HKU Bulletin June 2011 (Vol. 12 No. 2)

Dissecting scrolls and instruments Dr Yang became the first person since that period to examine the scrolls side by side and to show that they were two separate manuscripts of music prepared by different persons in different eras, when he went to Japan in 2004 as part of his MPhil research at HKU. He worked with experts from Europe to digitize the scrolls so they could be studied by other musical scholars - an exercise that required highly specialized equipment and that uncovered the sketches of a piece of ancient Japanese saibara music, written on the back of the 9 th -century scroll and covered with another layer of paper. In addition to notation manuscripts, Dr Yang has also been tracking the qin's physical evolution, starting when he was at Princeton University on a fellowship in 2006-07. He began doing CAT scans of antique qin instruments held in US museums, which offered a picture of the belly of the instrument, even showing the grain of wood and revealing a hidden chamber in the surface board. This ongoing project has enabled researchers to see how the structure of the instrument has changed over the years. "I am interested in building connections between intellectual history and the transmission of the Chinese qin system, and how this reflects changes in patterns of thought. If you look at the CAT scans, the change of musical instrument structure leads to an observed change of musical aesthetics," he says. Authentic performances Having instigated research into the notations and the instrument, the next logical step is performance. Dr Yang and Dr Chan Hing-yan, Associate Professor of the department, received $1.2 million from the HKU Culture and Humanities Fund for the HKU Qin Project and have organized several concerts of traditional qin music, including one in April featuring Master Yao Gongbai. The two scholars are also putting finishing touches on a recording of qin music based on Song Dynasty poems and notations, for which they have sourced authentic instruments with silk strings. Dr Chan says the research instigated by Dr Yang has opened doors for studying Chinese music. "I hope his work will be a point of departure in the study of Chinese musical manuscripts. China has such a long history and so many other manuscripts that need to be digitized and studied in depth," he says. Funds permitting, it is hoped to extend investigations to music of the Tang-Dynasty Silk Road, where Chinese music picked up influences from the Middle East, Central Asia, India and other cultures across Eurasia. Dr Yang Yuanzheng examining a qin dated 968 CE. The refined music of the stringed qin seems hardly the place for political point-scoring. Yet it was used to undermine China's place as the home of traditional Chinese culture. During the Qing Dynasty, Japanese agitators claimed that since China was being ruled by Manchus, it could no longer be the base of authentic Confucian leadership, including on such matters as music. Instead, Japan should take up that role. Part of the evidence presented was the fact that Japan was home to the two oldest scrolls notating qin music. The scrolls, dating to the seventh and ninth centuries, are the only surviving samples of prose notations telling players where and how to place their fingers, and they were brought to Japan by the Japanese missions from the imperial Tang court no later than the 9 th century. These scrolls have been the subject of research by Dr Yang Yuanzheng, a Research Fellow in the Department of Music. "The two scrolls in Japan were used to demonstrate the cultural superiority of Japan. One of the main political thinkers of the early 18 th century even claimed the cultural authenticity of ancient China existed only in Japan. This helped to turn Confucianism from something sinocentric to a Japan-centered ideology, and it had a profound impact on the 20 th century," Dr Yang says. A qin performance in the HKU Museum and Art Gallery. Arts and Culture 47 June 2011 A Place in History for aMusical Tradition Every scholar should play the qin , Confucius said. That statement has drawn politicians to use the instrument for their own ends and led a HKU researcher to trace the qin's long history.