X Sanqu

( 散  曲 )

Sanqu is a new form of poetry came into being after Ci and was developed in Yuan (1271-1368) and Ming (1368-1644) Dynasties. It was also a kind of verse for singing. Music experienced a fundamental change since the late period of Northern Song. A great number of “foreign” music came in and was mixed up with folk music; the accompanying instrument for Ci singing was mainly “Xiao”—a vertical bamboo flute, but now foreign instruments like “Zheng, Pipa and Huqin” were being used. Ci could no longer accommodate to the needs of new music, so Sanqu emerged, as times required. The most important contribution Yuan Dynasty made for China’s literature was that it gave birth to “Qu” and Chinese opera. “Qu” in Yuan Dynasty included two parts: a) Sanqu (loose music); b) Juqu (opera music).Juqu was a form of opera with a story and figures; it was composed of acting, singing and dialogues; Sanqu was singing without makeup, acting or dialogue. Sanqu was usually accompanied by strings, pipa, flutes and clappers, but not gongs and drums, which must be used in Juqu. Sanqu is consisted of “小令,Xiao Ling, A Short Song” and “套数, Tao Shu, A Set of Songs”. A Short Song is of one tune and one rhyme and similar to “Jue Ju” in poetry and “Xiao Ling”in Ci. A Set of Songs is composed of more than two songs of the same type of tunes and in the same rhyme from beginning to end. The longest set has as many as 34 songs. So, what is the difference between Ci and Qu? As we said just now the difference is first of all in music. The second difference is that the long lines in Qu can have more than 30 characters. Qu is more colloquial, natural, straightforward and it can be serious and facetious at the same time.

 A portrait of Guan Hanqing

It has been studied that there were 227 Sanqu poets in the Yuan Dynasty. Guan Hanqing (关汉卿) is most known for his opera texts [ he wrote 67 of them, with only 18 still in existence. “The Unjust Charge on Dou E (窦娥冤)”and “The River-Watching

The Opera: The Unjust Charge on Dou E
Pavilion (望江亭)” are most famous ], but he is also an outstanding Sanqu poet. His 14 sets of songs and 35 short songs wrote about a) the busy cities and the life of performers, for instance “Scenery in Hangzhou” described Hangzhou in a simple, vivid and forthright way; b) travels and departures, his short song “沉醉东风,Chen Zui Dong Feng, The Deeply Drunken East Wind” is very representative of this part:

咫尺的天南地北,   Zhi chi de tian nan di bei,
霎时间月缺花飞!   Sha shi jian yue que hua fei!
手执着饯行杯,     Shou zhi zhe jian xing bei,
眼阁着别离泪。     Yan ge zhe bie li lei.
刚道得声保重将息, Gang dao de sheng bao zhong jiang xi,
痛煞煞教人舍不得。 Tong sha sha jiao ren she bu dei.
好去者,           Hao qu zhe,
望前程万里!       Wang qian cheng wan li!

By a foot southern sky and northern earth is divided,
In a moment the moon is not full and flowers begin to drop.

To toast farewell with a cup in hand,
Tears in eyes because you’ll depart.
Having just said, “take care”,
I don’t really want you go and my heart aches.
In your 10 thousand li future trip,
I wish you save and sound!

This Sanqu about the parting of a boy from his love is very touching. There is nothing artificial. To write about soft feelings with vigorous strokes is the feature of Guan’s Sanqu. Guan also wrote about c) his life and aspirations. “不伏老, Bu Fu Lao, Refuse to Be Old” is a masterpiece in Sanqu:

