher, hence completely changing the face of written guqin music. Amidst these suggestions, few could address the issue from the qin’s physical structure, or its complicated and irregular “one pitch, multiple positions” as the approach for the qin tablature’s reform. Since the qin’s hui harmonic markers are based on just intonation while pressed notes are based on the “San-fen sun-yi” (adding/subtracting thirds method) temperament, the latter’s positional description is controlled under the former and hence causes this phenomenon. In contrast with other instruments such as the dizi or pipa, this exemplifies the uniqueness of the qin’s structure and resultantly its pedagogy. If one uses the “correlating a sound with a position” method typical with other instruments on the guqin, it would counterintuitively cause difficulty and confusion to the player, and therefore “correlating positions to produce a pitch” should be the correct methodology for the guqin, where the jianzipu is exactly the product of such requirements. New written guqin score reforms were unable to clearly provide the harmonic or stopped positional informations, as learners must first learn the five-line staff, and spend extra energy to memorize every position of a given pitch, which to the study of the guqin is double the effort, and counterproductive in spreading the art to the public. A written score should, aside from communicating a cohesive understanding of the music, establish its basic function in effective learning. Hence, guqin scores should use jianzipu as the basis, providing positional information, supplemented by five-line staff or numerican notation, to fill in for any deficiencies in jianzipu’s lack of rhythmic demarcation, in order to fulfill the aforementioned expectations.

Author’s original English abstract (with spelling abridged):

A reform of “less-word score” of Qin has been a long-term debate. During Ming and Qing Dynasty, tempting to solve the problems of the inadequacy of clear melody, some Qin players already accompanied “less-word score” with “seeds dots” or “lyric” to mark the beats and tunes. In modern years, following the first advocate Wang-Guang-Qi, scholars mainly of more simplified finger skills. This has totally changed score form of Qin. Among these proposals, few of them are discussed in view of the physical structure of Qin. That is: the irregular and complicated “One sound, many scales”. Musicalogically speaking, marking dots (called Qin-Hue) on Qin body are results of “pure tones” of overtone, while pressing-tone are results of “three-point profit and loss law.” A compromise about positional signs is given by the latter to the former, which makes the structural phenomenon of Qin. Comparing with Chinese flute, Chinese lute and other instruments, this unique is more obvious. Special physical structures require special learning methods. “Sounds first, scales second” fits general instruments. On the contrary, “scales first, sounds second” fits Qin. Consequently, “less-word score”, not “staff”, is the product. It brings Qin players less confusion and fewer difficulties. Newly-reformed scores cannot directly provide positions of pressing-tone and overtone. Learners thus achieve little success despite much effort, needless to say to the public. In addition to the responsibilities for communicating and solidifying music, scores should provide some basic easy-learning function. In order to mend the problems of insufficient melodic signs marked on “less-word score”, positional information, staff and simple score can be put together with “less-word score”. Under any circumstances, “less-word score” will always be the subject of Qin scores. This kind of combination may possibly satisfy the expectation interpreted as above. More

NG Ying-wai: The Tradition of Qin-Carving in Hong Kong

Dr. Victor TSE Chun-yan, left, holding a bottom board and checking with Mr. CHOI Cheung-sau, owner of Choi Fook Kee.

Dr. Victor TSE Chun-yan, left, holding a bottom board and checking with Mr. CHOI Cheung-sau, owner of Choi Fook Kee.

Translator’s Foreword: This article was translated for the Friends of the Art Museum, CUHK, Ltd. for a visit to Choi Fook Kee Instrument Makers, Co. on 23rd March, 2013. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the view of TorGuqin. Top photo courtesy Juni Yeung on the day of the visit. Translation and reposting rights granted by the author.

The Tradition of Qin-carving in Hong Kong

Ying-Wai Ng  吳英卉

Translated by Juni Yeung

Hong Kong – a tiny island situated on the southern end of China’s frontier, after experiencing British colonial rule from the mid-19thcentury to the end of the 20thcentury, has developed a cultural and spiritual divide with the motherland. Its own mainstream culture has largely been dominated by Westernization, and traditional Chinese culture and arts have been long situated on the fringe. Compared with Western music, Chinese folk music was considered second-tier, but luckily this has seen gradual improvement since the handover in 1997.

Hong Kong qin players were few and far between prior to the 1940’s, the only record can be traced largely to Master Yuet-Kai (Yuexi, 1879-1965), founder of Man Fut Temple in Shatin, who travelled down to Hong Kong in 1938 to spread Buddhism in the area. During the tumultuous times of the 1940’s and 50’s, numerous scholars and literati travelled through or to Hong Kong, including qin players Shen Caonong (1892 – 1972), Tsar Teh-yun (Cai Deyun, 1905-2007) and Xu Wenjing (1894-1975) from Zhejiang, Jao Chung-I (Rao Zongyi, 1917- ) from Chaozhou, Lo Ka-Ping (Lu Jiabing, 1884-1980) and Zheng Jianhou from Zhongshan, Rong Xinyan from Panyu and so forth. It is from then on that Hong Kong’s qin culture flourished especially through the lifework of Mr. Xu Wenjing.

