North American Guqin Association



NAGA December 2005 guqin yaji Report

On December 17th the North American Guqin Association held its last yaji for 2005. At this event our qin community created one of its ※richest§ and most varied programs ever. A number of guqin solos by students spanning a range of expertise from beginning to advanced levels led the program.

Next was the theme of this yajiCai Wenji (蔡文姬) and Hujia Shiba Pai (胡笳十八拍). Wang Fei gave an eloquent presentation in Chinese the tragic life of Cai Wenji and the place of her Hujia Shiba Pai in the history of Chinese literature and the qin ( Lu Yi provided an exceptionally adept translation into English). Dr. Sanford Tom brought his collection of VCDs of the opera Cai Wenji and some paintings related to Cai Wenji. It worked out perfectly for the presentation.

We were then entertained by a duo presenting a taiji form during the playing of a guqin music recording from Professor Li Xiangting's Song Ren Ci Yi (Inspiration from Poems of the Song Dynasty). As music enthusiasts all of us naturally find music incredibly moving, but at this yaji we were reminded that the ebb and flow of movement is also music and equally moving. Lastly, performances on erhu, sanxian, and guzheng gave clear evidence of the ongoing expansion of our programs into the music of other instruments of Chinese traditional music. We barely finished within the allotted time.

Please see the photo album at

and video at

Both were taken by Michael Cohen.

After the yaji a small group went to dinner for a long and lively conversation about numerous topics including guqin music, poetry, and Chinese and American culture. That evening we concurred that the Bay Area is fortunate to have both a guqin teacher as accomplished as Wang Fei and a qin community that comes together to share its music and knowledge and to socialize. 2006 holds the promise of even greater ※riches.§

At the next yaji Wang Fei will discuss the Song Dynasty poetess Li Qingzhao and several of her works, such as Fenghuang Tai Shang Yi Chui Xiao (凤凰台上忆吹箫) Memories of Playing a Xiao on the Phoenix Terrace, and other prominent poets who played the qin or referred to it in their poems.

About Cai Wenji and her Hujia Shiba Pai

Hujia Shiba Pai is a famous piece composed by Cai Wenji, the daughter of the renowned scholar and qin musician, Cai Yong. The music and lyrics are closely related to Cai Wenji's life. Born at the end of the Han Dynasty and the beginning of the Three Kingdoms era, Cai Wenji witnessed endless wars and betrayals among the various factions and warlords. She grew up immersed in the scholarly and musical atmosphere created by her father. Her qin talent was recognized at a very early age. There is a famous legend that at the age of 6, whenever her father Cai Yong broken any string on his qin, she could immediately tell by ear which one it was. Cai Yong was imprisoned and eventually executed by the temporary power that replaced the Han emperor. Cai Wenji was married, but her husband passed away one year after their marriage. As the Tartars invaded her part of the country, Cai Wenji was captured and forced to be the concubine of Zuo Xian Wang (The Duke, only second to the King). She had two children with the duke, but living among the barbarians made her miss her civilized people and land constantly for 12 years. When Cao Cao came to power in the Han government, he remembered his teacher Cai Yong and decided to bring Cai Yong's daughter home. Cao Cao told the Tartars that he would pay a ransom of thousands of pieces of gold and two priceless white jade bi disks for Cai Wenji, but that if they did not accept his conditions, he would attack with his powerful army. Cai Wenji was happy that she could go home, but at the same time, she could not bear to leave her two young children. Deeply involved in the negotiation between the two countries, she had no choice but to go home, alone. It was during that time she wrote Hujia Shiba Pai, influenced by both the Tartar and Chinese musical traditions. The music expressed her deep longing for her homeland, her sorrow at leaving her children, and a great revulsion towards wars, invasions and death. The lyrics were tailor-made for the music, where one note goes with exactly one syllable. The piece became popular in the Tang Dynasty, with thirty-seven different versions in existence. It was very often played to express anger at later invasions. After Cai Wenji reached Han territory, she devoted her time to editing her father's work and continued to play the qin.

