Bo Ya

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Bo Ya (伯牙) was a qin player from the Spring and Autumn Period or the Warring States period. He was known by his first name of "Boya", although his surname may have been Yu (俞), thus his complete name is sometimes given as Yu Boya (俞伯牙). The Lute Platform in Hanyang, Wuhan, China was where musician Yu Boya is said to have played. He is associated with the guqin pieces Gao Shan 《高山》 ("high mountains") and Liu Shui 《流水》 ("flowing water").

According to Qin Shi, Liezi said:

"Bo Ya was good at playing the qin. Zhong Ziqi was good at to listening to the qin. When Bo Ya's will was towards high mountains in his playing, Zhong Ziqi would say, 'How towering like Mount Tai!' When Bo Ya's will was towards flowing water in his playing, Zhong Ziqi would say, 'How vast are the rivers and oceans!' Whatever Bo Ya thought of Ziqi would never fail to understand. Bo Ya said, 'Amazing! Your heart and mine are the same!' When Ziqi died, Bo Ya broke the strings [of his qin] and vowed never to play [the qin] again. Thus, there was the melody of High Mountains Flowing Water."

Bo Ya's story exemplifies the Chinese ideal of friendship. The term Zhiyin (知音,literally "to know the tone") has come to describe a close and sympathetic friend.


Please see: References section in the guqin article for a full list of references used in all qin related articles.

The story of Yu Boya and Zhong Ziqi

Boya was a government official and musician during the Spring and Autumn Perios. One evening he was travelling along the Changjiang river in a boat for government business. The moon was bright and wind fresh so he decided to play his guqin as his boat was moored beside some hills. As he played a string on the qin suddenly broke. As superstition goes that a broken qin string means someone is hiding nearby listening, Boya called for the listener to come forward. A woodcutter named Zhong Ziqi stepped out. Though a peasant, Zhong Ziqi also study diligently. But he could not leave his aged parents for even a day, because they were very poor and relied on Zhong Ziqi to take care of them, so he couldn't attend the government recruitment exams to become a government official.

At first Boya was skeptical, but soon become amazed by Ziqi's ability to understand his music. He wished they can spend more time together, but he had to leave for government business, so they made an agreement to meet again around Mid-autumn Day the next year. When the time came there was a flood upstream and Boya's boat was delayed for over 10 days. He arrived at the same spot but Ziqi wasn't there. He waited, but his friend never came. Boya went onshore to look for Ziqi. There were only two tiny villages in that area, so he found Ziqi's home easily, only to learn that Ziqi had spent night after night waiting by the river for him, after chopping wood all day, and as a result caught a cold and eventually passed away. Boya was stricken with grief, he went to Ziqi's tomb to mourn, and broke his guqin there, vowing to never play again, and saying that no one would ever understand his music again.