39 Two Chinese Xiao Flutes

39 • Two Chinese Xiao Flutes

China, circa 1900
Each 62 cm long
Bamboo

Original box
65 cm long
Inscribed ‘made by Zhang Lunshan
of Yuping Guizhou’

Xiao flutes are ancient instruments from central China, which first appeared during the Han Dynasty (206 bc–220 ad). They are often associated with scholars and are noted for their mellow and melancholic tone. Occasionally – such as on these two examples – they are inscribed with a poem their sound has inspired. Here those poems pay tribute to the soft and graceful sound, the elegance of the musician who plays it and the endless thoughts it inspires:

‘Under the bright moonlight
To which family does this Jade Lady belong?
Playing a song under a quarter moon
The lofty thoughts of a scholar may match those of Sima Qian*
The ancient flying tunes of a thousand years past
Come alive in this Zhaoji studio’

*Sima Qian was an ancient historian of the early Han dynasty (died 86 bc), regarded as a paragon of scholarly virtues.