Chinese Lore- Legendary Chinese String Instruments (Guqin) (2)

Continuing from last time, here’s the next snippet and the last one of this series will be posted this Friday/Thursday.

  1. Scorched Tail

Appearance & Characteristics:

Made from a scorched block of wood from a Chinese parasol tree, its name is derived from the fact that the tail of this instrument shows visible scorch marks.

Lore: Crafted by the scholar and musician Cai Yong of the late Han/Three Kingdoms era from a block of scorched wood he discovered during his wanderings/fleeing across the land to avoid military unrest. Specifically, he found that the block of wood has a unique sound and carefully crafted a guqin out of this piece of wood. Much to his expectations, the instrument that came about had an extradordinary ‘voice’.

Three hundred years later, the Emperor of a short-lived dynasty who held this instrument in his hands asked a famous musician of that time to perform for him using the Scorched Tail. After playing for five days, this musician composed a song titled the Song of Vexation on the spot and presented it to the Emperor as a gift.

  1. Green Silk/Elegance

Appearance & Characteristics:

There is carved onto this instrument four Chinese characters that mean the “essence of Tong and Zi” that imply that this instrument combines the best properties of an instrument made from the Tong (probably Chinese parasol) and Zi (catalpa ovata) trees.

Lore:

Gifted to the famous scholar Sima Xiang Ru of the Han dynasty by the noble Liang Wang (Lord of the Liang region) for composing a beautiful verse for him titled the Jade-like Verse (Ru Yu Fu). In particular, Xiang Ru was already a skilled player. With the Green Silk in his possession, both himself and the instrument reached their height of fame, so much that the name Green Silk became used as a generic term to refer to an instrument of high quality/a renowned instrument.

Moreover, this instrument also played an important role in the love story of Xiang Ru and his wife Wen Jun, which was not just romantic but famous because it had a *‘happy ending’. The basic story goes as follows: Xiang Ru was a very talented scholar that was quite well known but poor. One day when he was invited to the house of a rich merchant who was appreciative of his talents. There was a party going on and he was asked to perform with the Green Silk Knowing that the merchant’s daughter, who had quite a reputation for being talented at both literature and music and also happened to admire himself, Xiang Ru took the opportunity to declare his love for her through performing the love song Feng Qiu Huang (Male Phoenix courting Female Phoenix). The result was that Wen Jun eloped with him and they eventually became a happy married couple.

Note: Recently, I’ve found that there’s more to the love story and it isn’t as happy an ending. Specifically, after becoming a court official, Xiang Ru had apparently thought of dumping Wen Jun and/or taking a concubine. While this did not eventually come to happen and the two of them stuck together to the end, I think most who found out about this latter development would feel somewhat cheated of this actual ending.

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