I have read through some qinpu facsimiles in my time and have enjoyed going through the lore and theory of qin. One of the things which I read that caught my attention was in the 《德音堂琴譜》. The text in question was called 「琴有十三不宜彈」 or the “thirteen situations when it is not appropriate to play the qin.” The text is an interesting list of situations when one really shouldn’t play qin; some more obvious than others. The text says that it is inappropriate to play qin when:
1. 風雷陰雨: the weather is bad, thundering, heavy rain, gales, dark, etc
2. 日月交蝕: there is a solar or lunar eclipse
3. 近囹圄: near or next to a prison
4. 對娼妓: in front of a prostitute
5. 酒醉後: after one is intoxicated
6. 夜事後: after ‘activities of the night’, i.e. sex
7. 在市 (see note 1): in a marketplace
8. 逢俗子: meeting people of poor taste
9. 衣冠不整: inappropriately dressed
10. 香案不潔: the table is unclean
11. 不洗手漱口: one has not washed their hands or rinsed their mouth
12. 腋氣噪嗅: one’s armpits smell (i.e. not had a bath in days or sweating)
13. 鼓動諠嚷: one is disturbed and noisily shouting
Note 1: This character cannot be displayed conventionally. An image of it is here:
A rare obsolete character. Not listed in the Kangxi Zidian or my Classical Chinese Dictionary, so I don’t know it’s pronunciation or full meaning.
So, what is the reason behind some of the entries? Why not play in these situations? The answer to some would be for reasons of practicality. Take for example 風雷陰雨. If it is thundering away, the sounds of thunder would drown out the sound of the qin. As well as that, a dark overcast day with rain can psychologically affect one’s mood and when playing, making the player feel gloomy, so they wouldn’t be able to play to their best of abilities. And being intoxicated (酒醉後), one can hardly be fit to play! This sense is carried onto deing disturbed (鼓動諠嚷) in the mind and being irritated to the point of ranting. And you wouldn’t play in a busy marketplace (在市) since it would be too noisy to hear anything so your music will fall on deaf ears. We should clean our hands (不洗手漱口) to remove the sweat and dirt that otherwise hinder our playing ability. The rinsing of the mouth refreshes us, and it would be best to take a bath because we wouldn’t play well when one is unclean (腋氣噪嗅).
We then come across some peculiar ones such as 近囹圄. Why can’t you play near a prison? The reason maybe because the qin is viewed as a moral instrument, so it should avoid being played next to a place where little morals exist. But the thing is, why would someone play a qin in or near a prison? Certainly, you would not allow prisoners to play qin; they may hang themselves with the strings! One would assume that one can play next to a prison, but that may not be allowed by the wardens! The question is what constitutes as playing ‘near’ or ‘next’ to a prison. I suppose it doesn’t mean a house next to one…
What about eclipses (日月交蝕)? The Chinese view eclipses as omens and often bad ones at that. But I suppose people may be too busy staring at the sky to play qin when one happens! Secondly, the darkness that shrouds the land will make it dark, so impractical to play qin in.
對娼妓 is an interesting one. Like prisoners, prostitutes are not very moral either. But I have heard that they did play qin (from Yip Mingmei’s lectures), but I hardly think any today would. But sematically, the text says playing in the presence of one. This maybe saying that one should not use the qin as a wooing instrument, or use it to get someone into bed (Sima Xiangru is a different matter…). One would probably say that it is alright for prostitutes to play qin, provided they are not ‘on the job’… Same with sex (夜事後). You’ll probably have your mind on other things anyway and you’d also have commited the sweaty armpits and unclean hands and mouth clauses.
逢俗子 is self-explanatory. You are hardly going to waste your time and energy playing in front of people with poor taste that will more or less be unappreciative of qin music. I’ve met many in my time, so now I follow this clause to save myself the stress.
Finally I suppose you can play in the nude (衣冠不整), but that is rather silly coz you might catch a cold… But enough jokes! One of the things which I cringe is not being dressed appropriately when playing music. You see the musicians in an orchestra in full dress white tie; there is no reason why you shouldn’t do the same or wear something culturally similar.
So now, the question would be whether any of these things are applicable today. As very few qin players are ‘gentlemen of the realm’ and do not follow these old customs anymore, I wonder if any take such rituals with seriousness as I do. One of the attractive things about the Japanese tea ceremony is in the rituals in themselves which involve cleaning the utensils and ensuring all is proper. Ever since the demotion of the qin’s rank as a ‘sagely instrument’, we have not bothered anymore with preparing ourselves in a caring manner to play the qin. We have not bothered to clean the instrument, dress in fine clothes or look after our nails. We now just take it out like any other object and strum it. The Japanese have probably beaten us in the care they place on their instruments. Koto players take time to put their bridges on before performance and take them off again after performance.
Much the same as a calligrapher would in grinding ink on an inkstone instead of pouring it out of the bottle, qin players should also take time in preparing themselves for qin play. After all, what is the rush?
ER II 55, June 19.