Story of The Invention of Guqin

Right now, there is no evidence that shows what the first or the earliest guqin looks like. So far the closest relatives of the qin probably are the 7 string qin that was found at the Warring states period tomb from Hubei Province, in 荊門 Jīngmén 郭家店 Guō jiā diàn,(see photo below, from the book of Juéshì qīngyīn, page 8, written by Prof. Wú Zhao in Beijing, year 2005).

And the 10 stringed qin from the tomb of Cénghóu Yǐ 曾侯乙, in Léigǔ dūn, Suízhou city 擂鼓墩 隋州市, Hubei Province. Fifth century B.C. (see photo below, from the book of Music in the Age of Confucius, page 70, published by Smithsonian Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sakler Gallery, Washington, D.C. year 2000).

But we still don’t know when and who decided to create the 13 dots, the dragon pond, the phoenix pool, and some other features. History books mentioned that the qin was first created with 5 strings, and then the King of wen and the King of wu from the Zhou dynasty (1045BC-256 BC) added the 6th and 7th strings. There were once added to a total of 9 strings, but it was not really popular and the 7 stringed qin continues to be used until now.

There are some legends about the invention of the Guqin, that this or that king or wise man invented the qin.

Shen-nong make qin, shen-nong’s qin has 3’6” inches long with 5 string.-- from "Shi Ben," a history book of Zhao, Warring states period BC235~BC228. (Shen-nong was one of the Chinese legendary god who also nown as Emperor of the Five Grains .)
神農作琴 神農氏琴長三尺六寸六分 上有五弦 …(世本—戰國時代的趙國史書) BC235~BC228

When Shen-nong became the ruler, he started to carve tong wood to make a qin and use silk to make strings to connect the heaven and earth.-- from Huan Tan Xin Lun, a Han Dynasty history book, about BC 50~ BC 30.
神農氏繼而王天下於是始削銅為琴繩絲為弦以通神明之德合天人之知(桓譚新論--《新論》是東漢時期政論著作 about BC 50- BC 30)

King of Jun’s son Dragon Yan makes qin and se. -- from a fable story book of early Qin Dynasty and probably written during the warring states period to early Han dynasty.
帝俊生晏龍 晏龍是為琴瑟(山海經—書成於戰國到漢初 是先秦的神話故事)

From one of The Confucian book, the book of rites says that King Shun make 5 string qin to sing the southern song.
昔者舜作五絃之琴以歌南風(禮記 樂記--戰國時期儒學的經典)

Those legends seem to tell us that people believe that the qin was created by talented or enlightened wise people, and was in a lofty class.

Some people guess that ancient people found out that strings can make a sound probably from bow shooting that the vibration of a string after shooting out the arrow. Then later people tried to put strings on a piece of wood and pluck it to create sound. If we look at the ancient Chinese characters of Qin 琴(the zither) and Yue 樂 (music) from East Han dynasty, Xu Sheng 許慎(about 58 to 147 AD) edited the Chinese dictionary “Shuo Wen Jie Ji 說文解字,”

we can see that the Yue looks like silk strings on top of wood. And the Qin looks like the side view of a qin’s forehead, and you have the warp (strings) and weft (qin dots or the sound positions) on top of it. Although it does not tell us that the earliest qin suppose to look like that, we can still sense that as early as Han dynasty, qin already exist and not too different from nowadays appearance. And it has existed more than 3000 years.

Some people think that the qin in very ancient times could be played as a Fa Qi 法器, which means a instrument of wizard. Because they believe that the qin has its nature that can connect the heaven and earth. But at that time, the qin probably could only play single notes and probably just the right hand plucking only, without the left hand to change or create more pitches.

Qin also was played in court music during the time of Zho Dynasty (1045BC-256 BC). However in court music, the percussion instruments and wind instruments dominated most of the playing and the qin or other string instruments were not the major players. Probably caused by the low sound volume.

After Confucius, the qin became one of the four important items in a scholar’s life (qin qi shu hua 琴棋書畫 -- qin, chess, calligraphy and painting), and there was this saying: shi wu gu bu che qin se 士無故不撤琴瑟, which means that scholar should never give up playing Qin and Se (Se is another kind of string instrument). Qin was performed as a solo instrument and as a tool to xiu sheng yiang xing 修身養性; a meditation instrument to help cultivate our mind and body.

           Connection between Qin and Taoism.
           Basic Qin Sound Formates and Notation.

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Copyright 2001-2015 Judy (Pei-You) Chang