At the 2005 conference for CHIME (the European Foundation for Chinese Music Research) in Amsterdam, Hunter College Professor Emeritus Bo Lawergren generated what passes for shock waves in the academic community by suggesting that the ancient qin had arrived in China from somewhere in Central Asia. Now, one might expect scholars to question the musical bloodlines of the pipa—which does, after all, look a little bit like the oud—but to question the ethnic purity of the qin? You might as well claim that Marco Polo brought the noodles with him from Venice.
Without hair-splitting (I personally side with the late Lou Harrison, who once wrote—in capital letters—“THAT’S ALL THERE IS”) there’s at least one particular attribute that make the qin (or guqin, as it’s formally called to when referring to the “ancient” instrument) conclusively Chinese. The “complex system of tablature” that Stephen Jones refers to in his introduction is actually based on the Chinese written language. The qin became “the music of the literati” because only a true student of literature could read the instructions telling the player where, how and how long to place his fingers. Beyond that, the melody for the qin itself was derived—often overtly, sometimes subtly—from literary sources.
Posted by Ken Smith