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May 13, 2016

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Home » Feature » Beats of History

Lady’s musical story of misery after capture

QIN ge, literally instrument play and sing, is an art form in which musicians sing while playing the guqin. It has been an important presentation form for guqin art since its beginnings, and there is a large number of qin ge pieces still performed today. That includes the well-known “Hujia Shiba Pai “ (Eighteen Stanzas in Nomadic Reed Pipe) by Cai Wenji, the female scholar of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD).

The lady was captured by the invading Huns, forced to marry a Hun and to live outside the Great Wall for about 12 years with two children. Then Cao Cao, warlord of China’s late Han Dynasty, paid a ransom to get her back. Though the ransom allowed her to return home, she had to leave her own children behind.

Struggling with her feelings, she wrote the melody and lyrics of “Eighteen Stanzas in Nomadic Reed Pipe,” which describes the misery in her life in a foreign land, her longing for her hometown, her deep love for her children and the inevitable departure.

Guo Moruo, a contemporary Chinese litterateur, described the piece as a cry from the soul, like an erupting volcano.

“The piece is quite special since it combines both music features of the nomadic group and the traditional Han music,” says Liu Hong, a professor at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

Knowing both Han and Hun’s music well, Cai merged the two styles in her “Eighteen Stanzas in Nomadic Reed Pipe.” She modified the sad hujia sound of the nomads with the Han culture’s guqin.

The most well-known interpreter of the piece is Dong Tinglan, who lived during the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD).

Mostly played by a single guqin, some version allow the collaboration of a guqin and a pipe player.

Click the link below to enjoy the music.




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