If the Chinese term zhiyin literally means “music connoisseur”, and in a figurative sense “intimate friend”, it also suggests a tacit agreement between lovers. This paper intends to trace manifestations of the concept zhiyin in classical Chinese poetry, taking as starting point the romance between Sima Xiangru (179-117 B.C.) and Zhuo Wenjun (2nd century B.C.), which is often associated with two “Songs accompanied by the zither qin”, widely known under the title of “Feng qiu hang” (The Phoenix Seeks its Mate).
Besides the work attributed to Sima Xiangru, the paper will draw on some other sung poems and examine the representation of love quests through musical communication. The aim is to investigate how the concept zhiyin implies spiritual affinities between lovers, and furthermore, how music plays a role in conveying emotional messages and in creating resonance with a beloved one.
The discussion should lead us to a reconsideration of the aesthetics of zhiyin which was at its origin closely linked to music – or more precisely, to the zither qin. It should also enable us to focus on the union of music and poetry in the expression of intentions, and investigate the changing role of the zither qin in scholars’ life in Early Medieval China.
Zhang Rui is a Ph.D candidate in Classical Chinese Literature at Inalco (National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations) and a member of Ifrae (French Research Institute of Eastern Asia). Her principal research area is poetry and poetics of Early Medieval China. Her dissertation, entitled From yuefu to gexing (2nd-7th century AD) – A Study of the nature and the evolution of sung poetry, is being accomplished under the direction of Valérie Lavoix et Frédéric Wang.
Zhang Rui in also interested in Chinese literature and cultural history of the Middle Period, in Chinese literature’s complex negotiations with philosophical thoughts, and intersections of different artistic forms (poetry, music, painting and calligraphy, etc.) in Chinese tradition. She has published papers in Impressions d’Extrême-Orient, Études chinoises and co-authored a collective work published by L’Harmattan editions.
As a full member of Ifrae, Zhang Rui is actively involved in a research program on the medieval poetic anthology Yutai xinyong (New Songs for the Jade Terrace) (scientific project Ifrae 2019-2023) under the responsibility of Valérie Lavoix and Michel Vieillard-Baron.