Notes on Musical Poems

Han nao [or rao] ge shi wen jian zheng 漢鐃歌釋文箋正 [Explanations of the Text of Han Military Songs with Notes and Corrections].

89 folding leaves. 8vo, orig. wrappers, orig. stitching. [China]: [Privately Printed] by Xushou tang Wang shi 虛受堂王氏 1872.

First edition of this philological work on a corpus of so-called yue fu 樂府, or “Music Bureau poems.” Yue fu “originally referred to the Music Bureau founded in 117 B.C.” Music Bureau poems “also designated…poems commissioned for ritual purposes, poems selected to be set to music, or simply anonymous folksongs collected by the bureau from provincial regions as a way of gauging the common people’s reactions to the central government. In time, the term yüeh-fu [yue fu] was extended to include songs by the common people as well as works by men of letters which drew on the titles, tunes, and narrative motifs of the original folk ballads” (The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature, Vol. 1, 961). Our work is centered on a subset of yue fu, a corpus by aristocratic poets written in a genre that has proven difficult for later readers to make sense of. Such is the case of the Gu chui nao (or rao) ge 鼓吹鐃歌 [Military Songs with Drums and Flute] corpus covered by our book. These songs “were said to have been military marches of Central Asian flavor. In actuality, the subject matter of these poems is quite varied. There are official odes, battle hymns, and love poems. Some of these texts are, moreover, not yet deciphered, because the words are intermingled with the transcribed musical notations” (The Indiana Companion, Vol. 1, 962). Wang provided his attempt at deciphering the poems in our book.

Wang Xianqian (1842-1917) had a long career and published numerous books. He was made a bachelor, later compiler, in the Hanlin Academy. He later served in the historiographical office, where he produced a continuation of the important historical chronicle Donghua lu 東華錄 [Records from (within the) Eastern Resplendent (Gate)]. In 1885, as provincial director of education in Jiangsu, he founded Nanjing Academy 南菁書院 and its publishing branch. In 1890, at Sixian Academy 思賢講舍, he founded the eponymous publishing house (Xun & Gong, Xiangren zhushu biao, 82-84). Our edition (WorldCat 34290008) was published privately, using the imprint of Wang’s studio name, Xushou tang.

Very good copy.


Nienhauser, William H., Jr. The Indiana Companion to Traditional Chinese Literature. Second, revised edition. Vol. 1. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.

Xun Lin 寻霖 & Gong Duqing 龚笃清, eds. Xiangren zhushu biao 湘人著述表. Vol. 1. Changha: Yuelu shushe, 2010.

Price: $1,500.00

Item ID: 9802