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The Discovery of the Origin and the Names of the Qin on the Bottom Board

The origin of the wood as well as the making and naming of the qin were partially uncovered in our exploration.  They were engraved as text on the bottom board above and beneath the "dragon pool" (Fig. 8).


Fig. 8.  Text above and below the "dragon pool."


Origin of the Qin

Beneath the "dragon pool" of the bottom board, a passage of text was found (Fig. 9).  Professor Shen Pei, an expert on Chinese etymology, suggested that the text looked like seal script (篆書), but not all characters were in an authentic style.[8]  He advised that the use of the seal script was to demonstrate the antiquity of the instrument.


Fig. 9.  The passage of text beneath the "dragon pool."


Professor Shen transcribed the text.  With further suggestions from the qin experts, Mr. Shum Hing Shun, Mr. Sou Si Tai, Dr. Tse Chun Yan, and Mr. John Yiu, the transcribed text is:

昔遊嵩門□ 僧(?)□□  ,見白石□

有桐生石孔間,枝□ 榮祜不□

清風徐發 ,音若流□ ,不(?)□ 弌段


皆音韻超奇。                               敦禮堂記


The text suggests that the maker of the qin encountered a vernicia fordii (tung tree) at the Gate Song and the sound was very nice when wind passed by.  The maker used it to build four qins, respectively named: Tianlai (天藾), Luohong (落虹), Xiaochun (曉春) , and Zhuguan (竹館).


Names of the Qin

In the qin making tradition, each important qin is given a name which is usually inscribed on the bottom board.  While the text passage suggests the names of the four qins created from the vernicia fordii, Fig. 8 shows that some characters were engraved to the neck region of the bottom board at the same axis level as the text passage.  These characters are referring to the names stated in the passage.  The name "天籟" (Tianlai), in clerical script (隸書), and the word "" (Chun), in regular script (楷書), could be seen obviously (Fig. 10).[9]  The name Tianlai , in larger font size, is taken from the phrase "天籟之音" which means beautiful sound from the heaven.  If Tianlai is the name of this qin, the maker may indicate the sound of this qin being very euphonious.


Fig. 10. The names "天籟"(Tianlai) and "" (Xiaochun).


At a slightly different level from the axis of the name Tianlai, the character "" (Chun), in regular script and smaller font size, could be seen.  Careful examination tells that the word "" (Xiao) was also engraved beneath the character "" (Tian).   With reference to the text passage, the characters in regular script are the name "" (Xiaochun), which means mornings in spring time. 


Two of the four names from the text passage appear at the neck region.  One would easily associate either Tianlai or Xiaochun as the name of the qin.  With two names inscribed on the bottom board, which is the real name?  The text passage is in unauthentic seal script.  The names Tianlai and Xiaochun are in clerical and regular scripts respectively.  If the scripts are used as reference, one may question whether the inscriber intentionally put these in three different scripts if all of them were engraved by the same inscriber.  On the other hand, since the name Tianlai and the text passage are of the same axis level, these two might have a closer relationship.  The common period of seal and clerical scripts in the latter half of the first millennium BC brings their association more prominent.  If the content of the text passage is true, Tianlai may have at better chance to be the name of this qin.  However, the other sketches on the qin, including the the name Xiaochun in regular script and the text written with cinnabar on the surface board, made the deduction doubtful.  


Known as "Untitled Qin" in the CD booklet of Sounding Treasure (《清音重聞》), whether this Fuxi-style qin in the Rulan Chao Pian Collection can be given a name with reference to the historical sketches awaits future researchers’ exploration. 


[8] Seal script was commonly used in the latter half of the first millennium BC.

[9] Clerical script evolved in the Warring States period (c. 5th century BC–221 BC) and Qin dynasty (221207 BC) and dominated in the Han dynasty (202 BC220 AD).  Regular script appeared in c. 200 AD and became mature in the 7th century and remains the most common script in mordern writings.