Wang Fei said that the piece she played today was not the qin solo she usually plays from the Wu Zhi Zhai Qinpu (五知斋琴). This one comes from the Ming dynasty handbook Qin Shi (琴适) (1611). Like the Wu Zhi Zhai Qinpu version and the poem, it has 18 sections. Each section is independent but all are connected. It is very common to sing individual sections as separate songs; singing the whole 18 sections is like singing an opera. In her view, to understand Hujia Shiba Pai, qin lovers have to first understand the historical background and life of Cai Wenji and then understand her poem of the same name 每 this would help them to study the qin piece Hujia Shiba Pai. On the other hand, for lovers of literature studying this poem by Cai Wenji, beginning their studies with the qin song Hujia Shiba Pai would deepen their understanding because all the poems from pre-Qin times through the Han dynasty could be sung, and when Cai Wenji was composing this poem she would have both played and sung it.

Everyone at the yaji, no matter whether Americans or Chinese, would all be moved by the story and personality of Cai Wenji. Wang Fei also said that singing qin songs, especially this one, was different from singing ordinary songs: it was necessary to bring the sung and played parts together into one, using the singer's natural vocal range and volume. It doesn't need to use the vocal techniques of Chinese operas or folk song, the bel canto operatic style or the styles of popular songs. Although these ways of singing could convey universal suffering and compassion and some people sang them very well, they were not for qin songs, nor did they suit Cai Wenji. Qin songs were a unity of poem and qin, each as important as the other 每 it doesn't need to emphasise the song and play down the qin. Then again, Cai Wenji wasn't Xi'er, the heroine of the White-Haired Girl. Cai Wenji was a poet and qin player born into an illustrious family. Her hardships were not the external, explosive accusations Xi'er made against the old society; they were those of a woman of letters who found herself helpless and who could give vent to the contradictions in her heart and her hardships only through music and song.

For this reason the fierce, ambitious Cao Cao held Hujia Shiba Pai in the highest esteem. The poem was very popular during the Tang dynasty and during the Southern Song the heroic Wen Tianxiang would recite Cai Wenji's Hujia Shiba Pai whilst he was in prison.

The 20th century historian Guo Moruo said that as a long lyric poem only Qu Yuan's Li Sao was more worthy of appreciation, because this poem was not about the tragedy of one person but about the resonance in all ages between the decline and fall of countries and peoples and the fates of individuals.

Performance list:

1.     Lu Yiguqin, Jiu Kuang (酒狂) Drunken Ecstasy.

2.     Fred Pohlmannguqin, Yang Guan San Die (阳关三叠) Three Variations on the Yang Pass Theme.

3.     Chunyu Zhangguqin, Wu Ye Wu Qiu Feng (梧叶舞秋风) Parasol Leaves dancing in the Autumn Wind.

4.     Kwan Wongguqin, Ou Lu Wang Ji (鸥鹭忘机) Without Ulterior Motives.

5.     Wang Fei 每 presentation in Chinese on the life and work of Cai Wenji; English translation by Lu Yi; the first two sections of Hujia Shiba Pai (胡笳十八拍) Eighteen Stanzas on the Barbarian Reedpipe (Wang Fei guqin and voice); Chinese reading by Wang Yongan; English reading by Fred Pohlmann.

6.     Monique Kuoguqin, with Wenyu Jiang reciting, Chang Xiang Si (长相思) Longing.

7.     Wang Feiguqin and singing in Mandarin, Wenyu Jiang singing in Shanghainese and Monique Kuo singing in English 每 Zi Ye Wu Ge (子夜吴歌) Midnight Song from Wu.

8.     June Lou and Wenyu Jiangtaiji 24 form to guqin music (a Li Xiangting improvisation).

9.     James Byfielderhu, piece unknown.

10. Monique Kuosanxian, Jiu Kuang (酒狂) Drunken Ecstasy.

11. Jennifer Yeh guzheng, Yu Zhou Chang Wan (渔舟唱晚) Fishermen's Song at Dusk.


James Byfield

Linda Byfield

Michael Cohen

Wenyu Jiang

Monique Kuo

Elena Lim

Jolley Beth Lim

June Lou

Yi Lu

Fred Pohlmann

Dr. Sanford Tom

Jan Walker

Fei Wang

Yong An Wang

Kwan Wong

Jennifer Yeh

Chunyu Zhang


Fred Pohlmann & Lu Yi

North American Guqin Association



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