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Chunlei “Spring Thunder” Qin (春雷琴)

Tang Dynasty, AD 618–907

Length: 126.0 cm, height: 10.8 cm, width of body: 22.1 cm, width of tail: 17.2 cm

National Palace Museum, Taipei

       The Qin is an ancient Chinese string instrument. Its actual appearance has changed over the centuries, and there are also stylistic differences observable in qin made from different locations and makers in China. This particular instrument is in the “lianzhu (連珠),” or “continuous pearl,” style, and is covered in a black lacquer finish exhibiting a dense network of crackle. The inlaid harmonic markers, tuning pegs, and feet are all jade, and are carved in very fine Chinese characters in seal script. The “dragon pool” for the sound chamber is round, whereas the “phoenix pond” near the end of the instrument is rectangular in shape. There are two Chinese characters, “chunlei” (literally, “spring thunder”), carved in cursive script on the underside of the neck, and Chinese phrases, alluding to the quality of the tone and harmonics of the instrument, to the left and right of the “dragon pool,” this time in standard script, together with an inscribed colophon seal. Below the dragon pool is what appears to be a large square seal, but it is covered in black lacquer and difficult to make out. The characters “chunlei” refer to the name of a famous qin (may or may not be this one) dating back to the Tang dynasty, which is said to have been made by the master instrument craftsman Lei Wei (雷威). According to Ming dynasty (1368–1644) record, the Chunlei was kept in the Hall of One Hundred Qin in the Xuanhe Palace, where it was the pride of the palace, during the reign of Huizong at the end of the Northern Song (960–1126). After that, it came into the possession of Emperor Zhangzong of the Jin dynasty. When the emperor passed away, the qin was buried with him, but retrieved 18 years later. Its condition had not suffered in the slightest, and it was returned to its rightful place as the emperor of qin. Extant examples of qin dating to the Tang dynasty are extremely valuable and rare. In modern times, this particular instrument has found itself in the collections of He Guanwu, Wang Jingwu, and Zhang Daqian, among others. It can still be played, and qin players who strike its strings even today are all impressed by the depth and beauty of its tone.