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Wenren Strumming the Ruan – the Chinese Elite’s Assimilation of a Foreign Lute

Edenda curavit
Björn R. Tammen
cum Antonio Baldassarre, Cristina Bordas, Gabriela Currie, Nicoletta Guidobaldi
atque Philippe Vendrix
Founding editor 1984–2013: Tilman Seebass


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Autore Ingrid Furniss
Collana Imago Musicae
N. XXX
Dimensioni 18.5×26.5, pp. 227
Anno 2018
ISBN 9788870969528

This paper connects the round-bodied lute, known first by the generic term piba/pipa and later as the ruan/ruanxian, to wenren (literati) culture possibly beginning as early as the 3rd century and continuing into the 16th century. This connection is perplexing given that the lute was likely a foreign instrument. Given their xenophobic concerns, cultivated Chinese gentlemen rarely played, or at least admitted to playing, non-native instruments. I have suggested that while the round-bodied lute may well have been foreign, it was possibly assigned a native origin to compensate for its increased popularity and association with elite culture. The elite reputation of the instrument into the late imperial period may be directly linked to its most important historical player, Ruan Xian 阮咸 (230–81 CE), and to the high prestige of his cohort, the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove. To play the ruan¬or, at the very least, to be depicted doing so¬was to be like Ruan Xian, one of the most famous cultivated gentlemen in Chinese history. 

AUTHOR: Lafayette College, Art Department, 205 Williams Center, 730 High St, Easton,
PA 18042 (USA); <furnissi@lafayette.edu>.