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Qin Zither “Resonance of the Sages”

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Period: Zhide reign (756-758),Tang dynasty (618-907)
Date: 756, bingshen year
Dimensions: length: 122 cm, shoulder width: 20.1 cm, tail width: 13.4 cm, maximum height: 5 cm, bottom height: 1 cm

This qin zither has a rounded top and tapers toward the end. The neck and waist curve inward. According to tradition, this instrument is classified as belonging to the “God of Agriculture” (Shennong) type. Black lacquer coats the entire body, giving the curved surface a sense of stability and strength. Where the black lacquer deteriorated, the surface once revealed a chestnut-color and traces of the original texture—made of huitai, a mixture of the sap of the Chinese lacquer tree, and lujiaoshuang, a powder made from the glue of deer antlers. This worn surface was later restored with a vermillion lacquer. Additionally, thirteen golden markings (hui) designate harmonic positions. The aging lacquer has cracked into what has been described as larger “snake-skin” patterns interspersed with finer “oxen-fur” lines. The bottom of the instrument shows delicate “wave” cracks. The bottom also features two sound holes—the circular longchi (lit. “dragon pool”, diameter 7.6 cm) and the elliptical fengzhao (lit. “phoenix pond”, 12 × 2.9 cm).

The top of the instrument is made of a fine straight-grained wood from a tree belonging to the genus Vernicia (called tong in Chinese). The medium-hard wood is yellowish-brown in color. The wood on the outside of the strings from the bridge saddle (yueshan) to the golden harmonic markings (hui) shows signs of cohesion. Inside the instrument, the wood of the sound absorber (nayin) bulges slightly outward. Delicate craftsmanship is evident in the red sandalwood attachments, namely, the bridge saddle (yueshan), bridge base (chenglu), nut (longyin, lit. “dragon’s gums”), and ceremonial cap (called guanjiao or jiaowei). The peg pool (zhenchi), located on the bottom and below the forehead, bends slightly outwards. While the peg protectors are original, the red sandalwood attachments show signs of replacement. The hexagonal pegs are made of antiquarian green jade (jiu qingyu) and carved with sunflower petal designs. Each peg has a pointed bottom and is embellished with a bright yellow silk braid and tassel.

Inscribed above the “dragon pool” (longchi) sound hole are four characters, reading dasheng yiyin (lit. “resonance of the sages”, each character approx. 4 × 4 cm), in cursive script. Two characters, reading baohan (lit. “inclusion”, with each character 8.1 × 7.6 cm) are beautifully carved in the form of a seal with thick brushstrokes and a thin perimeter line below the “dragon pool” (longchi) sound hole. An inscription in the clerical script flanks the “dragon pool” (longchi) sound hole and reads, “juhe yingqiuhanjiang yinyue; wanlai youyou, gutong salie” (“Welcoming autumn at the great gorge, as the cold river reflects the moon; myriad sounds sedately soar, and the lone tong tree blows bleakly in the wind”. The “lone tong tree” is a symbolic reference to the qin zither.)  These sixteen characters are divided into groups of four (with each character 2 × 2 cm). Giving the year of the instrument’s construction, four clerical script characters are written with vermillion lacquer in the “dragon pool” sound hole around the sound absorber and read, “zhide bingshen” (“the bingshen year of the Zhide reign”, 756 CE, with characters approx. 3 × 3 cm). All inscriptions are original (for the cracks extend all the characters) and were once gilded.

When strum, the qin zither resonates with a robust echoing sound. When plucked, the instrument releases a clear sound reminiscent of ancient times.

Featured Exhibit: Qin Zither "Rosonance of the Sages"

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