North American Guqin Association

NAGA China Guqin Culture Tour Report

Two major international guqin events and sightseeing

October 2006

In October 2006, NAGA director Wang Fei led a group of six NAGA members, Pat Wong, Kwan Wong, Jiang Wenyu, Fred Pohlmann, and Dr. Sanford Tom to attend two major international guqin events and to visit heritage sites in Beijing, Sichuan, Jiuzhaigou Valley and other places.

NAGA's trip to China was not only a chance to present and perform, it also gave NAGA members the opportunity to listen to people from different schools display different styles of qin playing. We heard lectures by qin scholars from China and beyond. We visited long-time qin players and made new qin friends. NAGA was praised for its presence at the conferences and for its promotion of the qin abroad. Some of NAGA's newer students were even recognized from prior viewing of pictures on NAGA's website. Journalist Wang Wei, Wang Fei's sister, commented that NAGA students are acknowledged in China's qin community as players in Professor Li Xiangting's lineage.

We met NAGA consultants Professor Li Xiangting, Gong Yi, Zheng Mingzhong, and Xu Jian. Some of the other qin scholars and performer and makers we met were Wu Wenguang, Cheng Gongliang, Tang Zhongliu, Ding Chengyun, Zeng Chengwei, Dai Xiaolian, Liu Chicheng, Xie Daoxiu, He Mingwei, and Wang Peng.


1.     NAGA Presentations and Performances

2.     Beijing International Qin Music Week and Beijing Tour Photos

3.     Chengdu 2006 ¨C Cultural Festivals for the Chinese Guqin and Zhuo Wenjun and Qionglai trip Photos

4.     Jiuzhaigou Valley Tour and Photos

5.     Conference Issues and Notes

6.     Observations on the Current State of the Guqin

NAGA presentations and performances

Wang Fei gave a presentation covering the history of guqin promotion in the West to both international qin conferences and was well received. In Qionglai, Wang Fei's presentation lasted 45 minutes, longer than the usual 30 minute presentations, but both organizer and audience said that they wanted more. Her talk outlined the stages of overseas development, covering English publications about the guqin, its history in the West, and the growth of guqin associations overseas. The guqin's recognition as part of the world's intangible heritage by UNESCO is a fitting tribute that resulted from overseas promotion. Some people in the audience were both surprised and impressed by the scope of these overseas China guqin publications and activities. The accompanying slideshow of NAGA activities was created by Jiang Wenyu, a Silicon Valley computer scientist and guqin student. Wang Fei's multimedia presentation was further enhanced by the video Oulu Wang Ji, which uses visual effects to interpret guqin music. This experimental DVD makes you ¡°to listen, to watch and to feel¡±- a comprehensive and varied way to enjoy qin music. As both a professional qin player and multimedia producer, Wang Fei thinks that guqin music is so rich and contains so many aspects of Chinese culture, that using a multimedia format can help people understand qin music better, and she intends to produce more interactive DVDs on guqin. Established, conservative qin enthusiasts and young students alike were impressed by the DVD's traditional content in a new context. The DVD represents an ancient form in modern dress, as well as being an example of dialog between East and West.

For the Beijing presentation, NAGA was joined by first class singer Jiang Jiaqiang, one of the best singers in China today. During Wang Fei's multimedia presentation he sang a spirited version of Yang Guan San Die with Wang Fei accompanying him on guqin. Fred Pohlmann recited Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei's poem Wei City Song and Kwan Wong sang a heartfelt rendition of NAGA's English version of the poem. Even if they did not understand the language, some in the audience appreciated the gesture of exhibiting these foreign language renditions.

Please see the photo album of NAGA at the Beijing conference at

As part of Wang Fei's presentation in Qionglai, Kwan Wong played Feng Qiu Huang while Wang Wei (China National Radio station producer and host) recited the song/poem in Chinese, and Fred Pohlmann recited an English translation of Du Fu's Qin Terrace.

During the masters' concert in Qionglai Wang Fei gave a moving performance of Mei Hua San Nong on the guqin. Master qin player Li Xiangting accompanied her on xiao. Having such an accomplished teacher and student pair perform together on stage provided a fitting scene for an event that celebrates qin study and performance.

