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China, Chinese Culture, Culture, Music, world

The Far Reaching Melody of the Chinese Zither

The ancient Chinese zither (guqin or simply qin (Wade-Giles ch’in)) is more than a musical instrument for performance. It has a long history, and rich and profound cultural connotations. Ancient scholars and leaders regarded it as an expression of the ideals of individual cultivation, family harmonization, statesmanship, and social stability. It was symbol of intellectual life. In the Book of Rites, it is written, “an intellectual does not casually part with his zither or se [a large stringed musical instrument].” Confucius also said, “[Be]Impassioned in poetry, observant in rites, and accomplished in music.”

Zither playing aspires to artistic conception –appreciating the inner meaning rather than stopping at mere technical perfection. It transcends the boundaries of music, embodying the harmony between mankind and nature, the cosmic concept of the relationship between Heaven and man, and ideas of life and morality. Therefore it becomes a tool for cultivating one’s moral character, enlightening to higher truths, and edifying people. Scholars spoke of the Virtue of the zither or the Tao of the zither. In Cai Yong’s “Zither Manual,” he says: “In ancient times, Fuxi made the zither to restrain oneself from becoming deviant and to guard against the development of lust, so that one can cultivate rationally and return to one’s original true self.” In Yueji, an ancient musical record, it was noted: “The virtuous is nature’s most upright, and the musician is the virtuous’ most magnificent.” Virtue is man’s innate nature, and music is the sublimation of virtue. Music in a high realm is an expression of Heavenly Principles.

While people enjoy music, they are morally inspired and elevated to another philosophical plane.

In ancient times, the zither was an indispensable musical instrument a gentleman had to learn and cultivate with. The musician had to play with an upright mind and righteous thoughts in order to reach harmony of body and soul. In history, many famous zither players were of noble character, virtuous and incorruptible. They often displayed dignified decorum, and played the zither with respect in an exquisitely scenic environment. Their minds were serene, enabling them to reach harmony with nature and enlighten to a higher truth, just as Jikang described in a poem:

“My eyes gaze at the returning swans,

My fingers strum the five strings.

I lift and lower my head in contentment,

My mind detached, saunters into the void!”

Even in a rowdy setting, one can maintain a calm mind, playing the zither unperturbed. As Tao Yuanming (220A.D.-589A.D.) described:

“Building a thatched hut amidst the rambunctious surroundings,

As if neither noisy carriages or horses are nearby.

How sir, do you manage?

If the mind is far away, the locale will naturally be out-of-the-way.”

The mind is central for playing the zither. An upright mind produces upright music. An elevated mind produces music with deeper meanings, which in turn touches the hearts of listeners, affecting them, and enabling them to understand and resonate with the moral content of the music, and the player’s disposition and breadth of mind. Such is the nature of the arts. (The Epochtimes)

–  Ancient Chinese Zither (GuQin) Struggles to Survive- Less Than 2,000 People Play in China



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