Mastery of the qin (or guqin), a type of zither, was one of the necessary skills of a scholar or well-educated person in ancient China, along with an understanding of qi (chess), shu (calligraphy), and hua (painting).
An extremely rare Ming dynasty qin anthology – one of 19 known extant copies – was recently discovered by Print Media Acquisitions Assistant Lingwei Qiu in a collection donated to the Music Library by Professor Emerita Rulan Chao Pian. The eight-volume anthology, compiled by Yang Lun and printed in China in 1609, includes two works; the first, Tai gu yi yin, Remnants of Ancient Sounds, is a collection of scores written in jianzipu character notation. Since aesthetics and philosophy form essential components of Chinese musical traditions, each piece is preceded by a poem to describe its mood, while the notation itself indicates which strings, finger positions, and techniques the musician should use. The second work, Boya xin fa, or Boya’s Internal Method, is a treatise about the philosophy of music and an instruction manual for students of the qin, with scores, illustrations, and discussions of the instruments, fingerings, and playing techniques.
Another seventeenth-century book from the collection is an edition of the Chinese encyclopedia Shi lin guang ji, published in Japan in 1699. First printed in the thirteenth century, and continually revised and reissued, this general encyclopedia covers subjects ranging from history, government, and military strategy to medicine, philosophy, literature, and music.
In addition to these rare books, the Rulan Chao Pian Collection includes several hundred field and commercial recordings of Buddhist chants, Chinese songs, Kun, Cantonese and Peking opera, and a recording of a Taiwanese aboriginal dwarf ceremony. Video recordings include Korean heungboga, Japanese bunraku, and other genres, as well as recordings of the Chinese drama Shajiabang, and American rituals used for a course on Music and Ritual.
For further exploration:
- Moore, J. Kenneth. “The Qin“. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–.
- Chinese Musical Instruments, from the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
– Lingwei Qiu and Kerry Masteller