A Chinese adage says, “Music before medicine”. Music was believed to have the power to heal the heart, enrich the mind, and harmonize a person’s soul. The Chinese character for “medicine” (藥 yào) even stems from the character for “music” (樂, yuè). In the third millennium BC, people in China discovered the relationship between the pentatonic musical scale, the five elements, and the human body’s five internal and five sensory organs. During Confucius’s time, scholars used music’s calming properties to help improve and strengthen people’s character and conduct.

The household of the prince of Lu, during the Ming dynasty (900 to 400 years ago), commissioned several guqin, all numbered and bearing the inscription of the Princedom of Lu. A guqin, or qin, is a seven-string musical instrument, with an ivory fingerboard on a wooden hollow body. Its name can translate literally as “ancient string instrument”. It was considered to be the instrument of sages, endowed with cosmological and metaphysical significance, and associated with the philosopher Confucius. Our guqin (image below) is dated to 1644 AD; the last guqin commissioned by the princes of Lu, and it bears the inscription “Capital Peace” and a later poem by Jingyi Zhuren (1670) on the contemplation of the river Yangzi and the feeling of eternity.

Artist: Livien Yin

Prince Lu playing a guqin, a seven-string musical instrument

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Credit: Livien Yin and Open Past

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