Mr. Xu was the cornerstone of qin carving in Hong Kong, and the author will summarize his life here, especially focusing on his learning and teaching experiences, the transmission of his knowledge to his successor Choi Cheung-Sau, and from there how a qin-carving research class/study group was born which is active and growing today, even after 18 years.


Remembering the Spirits: Publishing Woes (Part 2)

Behind every published book is a tale of a treacherous journey.

As the re-release of the Standards of the Guqin draws near, I sit back to look at the uneventfulness of the work’s publication. The biggest problems of the book came in two major hurdles – the first being skepticism on the necessity of creating an original book rather than translation of an existant Chinese work, and the latter being technical errata that plagues the work from distribution on eBook and larger channels such as ChaptersIndigo, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. These problems, however, are but miniscule in comparison to the dark stories of traditional publishing, especially related or in academia.

The recent buzz of the Hanfu circle is the royalties from the publication of Huang Nengfu’s hardcover 5-volume compendium 7000 Years of Chinese Clothing being paid in 65 copies (325 books) of his own work rather than the monetary sum of 80,000 RMB. The 85-year old master and his wife Chen Juanjuan are both students of the late Chinese fashion history scholar (and poet) Shen Congwen. Some netizens expressed outrage and called for boycotting the work in protest of Tsinghua Publishing Co., the publishing house, for unfair treatment towards the writer. Nonetheless, this arrangement was offered and agreed by the author, and the practice of payment by a portion of the print run at reduced price has becoming increasingly commonplace.

the author meeting with Dr. Tong Kinwoon in October 2010. The qin in the author’s hands has been newly repaired by Dr. Tong.

When I shared my experience of writing and publishing to Dr. Tong Kin-Woon of Hong Kong, he shared his experiences of writing his magnum opus Qin Fu with me. First published in 1971 and reprinted in 1981, Qin Fu was inspired by the Qinqu Jicheng project by Beijing Guqin Research Association on PRC shores in the 1960’s but was halted by the Cultural Revolution. As an young, ambitious undergrad, Tong and his first (now deceased) wife travelled across libraries and private collections all over Taiwan to compile a reference compendium of all surviving guqin manuscripts. Being financially strapped, Tong couldn’t afford the expensive photocopying and copyright fees, and spent weeks in the university library copying entire manuscripts of text, musical notation, and diagrams by hand. Living on dry bread and water alone, this took a heavy toll on their health.

If that seemed difficult enough on the path to publication, try adding on political pressure. Traditional publishing meant that custom plates had to be carved for each page, making any book only cost-effective at large print runs. As an academic resource with nearly 5000 pages, it was obvious that the costs involved will be much higher than return – if any at all. Tong had to raise over 70,000 Taiwan dollars and find a press willing to undertake the monumental task. When the first print run of 300 copies came out, Tong and his publisher, a Mr. Shen, was in for the scare of a lifetime.

Tong Kinwoon. Qin Fu (3 vols). Taipei. 1971.

Liang Tsai-Ping, a reknowned guzheng master and guqin player, as well as a minister at the Republic of China Ministry of Commerce [Economic Affairs?] at the time, caught notice of Tong’s work. He wrote a secret note extorting ten copies (30 volumes) of the work or face persecution. The reason laid in Tong’s inclusion of Guqin Quji, the well-known “yellow book”, in his work.

For those who have seen the version of the Guqin Quji in the Qin Fu, the first interesting difference compared to the mainland copy was in the byline. Rather than the Beijing Guqin Research Association, it was simply a person by the name “Zha Zhaoyu 查照雨“. This lesser-known studio name combo for Zha Fuxi was put in place afterward to avoid Republican government censors, and the reason behind it laid another story.

While the name Zha Fuxi today relates us to a guqin master two generations ago, the man lived a fascinating life in the midst of turmoil. Born as Zha Zhenhu 查鎮湖, he first changed his name to Yiping 夷平 to escape Chiang Kai-Shek’s crackdown on underground Communists, and had a distinguished (but short) career in the Republican military. He was later made a corporate executive in the government-owned Central Air Transport Company (CATC).  On November 5, 1949, he utilized his position and connections as a retired CATC executive to convince the retreating airline officials to turn over all assets to the Communists, and was instrumental to directing 10 CNAC and 2 CATC passenger planes in Hong Kong at the time to fly back to Beiping and Tianjin on the dawn of November 9. The executives onboard the lead CV-240 plane, including Zha Yiping, were personally received by premier Zhou Enlai that evening. The remaining planes and jets in Hong Kong were detained by the British at Kai Tak Airport, and while some were destroyed by ROC spies and others smuggled bit by bit up to Guangzhou, most were taken by the United States after international arbitration. This heist is recorded in PRC history as the “Uprising of the Two Airlines 兩航起義”, while outside the PRC it is known as the “Two Airline Incident 兩航事件”.