Please see the photo album of NAGA at the Qionglai conference at

Beijing International Qin Music Week

During Beijing's ¡°golden season¡±, the Central Conservatory of Music, the China Conservatory of Music and the Chinese Academy of Arts hosted a four day conference, the ¡°Beijing Week of Qin Music Culture 2006 and Commemoration of Qin Master Wu Jinglue's Centennial Birthday¡± on October 16th to 19th. The conferences included oral and performance presentations, concerts, workshops, and yajis. Wang Fei and her students are heirs to Wu Jinglue's lineage. Wang Fei told the group and the conference that to promote and bring qin art to the West is not only to introduce qin music, but also introduce the qin tradition and the traditions of Chinese culture, such as respecting and valuing their teachers and the traditions they transmit. She was happy to see that some of her students, including westerners, followed her and came to China to seek their lineage and remember the older generation. This tradition is very important in Chinese culture but in modern China is disappearing from many fields, including qin.

Please see the photo album of the Beijing trip at

There is more information about the Beijing conference at

Chengdu 2006 ¨C Cultural Festivals for the Chinese Guqin and Zhuo Wenjun

NAGA was also invited to the 3rd international guqin festival in Qionglai, a suburb of Chengdu. Qionglai is the hometown of Zhuo Wenjun. The famous Han Dynasty love story in which Sima Xiangru wooed Zhuo Wenjun with his qin playing took place here and has inspired a devotion to guqin music in the area. The success of the Qionglai conference was in no small part due to the support of the local government. More than 3,000 people attended the extravagant opening ceremonies, which featured colorful decorations and dances in the town square and the timed release of dozens of birds and hundreds of balloons. Because of NAGA's achievement in promoting the guqin, some members were given the honor of entering on a red carpet. When conference members were transported by bus from one venue to another, they were given a police escort. To avoid congestion during the conference a curfew within certain areas was imposed. The local government was treating its guests as VIP's.

Please see the photo album of the Qionglai trip at

There is more information about the Qionglai events at

Jiuzhaigou Valley Tour and Photos

After the conferences NAGA members accompanied by Wang Wei and Zhang Yuxin to visit the flowing waters, emerald and turquoise lakes, and snow-covered peaks of Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou in northern Sichuan province. A picture is worth a thousand words. When we were there we all felt that this was what Paradise must look like. See the photos of Jiuzhaigou: you will feel that everyone is a photographer and a painter.

Please see the photo album at

Conference Issues and Notes

Discussion and debate during the conferences centered on two general topics. One was the current status and development of the guqin within China's cultural heritage. Preserving and protecting the guqin's heritage in the current cultural climate of China was a matter of concern for everyone. The other topic was whether the guqin should be used as a performance instrument or a medium for scholarship, cultural study, and self-cultivation. Performance exponents emphasize a more dramatic playing style and utilize new compositions, often in combination with Western forms of music; traditionalists emphasize personal study and traditional repertoire. These positions are not mutually exclusive, but highlight a growing tension in the Chinese qin community of today. Proponents of both sides of the debate can be quite committed to their point of view and practice.

Observations on the Current State of the Guqin

The art and culture of the guqin have been undergoing significant changes in recent years. Some of these developments were in evidence at the conferences. We noted that the population of qin students is steadily growing, and an increasing proportion of them are young women: 80% of the students majors in guqin in the Conservatory of Music in Beijing are female. Qin art has become more a performance art on the stage, and some performers use a lot of large body movements, even a dance-like performance style, instead of the traditional peaceful style; singers sing qin songs using pop, western or operatic styles instead of the traditional recitative style. Students generally start younger, many children now starting to learn the guqin from the age of 5. Qin playing technique and qin study are not equally taught or pursued. Performance quality is improving but players' knowledge of Chinese culture is less, so that their technique is sometimes beyond their grasp of the content of a piece. The cost of both instruments and lessons in China has soared, and may sometimes be more than in the West.

Although larger numbers of people now play the guqin than previously, fewer players have truly mastered the instrument, and even fewer hold to the unique, centuries-old traditions of qin practice and study. On the surface, the current state of the guqin seems vibrant, but in fact it is being mass-marketed and serious players and scholars are worried. Some young students, having only learned for a couple of years, are already eager to open guqin schools or offer lessons to the public; others, after a couple of years of self study, are keen to write instructional books; some amateur players are eager to self publish their own CDs or give public performances. There are even carpenters who, having seen a couple of guqins, have started making them. Such instruments are of course unplayable.

There is much experimentation with playing the guqin in different environments, such as with Western orchestra, with modern dance, or with rock music. Small, private concerts have become more popular and are quite expensive, sometimes fetching up to $1200 for a ticket. As a collector's item the value of guqins has soared. Much like the phenomenon of pu-er tea in recent years, the value of high quality new instruments has risen to almost astronomical levels.

For an html version of this report, please visit

Please keep an eye out for our news updates at

Reporter: Fred Pohlmann

Editor: Julian Joseph

North American Guqin Association

© 1999-2007 North American Guqin Association, All Rights Reserved.