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Department of Music

8: Shimian Maifu / Ambushed on Ten Sides

Pipa solo

This is the best-known piece in the 'martial repertory' (wuqu) for the pipa. The earliest extant tablature is found in Hua Qiuping's pipa score dated 1818, a vivid description of the performance of a piece called Chu Han, about the Chinese Chu and Han states, and specifically the epic battle between their rival armies which in 202 BC secured the power of the Han Dynasty (206BC - 220AD). Chu Han is found in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) biography  by the literatus Wang Quanding (1598-1662)., Sizhao Tang Collection.

The two pieces were based on the same story, and the sequence of sound and plot descriptions in Wang's record closely match the subtitles of the sections in the 1818 score. It is, therefore, possible to say that Shimian Maifu (Ambushed on Ten Sides) was in existence during the 17th century.

The piece graphically depicts the sounds of battle and the moods of heroism and despair amongst the troops in a series of scenes:

  • Setting Up Camp
  • Beating Drums
  • Sounding Horns
  • Firing Canon
  • Calling the Rosters
  • Manoeuvring Troops
  • Laying Ambush
  • Skirmish
  • The Major Battle
  • Farewell to the Concubine
  • Suicide
  • Screaming
  • Surrounded
  • Rout