Like all others who’ve defected to the Communists, Zha Yiping (Fuxi) was on the Republican government to-kill blacklist. Using this point to his advantage, Liang’s accusation of Tong “conspiring with the Communists” was no empty threat. Fearing for their lives, Tong and Shen packed the books into a minivan and shipped it in the middle of the night. Indirectly, this incident has added yet another alias to Zha Fuxi’s list of alternate names into history.

Like the airline heist itself, neither side of the Republican-Communist conflict has ultimately benefitted anyone, and looking back on this age several decades past the standoff, one can only absorb the moral and never let civil strife and its lingering effects repeat itself again.

Standards of the Guqin 2nd edition: Relaunch on August 10!

Musideum: A World of Musical Instruments features Standards of the Guqin on its shelves!


Come for an intimate evening of transcendent music and talk on the guqin, the Chinese 7-stringed zither, hosted by Musideum and Juni Yeung of the Toronto Guqin Society, as “Standards of the Guqin”, the first and only (to-date) English instruction book on the instrument, is relaunching into its second and expanded edition!

2 years and over 30 new pages later, the book features clear digital-type tablature for all sheet music, as well as a new section on tablature interpretation process, known as dapu.

The talk/concert will take place on Friday, August 10, 2012,
from 8PM at Musideum.

Standards of the Guqin Second Edition now out in stores! Go get your copy today!

Please RSVP with Donald Quan for tickets and/or preorder of the book, at (416) 599-7323 or
Admission to the event is $20,
while the book is sold for CAD$45, along with a personalized dedication autograph by the author on the site.

Standards of the Guqin to see Second Edition!

Standards of the Guqin score “Xianweng Cao” Section 1, as seen in the First edition and the upcoming Second edition.

== This is an important announcement to those who would like to purchase this book. ==

Standards of the Guqin will be publishing an expanded Second Edition within the month on Many previous errors, minor and major, have been corrected, as well as additional essays and expanded technical details on various matters from how to calculate the positions of the hui markers to tying the fly knot more effectively.

Most importantly, however, is the expansion of 6 new lessons and an entirely new chapter of the book, as well as a total update on all the music scores in the book into a digitally-printed from the previous handwritten scans! A look at the image to the right and you will see that the improvement is a dramatic one.

The only thing that will not change, is the retail price. With nearly 40 pages of new content, Standards of the Guqin Second Edition will be available on at US$30.00.

Please stay tuned for the book launch information, and the related launch event in Toronto when it’s out!

Addendum: For those who are looking for lessons, please read the curriculum prior to contacting the instructor.

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. More

Qin-strumming Etiquette, from Xilutang Qintong

Fuqin Jue 《撫琴訣》
(Rules of Qin-Strumming)

By Wang Zhi, in Xilutang Qintong (1549), Folio IV;
Translated by Juni Yeung

Original Source of Fuqin Jue from Xilutang Qintong, Folio IV.


When playing the qin, regardless of whether there are people nearby, one must play as if facing your elders. Placing the qin to the front of you, the body must be upright, your energies and spirits at peace and settled.

Collect your heart and cut off all worries, focus on your emotions and intentions.

Fingers do not give false strikes, and strings do not give false rings.

One does not look at the right hand, but only listen to its sounds.

The eyes do not look elsewhere, nor the ears listen to anything else.

When the heart does not think other thoughts, that is when one achieves the meaning of the qin. It is essential to recognize the sentencing and phrasing of rhythm, while there mustn’t be too many pauses or stops. Li Mian [Tang era, 717-788CE] noted, “Yin [vibratos] and stops are well-measured, while slowness and speed are orderly. Hurriedly, but not messy. Leisurely, but not stopping. Neither hurriedly or leisurely, like drifting clouds and flowing water. This is the crucial essence.”

Use of fingers must include both flesh and nail, in order to give a crisp sound. Too much nail and the sound is scorched. Too much flesh and the tone is convoluted. Both left and right hands cannot over-exaggerate.

There are three types of sound on the qin: First is san (open), second is an (pressed), third is fan (harmonics). Each pluck is like breaking the strings but the fingers pluck shallowly. Pressing the strings into the wood are to be firm but strength cannot be seen. Fan sounds are to be played near the bridge, lightly touching the string where the hui marker is with a brief point [of the fingertip], and its sound shall be clear and rounded.

If the body wavers and the neck twists often, pandering left and right, looking up and down, or if the facial expressions change, it is as if one is ashamed.

