Li Xiangting

Li Xiangting (pronounced Lee Shawn-ting) is a master performer and considered the world’s leading authority on the guqin (pronounced gu chin). This exquisite seven-stringed zither very much speaks the language of the soul of China. It is a foundational instrument in China, as important as the piano is in the west.

Professor Li Xiangting is acknowledged as one of the most important guqin players of his generation and a distinguished Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing. The guqin, a seven-stringed zither-like instrument producing over a hundred harmonics, dates back well over 3,000 years to the origins of Chinese music. By the middle of the twentieth century the guqin had become relatively unknown, with fewer than three hundred living guqin musicians. Since then, and due in large part to Li Xiangting’s teaching and performing, the ancient art of seven-stringed guqin playing has re-emerged.

Guqin Master

Li is from the Jilin Province in China, and follows in the musical tradition of the Masters Zha Fuxi (1895-1976) and Wu Jinglue (1907-1987) with whom he studied. Li graduated from the Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing, in 1963 and began his career in teaching. In 1989, he accepted a fellowship at Cambridge University in England. While in Great Britain, he lectured on the guqin and dongxiao as a Visiting Fellow at the Music Research Center of the Afro-Asian Institute, University of London. He returned to China in 1994 and gained the title of Distinguished Professor at the Central Conservatory of Music. In addition to his teaching, Professor Li composes and arranges pieces and gives recitals internationally. He is one of the few masters of the guqin who improvises and he is dedicated to the revitalization of interest in the guqin.

Rescuing a lost Art

He began his qin studies in 1957 as a student of the qin master Zha Fuxi and was accepted as a student at the Central Conservatory in 1958, studying under the qin master Wu Jing-lue. Both Zha Fuxi and Wu Jinglue are considered to be two of the greatest qin players of their generation.

Upon graduating in 1963 Professor Li began teaching at the Conservatory, eventually taking over the position of Wu Jing-lue. He is also Vice President of the Beijing Qin Research Association and advisor and consultant to the North American Guqin Association. Professor Li began improvising on the guqin in the late 1980s, and says his improvisation can be traced back to his xiao (vertical bamboo flute) playing.

Finding that few xiao pieces could express his emotions sufficiently, he began revealing his heart through improvised songs. After mastering hundreds of ancient pieces on the guqin, involving hundreds of difficult skills, Li Xiangting felt confident to improvise on that instrument as well. Improvisational guqin music, once an important part of guqin playing, died out over a thousand years ago. Professor Li has rescued this lost art.

Beyond being a musical savant, Professor Li Xiangting is also an accomplished and highly disciplined Tai Chi Master.

Professor Li Xiangting’s is also a prolific author. His major written works include “A Brief Introduction to the Art of Guqin Music”, “The Artistry of Zha Fuxi’s Performances on the Guqin”, “The Artistry of Wu Jinglüe’s Performances on the Guqin”, “Discussion on Who was the Author of the ‘Qin Cao'”, “An Outline for Research into Improvisation in Guqin Performance” and the poem “Self- mocking” in old and new literary forms. He has written an article entitled “Qin” for the in the Encyclopedia of China and published the book “Aesthetics and Musical Ideology in Guqin Performance during the Tang Dynasty” in Taipei.

THe Legacy of A Master

Since 1963, more than four hundred students from China and overseas have studied guqin under Professor Li Xiangting. Besides performing in China, Li Xiangting has also staged over fifty recitals in many countries including the USA, England, Germany, Japan, Australia, Holland, Switzerland, Finland, Austria, Italy, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and New Zealand. He has also lectured at various universities. The recital he held in 1982 at the Oriental Music Festival in Durham, England was the first of its kind in the history of the guqin. Another recital he gave in 1992 at the De Laville Theatre in Paris, with a seating capacity of 1000, attracted a full house, making it the largest ever attendance for a guqin recital. The radio and television stations of China and the radio stations of England and France have broadcast a number of programs featuring his guqin music. He has also recorded and arranged solo guqin music for a number of films and television dramas, including “The Emperor’s Shadow”, “An Appreciative Audience” and “Zhuge Liang”. He was involved in the musical arrangement for the art education film “Qin” and the television Drama “The Courtship of the Phoenix”.

Professor Li’s guqin compositions include “Boat Song of the Three Gorges” and “Building a Road in the Wind and Snow “. He has recorded more than ten albums including ” the Art of Li Xiangting’s Guqin Performance”, a number of cassettes and video tapes published by the China Record Companies and the French National Radio Record Company, former West Berlin, New Zealand, USA, Hong Kong and Taiwan. He took part in the annual exhibition of the Chinese Art House in 1988 and held a solo art exhibition at the University of London in 1989. In 1991, he gave speeches on “the Dot and Line Aesthetics of Chinese Painting and Guqin Music” at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. His biography is in the “Directory of Chinese Artists and the Celebrities of Who’s Who of Contemporary Chinese Artists”.