The Memorable Zither Player 1

Zhang, Xian (990 A.D.-1078 A.D.)

    A sorrowful zither plays the Song of the Xiang River. Every note describes fully the blues of its waves. Her slender fingers delicately convey the hidden bitterness by dancing on the thirteen strings 2. At the party, her eyes, like the autumn water, betray her tender feelings. The jade pegs are lined in slants like flying wild geese. When the melody saddens her, her eyebrows lower 3 as if they are Spring mountains 4 weighed down by dark clouds.

1 During the Song dynasty, the geisha girls who mastered the zither were Qing-qing and Wu-qing. Whenever they came on stage warming their hands, the audience all stood up mesmerized by their beauty. One guest wrote a poem for the girls. It says, "Good zither music no longer exists now that Qing-qing has died./ The image of zither queen now falls to Wu-qing's fair wrists and red veil./ The entire audience is silent./ They are immersed in the dirge of wild geese (pegs) lined by the thirteen strings." The geisha girl this poem describes was an excellent zither player like Qing-ing or Wu-qing.

2 A zither has thirteen strings. Each string represents one month. The thirteenth string represents the extra month in the Chinese lunar leap year.

3 "Her eyebrows lower" means "Her eyes lower".

4 The drawn eyebrows are shaped like mountains.