Ten best-known ancient Chinese melodies

The following are some of the most famous melodies from the Middle Kingdom. Each piece of the music has a story behind it, and thus forming a specific aesthetic and spiritual enjoyment. Begin this journey and immerse yourself in the unique charm of traditional Chinese music and instruments.

Please note that this list is not exclusive or academic, and the tunes are selected by its popularity.

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Gao Shan Liu Shui

High mountains and flowing water.

Legend goes that Guqin master Bo Ya was playing the instrument in the wilderness, and the woodman Zhong Ziqi understood that his music was describing the "high mountains and flowing water." Bo Ya was surprised, and said, "my heart echoes in yours," They became very good friends, and when Ziqi was dead later, Bo Ya was devastated of losing the one who can really understand what was in his mind by listening to his music. He broke the instrument, and never played again in his life. The Chinese word Zhi Yin (confidant), literally meaning knowing the voice, also originated from this story.

Guang Ling San

The name Guang Ling San means the tune prevailing in Guangling area (today’s Yangzhou of Jiangsu Province).

The theme was based on a story during the Warring States Period of more than 2,000 years ago. A craftsman manufacturing sword was killed by Monarch Han, because he did not meet the due date of producing a desired sword by the emperor. Nie Zheng, the craftsman’s son, first disguised to be a bricklayer to get into the palace for revenge, but his efforts came in vain. He then secluded himself in the mountains to practice Guqin, an ancient music instrument, and ten years later he became the best Guqin master in the country. The emperor summoned him to play in the palace. Nie killed the monarch while he was playing, and he himself was killed, too. This Guqin tune was composed by later generations based upon this story. This figure in the picture is Ji Kang, a famous litterateur, who also plays this tune.

Ping Sha Luo Yan

Ping Sha Luo Yan describes the scene when the sky is dotted by a group of goose who is singing on-and-off, and about to land. The horizon is far away, and the sand in the desert is flat. The freely flying goose in the sky embodies the ambition and breadth of mind of the hermits.

Though this tune is relatively new, it’s been the most prevailing Guqin melody in the past 300 years. Its popularity owes much to its novel and unique expressive methods, which make the tune easier for common audience to understand.

Windows Media Player is required for playing all the music here.