Or, if one’s eyesight scurries about, panting in with heavy breath, without regulation in advances and retreats, with a lax spirit or form, it will reflect itself in form of sound. Although the fingerings are right, the resonances of the sound will be messy and it cannot conform to the Five [proper] Sounds.

Not tuning the strings properly, playing heavily when it should be played lightly, or playing quick when it should be slow – all of these are major diseases [faults] to playing.

The rule of playing the qin, is to be simple and clean. It is not in asking for one as a person to be calm, but in one’s hands. The throbbing of the fingers is called being raucous, while being concise, lightly-treading on a steady pace is called being calm.

It is unnecessary to wobble the [left] finger outside of the sound. Let the proper sound be harmonious and smooth, and that will be good.

For the Junzi [Superior Person] of antiquity creates [regulates] to the causes of matters, he attenuates himself to pleasuring the mind, or describes his heart with irony, or expresses his lone resentment to transmit his ambitions. Hence it [i.e. the music] is able to focus the essence of sincerity, and move the spirits and gods.

One may only know three or five etudes, but refine it to the limits of excellence. However students of our day, perceive ability by sheer quantity. Hence the idiom “Sheer quantity leads to lack of quality. Quality leads to less quantity.” May the Junzi who understands true sound [i.e. friends] pay attention to this.

Here we have the rules of playing qin. What is difficult to procure are the scores to the music, for they must be requested to be passed down from the masters. Furthermore, fingerings and rhythm cannot be exhaustively detailed in the work of writing, so when facing a manuscript to play, we often only get its sound, but its profound intricacies in tempo and rhythm are forgone. This is like having rough measuring tools – you have the drawn shapes, but it lacks the precision that fine tools give.

In more prosaic terms, any given piece can be roughly divided into three sections: First slow, then tense, and finally slack. From slow to tense to stop forms the motif to a piece of music.

Often times there are indications of “do two times from mark.” (從勾二作) Play through it plainly the first time, to finish off the motif from the last sentence. Pause, and in the second play-through, play it strongly. From playing strong and then easing gradually and finishing with a powerful strike-in, forms the continuation to the sounds afterward. One must make the front and back relate with each other, clearly differentiating the beginning from the end.

Another example is the “Perform three times with spaced gou.” (三作間勾, i.e. Da-jiangou) First play the two sounds, pause, then respond to the previous section with four sounds, and finish off with one powerful strike-in.

A nine-tone long chain (chang-suo, ) involves playing two sounds, pause, and finish off with seven strong notes. This induces rise and fall at the front and back, connecting the motifs by arteries and veins, leaving its resonance drifting as if fading but still slowly progressing, and then a jolt at the end.

From slow to tense, and from tense to leisurely, if control of fastness and slowness is appropriate, and yin [vibratos] and stops do not lose their degree, then naturally the strings will resonate with clear rings. Sounds should preferably be clear, aim for simple and calm, and must not be messy. This is how an elegant, antiquated motif of profound emptiness is.

And this is why the intricacies are so hard to attain for manuscripts then and now. So for those self-studying the qin, and have yet to receive transmission from a master, it is best to focus your mind and dedication and ponder on these words. Follow the fingerings according to the manuscript to the hands, meticulously and slowly, accumulate one sound onto the next, section unto section. After days and months of practice, the heart and intention will connect, and the hands will automatically do its job. Then, you will naturally attain mastery as the ancients have.

As proverb has it: “When practice is perfected, it is the same.” [Doctrine of the Mean, 20]  The act of strumming the qin is precious in its accumulated progress, as prolonged experience leads to expertise. If one is eager and greedy for more, wanting for speed leads to one unable to arrive at the destination and all is then for naught, which must be avoided. I shall leave the essay on this note for students of the future to read, to dispel their anxious doubts. More

Recap: Some of TorGuqin’s Activities since Chinese New Year 4710

Before entering the main article, please note that there is an art exhibition and guqin demonstration by Esther Zhang, a local Chinese artist and qin player the coming Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 3PM. Please visit!/events/303925063012798/ for more details.


Over the years, TorGuqin has posted many event announcements on the website regarding its activities — meetings, gatherings, demonstrations, performances…and it is only intermittently that pictures or reports are posted back. Does this mean that it didn’t take place?

Far from it.

Recently, we actually have been in more activities than described on our website (and Facebook event pages), to which thanks to Yanyan Zhu, we are now able to record our events on HD digital video in addition to our paper records of our gatherings and events. Since February 2012, TorGuqin members have performed in the Evergreen Farmer’s Market, given lectures on the qin and Chinese drama at the University of Toronto, received Dr. Keren Li from Nanjing, as well as Dr. Yip Mingmei from New York as an honoured guest to our gatherings.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then the word count of the following would be beyond millions.


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