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April 8, 2016

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Guqin tunes for a famed assassin

“GUANGLING San” (《广陵散》), widely considered one of the most important guqin pieces in Chinese music history, is closely related to two historical figures of great bravery — the assassin Nie Zheng in the Warring States Period (403-221 BC) and scholar Ji Kang, who interpreted the piece so brilliantly that it became a household name during the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316 AD).

Guqin is a plucked seven-string musical instrument played since ancient times. “Guangling San” features strong tunes that tell the story of the legendary assassin Nie of Qi State on the string instrument.

Considering his duty to take care of his old mother, Nie refused Yan Sui, a high-ranking official and friend in Han State, who wanted to hire Nie to assassinate the powerful Han Kui. Nie felt honored to have been considered by Yan. So, after his mother passed, Nie completed the assassination despite all odds and committed suicide before he was caught.

When Nie’s sister heard that the body of an assassin was on public display, she went to Han State and recognized her brother. She cried, and told onlookers that she recognized her brother, who had been hired by Yan. She then died from a broken heart.

Nie’s story was widely spread, as well as his braveness and willingness to die for a friend who acknowledged him. The story was later turned into a guqin piece. Ji, one of the most famous scholars in Western Jin Dynasty, reinterpreted the piece, which is the popular version known today.

Apart from being an ideologist and litterateur, Ji is also known for his innovation in music, according to Liu Hong, a professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. He believes that the music itself does not exhibit emotions, but that emotion arises in the player and the audiences through playing or listening to the music, thus making the melody emotional.

Ji refused to work as official for the court and was then framed and executed. Before execution, Ji played “Guangling San” with great passion. According to legend, he looked up into the sky and sighed, “It is not a pity for me to die, but it is a pity that ‘Guangling San’ will be lost.”

However, the piece was recorded and spread long after Ji’s death, even if some suggest that “Guang-ling San” did die with Ji as nobody would ever pluck the strings the way he did.

Click the links below to enjoy the music.



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