Xiu Ou-yang played the zither.
Farewell to Zhi Yang
Ou-yang, Xiu 1 (1007-1072 CE)
I suffered from depression in the past. Even though I resigned my position
and stayed home to rest, I still could not recover from the disorder. Later, I
studied zither with my friend Dao-zi Sun and learned a few melodies of the
"Gong" tune 2. Gradually, I began to enjoy playing the zither and
became unaware of my melancholy.
The artistry of playing the zither is simplistic. However, only after you
learn to play it well can the bass become the “Gong” tune and the soprano become
the "Yu" tune 3. Suppose one tunes the strings and starts playing.
One may change the tone and tempo suddenly. The urgency of a fast tempo makes
one feel anxious. The harmony of a slow tempo makes one feel peaceful. The fast
music may sound like rocks falling from a collapsing cliff, a river cascading
down a mountain, or wind and rain arriving in the evening. The slow music may
sound like the sigh of a widow or a widower, or the song that male and female
birds sing to each other in harmony. The vision and ancient wisdom conjured by
music resemble the legacy bequeathed by Emperor Shun 4, Emperor
Wen-wang 5, and Confucius 6. The bitter grief with
subsequent indignation conjured by music resembles the lament of the rejected
such as Bo-qi 7 or Yuan Qu, a loyal minister, who was not trusted by
Happiness, anger, sorrow and joy affect one's heart deeply. The sound of the
zither is pure, simple and peaceful. It has the same lively and graceful tone as
those books written during "the reigns of Emperors Yao and Shun" or during the
Three Dynasties 8, as Confucius' essays, as the suffering of the
author of The Book of Changes, as well as the lament and satire of The
Book of Poetry. Furthermore, the harmony drawn from the zither music which
can be heard by ears and played by hands may help release one's sorrow and untie
the knot in one's heart. Thus, in addition to affecting one's feelings, a zither
may help one attain peace and happiness.
My friend Mr. Yang loves to study and writes well. He wishes he could realize
his ambition, but he failed the Advanced Exam many times. After being
transferred from his inherited title to lieutenant in a small town located
several thousand miles southeast of here, he surely felt that he had been
treated unfairly. For him, there are several disadvantages to live in the south.
First, because he was often sick during his childhood, the lack of medical
supplies in the south does not bode well for his future health. Furthermore, the
customs and food are completely different there; the adjustment to these changes
can be difficult. With a sickly body and a sense of frustration facing
unsuitable customs, would he be able to survive if he remained in a state of
melancholy for long? In my opinion, playing the zither may help him balance his
heart and recover from his sickness. Therefore, I am writing this essay about
the zither to wish him well on his journey to his new position. Dao-zi and I
plan to serve wine and present a zither to him as our parting gift.
Yong-shu was Xiu Ou-yang's other first name. In his late years, he called
himself Liu-yi-ju-shi (a sixty-one year old Buddhist scholar). He was a native
of Lu-ling City in Ji-zhou County (which is either present day Ji-an-xian City
or Yong-feng-xian City of Jiang-xi Province). When Xiu Ou-yang was four, his
father died. His family was poor and could not afford to purchase writing
brushes and paper. His mother taught him by writing words on the ground with a
tree branch. In 1030 CE, Ou-yang passed the Advanced Exam at the age of 24. In
1041 CE, he became an advisor and then drafted the emperor's edicts. At that
time Yan Du, Qi Han, and Zhong-yan Fan resigned their positions as prime
minister one after another. He told Emperor Ren-zong that he should have
retained these great prime ministers. His words offended the emperor.
Consequently, he was demoted to Mayor of Chu-zhou City (present day Chu-xian
City of Anhui Province). While he was in Chu-zhou City, he called himself “Old
Drunkard”. Later, he was transferred to Mayor of Yang-zhou City and then Ying-zhou
City. Afterwards, he was reinstated as the member of the Royal Academy. He was
appointed by Emperor Ren-zong to revise The History of the Tang Dynasty.
In 1060 CE, he became the Vice President of the Privy Council. In 1061 CE, he
worked closely with Prime Minister Qi Han to administer state affairs. During
the early years of Emperor Shen-zong's reign, he was demoted to Mayor of Bo-zhou
City. Later, he was transferred to Mayor of Qing-zhou City and then Cai-zhou
City. When he was the imperial tutor of the crown prince, he recruited talented
scholars. He retired at Ying-zhou City. After he died, the emperor honored him
by giving him the posthumous name "Wen-zhong" (Duke of Loyalty and Literature).
In his early years, he loved to read Yu Han’s essays. After taking pains to
explore them thoroughly, he promoted ancient Chinese literary essays. His
campaign for Chinese classics served to demonstrate principles that could be put
into practice. All the Chinese scholars became his followers. Whenever he
finished writing an essay, he would revise it many times. China’s great writers
that came after him like Gong Zeng, An-Shi Wang, Dong-po Su and Che Su were all
his students. It is difficult to write great essays and it is even more
difficult to produce a group of great writers. Here is one story about Ou-yang:
When Dong-po Su took the Advanced Exam, Ou-yang was the examiner. In this exam,
Su's score was the highest, but Ou-yang put him in the second place and put Gong
Zeng in the first place. Ou-yang said, "Su is only twenty-two years old. If I
put him in the first place, he might become proud." It turned out that Su became
the greatest and the most prolific writer during this period of China's
2 "Gong, Shang, Jiao, Zhi, and Yu" were the notes of the pentatonic scale in
ancient Chinese music. They were similar to the notes of “Do, re, mi, sol, and
la” in western music.
This sentence means "only after you play it well can its music and your
feelings become one."
Emperor Shun played a pentachord to sing of the south wind.
Wen-wang was imprisoned at You-li City (present day Tang-yin-xian City in
Henan Province) by Emperor Zhou of the Shang dynasty. Wen-wang composed a song
using his zither.
After Confucius left the state of Lu, he composed several melodies
including the one for “Turtle Mountain”.
Bo-qi lived during the Zhou dynasty. He was Ji-fu Yin's son. His mother
died. His father listened to his step-mother's words and banished him in anger.
Later, his father regretted his action and searched for him in the countryside.
"The Three Dynasties" refers to the Xia, Shang, and Zhou dynasties.