The "Xiao Ao Jiang Hu" Song
Famed Southern Hengshan pugilist Liu Zhengfeng lost his entire family, as well as the his life and that of his best friend, Elder Qu Yang of the Sun-Moon Sect, because of the deep friendship between them. Their unlikely bond of brotherhood was built around a common love for music, which resulted in the composition of the "Xiao Ao Jiang Hu" Song. What is this song about, and how true is its story?
In Chapter 7 of The Smiling Proud Wanderer, the dying Liu Zhengfeng and Qu Yang bequeathed the zither-and-flute score of the "Xiao Ao Jiang Hu" Song to Linghu Chong, with a wish that it be passed down to future generations. According to Liu Zhengfeng and Qu Yang, a significant portion of the zither score was adapted from "Guang Ling San", a zither melody attributed to Ji Kang of the Western Jin Dynasty (265-316AD). When Ji Kang was put to death by Sima Zhao, he (Ji Kang) declared that "Guang Ling San" would never be heard again. Yet, Qu Yang was optimistic. Working on the premise that this well-known zither score might have existed prior to the Western Jin Dynasty, he excavated 29 ancient tombs belonging to the emperors and high-ranking ministers of the Western and Eastern Han Dynasties (206BC-24AD and 25-220AD respectively). Eventually, he found the elusive work in the tomb of Cai Yong.
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Also called "Guang Ling Zhi Xi", "Guang Ling San" has indeed been known since the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD), as Qu Yang had rightly deduced. It was especially popular as the music of the common man in the Guang Ling area (in present-day Anhui) during the final years of the dynasty. "Guang Ling San" was originally played with the qin (7-stringed zither), zheng (21- or 25-stringed zither), sheng (reed pipe) and other instruments, but only the 7-stringed zither score remains today.
The earliest written notation of "Guang Ling San" dates back to 1425AD, when it was found inside the Tai Gu Shen Pin (Amazing Ancient Works), the first half of the two-volume Shen Qi Mi Pu (Amazing Treasured Books) by Zhu Quan. Whether these books were dug out from an ancient tomb, as Qu Yang claimed, or not, cannot be confirmed at this point. However, since the story of the Smiling Proud Wanderer set in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644AD), the date of the historical discovery of "Guang Ling San" lends a measure of credibility to the re-appearance of the work in the realm of wuxia.
According to popular legend as well as the remarks on the score, "Guang Ling San" tells the story of Nie Zheng, a man from the Han Kingdom during the Warring States period (475-221BC). Nie's father casted swords for the King of Han, but he was soon put to death for failing to meet the deadline. Bent on avenging his father's demise, Nie ascended Mount Tai and spent ten arduous years studying the 7-stringed zither. Then, covering himself with paint and swallowing coal to change his appearance and voice, Nie returned to the Han Kingdom. He found a place near the royal palace and began to play the zither with such skill that passers-by, cows and horses stopped to listen. The news soon reached the King of Han, who quickly invited Nie to perform in the palace. Nie took the opportunity, pulled a dagger out of the zither and stabbed the king to death. After that, he disfigured himself and committed suicide, so that his mother would not be linked to or implicated in the incident in any way.
Reference: The Smiling Proud Wanderer by Louis Cha, Chapter 7.
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Laviathan for his clarification on the Han Kingdom of the Warring States.
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