我是个蒸不烂, 煮不熟,                           wo shi ge zheng bu lan, zhu bu shou,
捶不扁,炒不爆,                                  chui bu bian, chao bu bao,
响珰珰一粒铜豌豆。                                Xiang dang dang yi ke tong wan dou.
恁子弟每谁教你钻入他锄不断,                      ping zi di mei shui jiao ni zhuan ru ta chu bu duan,
斫不下,解不开, 顿不脱,                         zhe bu xia, jie bu kai,
慢腾腾千层锦套头…                                man teng teng qian ceng jin tao tou…
我也会围棋,会蹴踘,会打围,会插科,              wo ye hui weiqi, hui cu ju, hui da wei, hui cha ke,
会歌舞,会吹弹,会咽作,会双陆,                   hui ge wu, hui chui tan, hui yan zuo, hui shuang lu,
你便是落了我的牙, 歪了我的嘴,                   ni bian shi luo le wo de ya,
瘸了我的腿, 折了我的手,                         qie le wo de tui, zhe le wo de shou,
天赐与我这几般歹症侯,                            tian ci yu wo zhe ji ban dai zheng hou,
尚兀自不肯休。                                    Shang wu zi bu ken xiu.
则除是阎王亲自唤,                                ze chu shi yan wang qin zi huan,
神鬼自来勾,                                      shen gui lai gou,
三魂归地府,                                      san hun gui di fu,
七魄丧冥幽。                                      Qi po sang min you.
天哪,                                            tian na,
那其间才不向烟花路上走!      na qi jian cai bu xiang yan hua lu shang zou!

I am a piece of bronze pea,
I can never be steamed or boiled soft,
I can never be hammered flat,
I always tinkle and jingle,
But can never be fried crack.
You pupils,
Who told you to get into his thousand-layer quilt?
It is something you can not break,
You can not untie or hatchet,
You can not shake it off,
It seems no end.
I also know how to play “go”,
I play football and know how to hunt,
I can be facetious,
I can sing, dance and play instrument,
I can do vocal imitation, write poems
And play on checkerboard.
Even though you beat my tooth off,
My mouth askew, my legs broken and arms bent,
Heaven has given me my look and habit,
They refuse to rest.
Only if the King of Hell personally invites,
God and ghost ask
My three souls to go to hell
And my seven spirit to go the nether world,
My Heaven,
I would then stop on this performing road!

This poem is of unique verve, because as a populace playwright, his will of being one of the performers in the lower rank of society was presented in a witty, humorous and seemingly cynical way.

Ma Zhiyuan (马致远, ?1250-? 1324) is a master of Sanqu. It was him who made Sanqu widely recognized as a form of poetry. The collection of his Sanqu includes 104 short songs, 17 sets and 5 incomplete sets. His short song “Autumn Thought” is most famous:
 A portrait of Ma zhiyuan

枯藤老树昏鸭,         Ku teng lao shu hun ya,
小桥流水人家,         Xiao qiao liu shui ren jia,
古道西风瘦马,         Gu dao xi feng shou ma,
夕阳西下,             Xi yang xi xia,
断肠人在天涯。         Duan chang ren zai tian ya.

Withered vine, swooning ducks and old trees were there,
By the side of a house and under the bridge was water,
On the ancient road, in the west wind there was a slim trotter,
Sun was setting in the west proper,
The heart broken man was in the remotest corner.

This short song has always won praises. It has been reputed as the “forefather of poems on autumn thought”. The first three lines list nine old, feeble and waning things with a background of a setting sun, thus the last line—“The heart broken man was in the remotest corner” sounds most dreary and miserable. What are superb about this poem are not necessarily the feeling it produced, but rather the way it handles the scenes and feelings. All the scenes exist for the last line, which made the feeling of missing someone in autumn very specific. Let us now read one paragraph of his “借马,Jie Ma, Lending a Horse”, which portrays vividly a miser who could not refuse, but was unwilling to lend the horse, he then said the following:

 [六煞] 不骑呵西棚下凉处栓,                   

[Liu Sha] Bu qi a xi peng xia liang chu shuan,
Qi shi jie jian di pi ping chu qi.
Jiang qing qing nen cao pin pin de wei,
Xie shi jie du dai song song fang,
Pa zuo de kun kao bao er kuan kuan yi.
Qin qu zhe an he pei,
Lao ta zhe bao deng,
Qian kou er xiu ti.

[ Liu Sha Tune ]
When not riding, please tie it in the west shed where is cool,
When riding, please choose the road surface that is even.
Make sure feed it with green tender herbage frequently,
Please loosen the belly belt when having a rest,
The bridle should be removed in a slow motion.
Check the saddle and the bit very often,
Please step into the stirrups firmly,
And not to raise too high the rein.

The mentality of the miser is totally depicted by the humorous tone and vivid language. Such language style is very representative of the features of the Yuan Sanqu. Zhang Yanghao (张养浩,1270-1329) was a famous Sanqu poet after Guan and Ma. His “Remembering the Past at Tongguan” described the sufferings of the people during rulers’ struggle for power. We now possess 161 of his short songs and 2 sets of songs.

