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Guqin Origin


Guqin Listening by Song Emperor 宋徽宗趙佶聽琴圖(Palace Museum 故宮博物館)

Guqin players historically have had different theories about the origin of the guqin, when it first appeared and who invented it, with no conclusive theory to this very day. Generally, from existing historic writings, we see that several significant figures were believed to have created the guqin, for example: Fúxī, Shénnóng, Emperor Yán, the Yellow Emperor, Emperor Yáo, Emperor Shùn. Tales of the above figures have been passed down through legend and folklore for the past four to five thousand years, and are all related to the creators of Chinese nationality. Although no one can prove which of these figures created the guqin, they have at least provided us with two insights. First, the guqin has a very long history. Second, the guqin is closely related to highly intelligent, respected and honorable figures, figures that played crucial roles of importance in the development of Chinese history and culture. Ever since the guqin was created, it has occupied a unique position in the hearts of Chinese people and in Chinese culture, and so it has been honored as the “instrument of the sages”.

In comparison with other theories, the one involving Emperor Shùn’s creation of the guqin is more descriptive and detailed in historical records. The chapter “Record of Music” in the Book of Rites, and the “Treatise on Music” and the “Annals of the Five Emperors” in the Records of the Grand Historian, amongst others, have clearly recorded Emperor Shùn and the origin of the guqin. In addition, ancient Chinese began to develop and industrialize silk farming during the era of Emperor Shùn. Due to silk’s high durability and flexibility, it was used for guqin strings and gave the guqin an alias “silk and parasol wood (sī-tóng)”. Therefore, it is widely believed that the guqin originated from Emperor Shùn’s era and was created by him.