These are considered to be the ten best-known ancient Chinese melodies
These melodies are the ones ordinary Chinese
people regard as being their musical and cultural
heritage. Some are very ancient and over 2,
000 years old. Others are more modern, and by
that we mean they became popular over the last
All the pieces are instrumental only, and some
of the sounds may be alien to Western ears.
To help introduce you to these instruments we
have recommended a couple of tracks to get you
started - Enjoy!
Shan Liu Shui (5.08)
High mountains and flowing water.
Legend goes that Guqin master Bo Ya was
playing the instrument in the wilderness,
and the woodman Zhong Ziqi understood
that his music was describing the "high
mountains and flowing water." Bo
Ya was surprised, and said, "my heart
echoes in yours," They became very
good friends, and when Ziqi later died,
Bo Ya was devastated because of losing
one who could really understand what was
in his mind by listening to his music.
He broke the instrument, and never played
again in his life. The Chinese word Zhi
Yin (confidant), literally meaning knowing
the voice, also originated from this story.
This tune is considered to be a masterpiece
of Guzheng music. However this is the
Guqin version as it would have originally
Sha Luo Yan (7.15)
Peaceful dessert is beautiful to see
Ping Sha Luo Yan describes a sandy dessert
scene that is peaceful and calm, with
the horizon being a long way away. Up
above a flock of Geese are flying and
singing in the wind as they prepare to
land. The writer compares the freedom
of these geese to the life of a hermit,
and his desire to be as free as the birds
he is watching
Although this tune is relatively new
at a mere 300 years old, it is the most
prevailing Guqin melody and is often played
today. Its popularity owes much to its
novel and unique expressive methods, which
make the tune easier for common audience
Recommended for first time listeners
Hua San Nong (7.15)
The beautiful language of three riffs
There are three overtones that are repeated
on three different sections of the Guqin
instrument, hence the name of Mei Hua
San Nong (three overtones of the same
By playing of the pureness, fragrance,
pride and fortitude that each riff represents,
this tune praises people of great nobility
and high ethics. Later it reflects the
industry of managers, officials, and entrepreneurs;
whilst finally coming to rest with the
common working people.
The first part is relatively slow and
relaxed, demonstrating the composure and
static beauty of the flower; while later
is more rapid and hurried, depicting the
tenacity of the plant. The violent contrast
between these two parts adds to the attractiveness
of the tune; as represented by the roots
- or common people upon whom all else
Mian Mai Fu (7.11)
Ambushes on all Sides.
Shi Mian Mai Fu, or ambushes on all sides,
is a large-scale Pipa tune based on a
historical story. There is still no agreement
about when the tune was composed, but
historical records show that it should
be no later than the Tang Dynasty more
than 1,000 years ago.
Ambushes on all sides describe the Gaixia
War in 202 BC, in which Xiang Yu’s army
fell into the repeated ambushes of Liu
Bang’s troops. Xiang Yu, who was defeated
and killed himself, was still considered
as a hero by many. This tune is a representative
of Pipa songs.
Yang Xiao Gu (7.48)
Desolate Drum at Sunset
The name of Xi Yang Xiao Gu literally
means "desolate drum at the sunset,"
yet it is a representative ancient Pipa
The tune was adopted and renamed to "the
moon night of spring river and flowers"
around 1925 by Shanghai Datong Music Society,
which integrates various static and moving
scenes, contributing to the colorfulness
of the music. The poetic landscape expressed
in this acoustic way usually fascinates
Qiao Wen Da (9.27)
Meaning: Discourse between a fisherman
and an woodman.
There are more than 30 versions of this
tune, and some of them even came with
lyrics. The current music score is from
the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
The music describes the dialogue between the
two, as a Question and Answer, in which
a rising tone indicates a question, whilst
a falling tone an answer.
By depicting the joyful integration of
the fisherman and woodman with nature
in a beautiful country scene, the tune
expresses its disdain about pursuing fame
and money in the hustling and bustling
Recommended for those still trying to
understand the attraction of the Guqin.
This recording displays typically classical
Guqin techniques presented in a more modern
Jia Shi Ba Pai (8.52)
18 Songs of a Reed Pipe
Hu Jia Shi Ba Pai means eighteen songs
of a nomad reed pipe, which was composed
on the basis of the poem with the same
name. Hu Jia is a kind of reed pipe popular
among the nomadic people in ancient Northern
China, and was used in the army to boost
the morale since it's very loud.
Hu Jia Shi Ba Pai tells the famous story
of Cai Wenji's return to the Han kingdom.
Social unrest forced Cai to marry a king
of the nomadic Huns in the North at the
end of the Han Dynasty, but she missed
her hometown in the Central Plain every
single day. Finally she got a chance to
go back 12 years later, but by then she
was already a mother of two. The ecstasy
of being able to go back to the hometown
was extinguished by the pain of having
to leave her children. The music delicately
expresses her mixed feelings at this moment.
Gong Qiu Yue
Meaning: Autumn moon in the palace in
the Han Dynasty.
This is another very famous tune. We
are pleased to bring you three versions
of this tune. There are respectively:
music reveals the bitterness and grief of
the young maids in the palace, stirring
people's sympathy towards the misfortune
and loneliness of the girls. The Guzheng
tune applies many playing techniques and
emits a classic beauty, and Erhu edition
makes a number of intentional pauses and
a number of complex skills are also used
to intensify its artistic inspiration.
Chun Bai Xue (3.21)
Meaning: Spring sun on white snow
The tune also denotes highbrow art
and literature of the day.
There is a story saying that in the Chu
State (Before 1070 BC to 223 BC) when
a singer was singing the song for the
rustic poor, there were tens of thousands
of followers in the state, but when the
singer sang Yang Chun Bai Xue later, there
were only a few people singing along.
The word Yang Chun Bai Xue has had the
meaning of highbrow art that very few
people can understand it.
The music has been edited by celebrities
throughout history, and its structure
has been tighter and much easier to understand,
suiting both refined and popular tastes.
Ling San (22.30)
The tune prevailing in Guangling area
(Today’s Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province).
The theme based on a story from the Warring
States Period of the Zhou Dynasty (475
to 221 BC). A craftsman manufacturing
sword was killed by a Han Monarch because
he did not meet the due date of producing
a desired sword for the Emperor.
Nie Zheng, the craftsman’s son, first
disguised himself as a bricklayer to get
into the palace to extract revenge, but
his efforts were in vain. He then became
a hermit in the mountains and practice
the Guqin, even then an ancient music
instrument. Ten years later he became
the best Guqin master in the country.
The Emperor summoned him to play in the
palace. Nie killed the monarch whilst
he was playing, and he himself was killed
This Guqin tune was composed by later
generations and based upon this story.
This figure in the picture is Ji Kang,
a famous writer who also played this tune.
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