Zhang kejiu (张可久,?1280-?) was the first Yuan poet who did not write any opera verses and concentrated only on Sanqu. We now have 855 of his short songs and 9 sets. He was the most prolific poet of Yuan. His Sanqu poems are generally very graceful owing to the fact that he was very particular to tonal patterns, rhyme schemes and the refining of language. A greater number of his Sanqu poems were about the landscape in the southern part of China. “凭阑人,Ping Lan Ren, The One Who Leans on a Railing” is a short song that describes the West Lake:

远水晴天明落霞,      Yuan shui qing tian ming luo xia,
古岸渔村横钓槎。       Gu an yu cun heng diao cha.
翠帘沽酒家,           Cui lian gu jiu jia,
画墙吹柳花。           Hua qiang chui liu hua.

Sunset clouds in distant water and bright sky is so clear,
On a small raft beyond the ancient bank and fishing village there is a fisher.
Behind the green curtain is the shop of liquor,
Dancing before the painted wall is the catkin flower.

Kejiu enjoyed a high reputation in the Yuan dynasty. Sanqu like the above had a great influence on later Ming Dynasty poets. Qiao Ji (乔吉,?-1345)was as famous as Zhang Kejiu in Sanqu creation. Qiao spent most of his life away from hometown and in poor conditions. His short song “绿么遍,Lu Me Bian, Green All Over (tittle of a tune)” described his life thus:

不占龙头选,         Bu zhan long tou xuan,
不入名贤传,         Bu ru ming xian zhuan,
时时酒圣,           Shi shi jiu sheng,
处处诗禅,           Chu chu shi chan,
烟霞状元,           Yan xia zhuang yuan,
江湖酒仙。           Jiang hu jiu xian.
笑谈便是编修院,     Xiao tan bian shi bian xiu yuan,
留连,               Liu lian,
批风抹月四十年。     Pi feng mo yue si shi nian.

I’ve never been on the list of the successful through the imperial examinations,
I’ve never been included into the biographies of those with reputation,
But all the time I am a saint of wine,
Every where I am a Buddha of poetry creation,
I am the Number One Scholar in the rosy clouds of heaven,
I am a drunken immortal among chivalrous men,
My jokes can equal to the imperial office of compilation,
I have continued
For 40 years in criticizing wind and painting the moon.
Qiao was bold in imagination, “ 重观瀑布,Chong Guan Pu Bu, Another Look at the Waterfall” contains his rich imagination:

天机织罢月梭闲,        Tian ji zhi ba yue suo xian
石壁高垂雪练寒,        Shi bi gao chui xue lian han,
冰丝带雨悬霄汉,        Bing si dai yu xuan xiao han,
几千年晒未乾。          Ji qian nian shai wei gan.
露华凉,                Lu hua liang,
人怯衣单。              Ren qie yi dan.
似长虹饮涧,            Si chang hong yin jian,
玉龙下山,              Yu long xia shan,
晴雪飞滩。              Qing xue fei tan.

The heavenly loom finished weaving and the moon shuttle was standing idle,
Hanging high from the cliff the snowy silk was cold and crystal,
The icy shreds with rain were being suspended in the sky,
For a few thousand years they hadn’t been dried.
The shooting drops were cold,
It was like a white rainbow drinking from the ravine,
A jade dragon coming down from a mountain,
And snowflakes flying above the banks under sun.

“全元散曲,The Complete Sanqu Collection of Yuan” included more than 200 of Qiao’s short songs and 11 sets.

Another important poet of Yuan is Liu Zhi (刘致,?-1338?). He wrote more than 60 short songs. His two sets entitled“上高监司,Shang Gao Jian Si, To Present to Supervisor Gao” are important works because of its distinctive realism. In singing praises of the supervisor, the Sanqu also described in length the bitter life of people during the drought in Nanchang and the evil deeds of landlords and businessmen who used the calamity to exploit people.

