An Encyclopaedia on Chinese History and Literature

Yuefu shiji 樂府詩集

May 19, 2011 © Ulrich Theobald

Yuefu shiji 樂府詩集 "Collected songs of the Music Bureau style" is a collection of yuefu 樂府-style poems from the Han period 漢 (206 BCE-220 CE) to the early Tang period 唐 (618-907), as well as some popular songs (geyao 歌謠) from antiquity to the Five Dynasties period 五代 (907-960). It was compiled by scholar Guo Maoqian 郭茂倩 (1041—1099).

The book of 100 juan length is arranged according to the specific use of yuefu poems into twelve categories, of which some are further divided into sub-categories. The Yuefu shiji is one of the oldest and most comprehensive collections specialized on poetry. Yuefu-style poems like Mo shang sang 陌上桑, Dong men xing 東門行 or Kongque dongnan fei 孔雀東南飛 are also found in other collections like the Yutai xinyong 玉臺新詠 or scattered in various books and encyclopaedias, but the Yuefu shiji is the first book that is dedicated to a systematic assemblage and analysis of the yuefu.

The popular songs are of a special interest as they are generally believed to have been compiled among the common people and therefore seldom attracted the attention of scholars of Chinese poetry. Du Wenlan's 杜文瀾 (1815-1881) study on this type of poetry, the book Guyaoyan 古謠諺 written in the 19th century, could resort to the collection Yuefu shiji.

Temple songs (jiaomiao geci 郊廟歌辭) and banquet-and-shooting songs (yanshe geci 燕射歌辭) were used at the court. Their literary level is not that high, similar to the drum-and-pipe songs (guchui quci 鼓吹曲辭) and the dancing songs (wuqu geci 舞曲歌辭). Inside the categories, poems are arranged chronologically, the oldest poems being anonymous songs or relatively old songs. The reader is thus able to gain an overview of the specific development of yuefu songs in a particular genre. Authorship of the older poems not not always sure. The Xianghe 相和 "Joint harmony" songs Xielu 薤露 and Gaoli 蒿里, for instance, are sometimes attributed to Cao Cao 曹操 (155-220), while the Yuefu shiji declares them as anonymous old songs (guci 古辭). The famous Mo shang sang is sometimes referred to as a work of Cao Cao or Cao Pi 曹丕 (Emperor Wen of the Wei 魏文帝, r. 220-226) or at least dating from that time, yet it is sometimes also dated into the Jin period 晉 (265-420) as a poem in the tradition of the Southern Poetry 楚辭 or elegies. In the Yuefu shiji it can be seen that this poem is an anonymous song from the Han period, and poets from later time imitated the style and mood of this poem to write similar works. This can also be demonstrated with old songs like Caisang 采桑, Yange xing 豔歌行, Luofu xing 羅敷行, Ri chu dongnan yu 日出東南隅 or Ri chu xing 日出行 that were the archetypes to a lot of imitations.

The arrangement in the Yuefu shiji can also give hints about the original melody that was early lost. If poems like Lu Ji's 陸機 (261-303) Dongwuyin xing 東武吟行 and Bao Zhao's 鮑照 (c. 414-466) Dai dongwu yin 代東武吟 stand side by side this means that they could be sung to the same old melody, in spite of their totally different texts. A lot of melodies may have originated as popular melodies used by everyone. Even the original texts are often not known. In his comments to the songs, Guo Maoqian sometimes names the melody. His information is based on older collections, like the Gujin yuelu 古今樂錄 from the 6th century. The song Huang dan si 黄淡思, for instance, is said to have been sung to the melody of the song Huang tan zi 黄覃子.

The commentary quotes from a lot of lost books, like Zhang Yong's 張永 (410-475) Yuanjia zhengsheng jilu 元嘉正聲伎錄 from the Liu-Song period 劉宋 (420-479), Wang Sengqian's 王僧虔 (425-485) Jilu 伎錄 from the Southern Qi period 南齊 (479-502), or the just mentioned book Gujin yuelu by the monk Zhijiang 釋智匠 from the Chen period 陳 (557-589).

There are some minor errors in the Yuefu shiji, like wrong attributions. The song Shui diao ge 水調歌, for example, which was written during the reign of Emperor Yangdi 隋煬帝 (r. 604-617) of the Sui dynasty 隋 (581-618), probably by himself, is called a Tang-period song. Another problem is the missing definition of the categories of songs. The difference between Xianghe and Qingshang 清商 "Pure tones" songs is not clear because some qingshang songs are to be found in the category Xianghe.

The oldest surviving print of the Yuefu shiji was made by the Jigu Studio 汲古閣 during the Ming period 明 (1368-1644). It has been reproduced in the series Sibu congkan 四部叢刊. The Wenxue Guji Kanxing Press 文學古籍刊行社 has reproduced the fragment of a Song-period print. The missing chapters have been copied from a Yuan-period 元 (1279-1368) print and an old manuscript version. In 1980, the Zhonghua Shuju Press 中華書局 published a modern annotated version.

Table 1. Contents of the Yuefu shiji 樂府詩集
1.-12. 郊廟歌辭 Jiaomiao geci Temple songs
13.-15. 燕射歌辭 Yanshe geci Banquet-and-shooting songs
16.-20. 鼓吹曲辭 Guchui guci Drum-and-pipes songs
21.-25. 横吹曲辭 Hengchui guci Pipe songs
21-24 漢横吹曲 Han hengchui qu Han-period pipe songs
25 梁鼓角横吹曲 Liang gujiao hengchui qu Drum-and-horn songs from the Liang period
26.-43. 相和歌辭 Xianghe guci Joint-harmony songs
26 相和六引 Xianghe liuyin Joint-harmony melodies using the six (keys?)
26-28 相和曲 Xianghe qu Joint-harmony melodies
29 吟嘆曲 Yintan qu Sighing melodies
30 四弦曲 Sixian qu Four-string melodies
30-33 平調曲 Pingdiao qu Even-key melodies
33-36 清調曲 Qingdiao qu Pure key melodies
36-40 瑟調曲 Sediao qu Melodies to the zither key
41-43 楚調曲 Chudiao qu Melodies to the key of Chu
43 大曲 Da qu Grand melodies
44.-51. 清商曲辭 Qingshang guci Pure-tones songs
44-47 吳聲歌 Wusheng ge Songs from Wu
47-49 西曲歌 Xiqu ge Songs from the west
50-51 江南弄 Jiangnan nong Plays from Jiangnan
52.-56. 舞曲歌辭 Wuqu guci Dancing songs
57.-60. 琴曲歌辭 Qinqu guci Songs to the zither
61.-78. 雜曲歌辭 Zaqu guci Miscellaneous songs
79.-82. 近代曲辭 Jindai quci Modern songs
83.-89. 雜歌謠辭 Zage yaoci Miscellaneous popular songs
90.-100. 新樂府辭 Xin yuefu ci New Music Bureau songs
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