Qin is probably one of the most ancient Chinese musical instruments.  I’ve read of it in numerous poems and prose, some dating as far back as the Zhou dynasty (770~256 BC). 

Qin, a seven stringed musical instrument since the Warring Periods.


Scholars love the qin, just as they love the sword.  Of course, they love the sword not because they’re blood thirsty, but because the sword has a whole wealth of symbolism, which I dare not delve into yet.  It would take an expert.  Similarly, the qin can be much more than it seems to an outsider.  But again, I have not the expertise.  I suppose it can only be learned from reading, and reading, and reading Chinese literature of all forms.  But to offer the merest taste of it, which is all I have to offer, the qin represents a . . . withdrawal from the earthliness of the world, or what we call “the red dust.”   

It represents a quietness/ peacefulness of the heart and mind, untouched by earthly worried of fame and wealth, among other things.  The qin emphasises the quietness of the heart.  An image that often rises to mind when mentioning the qin is one of an old man alone in the moonlit clearing, immersed in the music of nature, and of the qin. 

Did I make any sense?  Like I said, I’m no expert.  I know almost nothing about Chinese music.  I’ve been trying to familiarise myself with Chinese music lately.  I bought a book about it, which came with 3 CDs.  It’s an extremely well-written book, very good for complete beginners like me.  I’m not planing to learn any instrument or anything, it’s just that it felt wrong not to know anything about traditional music. :p I’ve listened to the CDs over and over again.  To me, the music was strange, but also slightly familiar.  At least I recognized it as music.  But when I came to the qin music, I was lost.  I was completely unable to connect the random notes and call it music.  I suppose one thing was that there was often long pauses between notes.  I just didn’t get it.  To me, it just wasn’t music.  It was just a bunch of random, meaningless notes.  I could not, for my life, connect this meaningless noise with the qin I’ve learned of from ancient masters.  Was this, indeed, the music and art so upheld by the ancient scholars? It really frustrated me that I could not “get” qin music.  Was I really that far from the stage of peacefulness so sought by teachers of ages past?  But there was one piece which I really liked.  It was a duet of the qin and the flute.  I think the reason I liked it was that the flute helped to fill in the “gaps” of the qin music.  (The qin is commonly paired with the flute.)    So I went out and bought a CD of qin and Flute duets.  I’m happy to say that I really liked it. :)  

And then one day, I “got” qin music.  I was just listening to my CDs again, and I suddenly thought “this is good!”  I think that listening to the flute-qin pieces helped me learn to fill the “gaps.”   Like I said earlier, the thing that irked me about qin music was the pauses between notes.  I didn’t get it at the time.  But then I realized that the quietness between bits was what all the poems spoke of!  Qin represented a quietness and peacefulness of the heart and mind.  The silence and music represented it in part.  Also, a common saying is “it is rare to find a friend on strings,” meaning that it is hard to find one who can share and understand your music.  The challenging about qin music is that it is up to the listener to fill in the gaps, to fill in the silences.  The flute does so at times, but when there is no flute . . .  Perhaps I should say that it is up to the listener to appreciate the silences.  It takes a person with a peaceful heart to enjoy qin music.  That is what the poems and prose have been trying to teach me.  Maybe that is what qin music is about.   

Like I’ve said before, I know little of Chinese music.  These were a couple of my thoughts and feelings about qin music, but I may be all wrong.  I don’t know.  I found my interpretation of Qin, but is it the right one?  Who can say?  Not I.  If you’d like to give it a try, this piece may give you a picture of what I found challenging.  Or maybe not, maybe you’d just “get it” the first time around.   

(The recording is from this website.  Here they call it the silk string zither, instead of qin.)
(Many call qin the guqin instead, gu meaning ancient.  You see, the character qin evolved to become a name for stringed instrument in general.  If you told someone that you know how the play qin, their first response would be “So, how long have you been learning the piano?”  So people had to add the character gu (ancient) to distinguish the original qin from all the others. )  


P.S. Chinese New Year landed right on Valentine’s Day this year!  So, happy belated Chinese New Year, and happy belated Valentine’s Day!!