You can rarely find excellent poetry or Ci from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), yet its Sanqu inherited the spirit of Yuan. According to “散曲概论,San Qu Gai Lun, An Introduction to Sanqu” written by Ren Zhongmin, there were 330 poets in the Ming Dynasty who wrote Sanqu, but not many of their works have been handed down to us. The most famous poet of early Ming was Zhu Youdun, but most of his works were cliches. Ever since 1488 (Hongzhi period), more poets appeared and the southern Qu began to prosper. Kang Hai and Wang Jiusi were straightforward and vigorous in their Sanqu. Feng Weimin (冯惟敏,1511-1580?) is an important poet. His Sanqu covered a wide range of themes, some exposed the darkness in politics, some condemned corrupt officials, and some showed his sympathy to farmers and many described landscapes. Let’s read “玉江引,Yu Jiang Yin, Lead to Jade River”:

A statute of Feng Weimin

倒了房宅,堪怜生计蹙。  Dao le fang zhai, kan lian sheng ji cu.
冲了田园,难将双手扤。 Chong le tian yuan, nan jiang shuang shou wu.
陆地水平铺,           Lu di shui ping pu,
秋禾风乱舞,           Qiu he feng luan wu,
水旱相仍, 农家何日足!Shui han xiang reng, nong jia he ri zu!
How pitiful that their houses collapsed,
Where were they going to put up?
Their fields were flooded,
What work was still there for their hands?
Land was leveled by water,
Stalks and grass danced in autumn with wind.
Drought came right after flood,
When could farmers have enough to eat!

His Sanqu is generally of a bold, flowing and humorous style. We now have 170 of his short songs and 50 sets in possession. Feng accomplished more and pushed the Ming Sanqu creation to a new high. Wang Pan (王磐,1470-1530) is not only a poet, but also an artist and a composer. It was said that a song could be easily composed off the cuff by him; notes flowed out of his mouth was a song. We now possess 65 of his short songs and 9 sets. Let’s read one of his short songs ([朝天子]“咏喇叭”,[Chao Tian Zi] “Yong La Ba”, [Seeing the Emperor] “Ode to the Trumpet”):

喇叭, 锁哪,       La ba, suo na,
曲儿小, 腔儿大。   Qu er xiao, qiang er da.
官船来往乱如麻,    Guan chuan lai wang luan ru ma,
全仗你抬身价。      Quan zhang ni tai shen jia.
军听了军愁,        Jun ting le jun chou,
民听了民怕,        Min ting le min pa,
那里去辨甚么真共假?Na li qu bian shen me zhen gong jia?
眼见的吹翻了这家,  Yan jian de chui fan le zhe jia,
吹伤了那家,        Chui shang le na jia,
只吹的水尽鸭飞罢!  Zhi chui de shui jin e fei ba!
Trumpets and suona horns were being blown,
Songs were smallpieces, but tunes sounded louder.
Official vessels came and went so frequent,
They tried to raise their social status by blowing instrument.
Hearing the blowing, the army was worried,
The common folks horrified,
Were they really official? Who was going to distinct?
Yet this family was blown capsized,
And that family bruised,
And finally geese flew away and the river was blown dried.

During the Zhengde period of Ming, eunuchs were in power. They often went sightseeing on vessels. Wherever they went, they would blow trumpets to call on people to wait on them. People were very much interrupted and troubled by them. This short song was a satire on such things. Wang Pan’s Sanqu is refreshing, natural and often humorous. The above mentioned poets all wrote northern qu. During their time southern qu was still in the bud.

Kun” Tunes (昆腔) became popular since the Jiajing period (1522) and southern qu prospered while northern qu gradually declined. “Kun” Tunes originated at Kunshan of Jiangsu and spread slowly all over the country, because the tunes were beautiful and pleasant. The accompanying instruments are mainly vertical bamboo flutes, bamboo flutes and pipa. The rise of “Kun” Tunes affected greatly on opera. The form of opera became most complete during this period. The first poet who wrote verses for “Kun” Tunes was Liang Chenyu. A bit later there was Shen Jing. They wrote mainly about maiden girls' love. They were very strict with tonal patterns and rhyme schemes, and fell into formalism for there were not much recommendable content in their Sanqu creation. Shi Shaoxin was slightly better; his Sanqu was deep and implicit. There were folk songs popular among common people in Ming as well. They should be regarded as part of Sanqu. There were poets like Liu Xiaozu who wrote verses for folk songs. Qing Dynasty rarely saw poets with high artistic attainment. Even though many poets wrote Sanqu, they paid too much attention to the grace and refinement of lines, since they regarded Zhang Kejiu and Qiao Ji as their orthodox master.

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