According to Confucian ideology, music, chess, calligraphy and painting were regarded as the four necessary accomplishments of a learned man, and Confucius himself was a talented player of the qin, a seven-stringed wooden musical instrument.
During the spring auction of international auction house Christie's, to start on Sunday and run until next Thursday in Hong Kong, there will be great excitement generated by a newly re-discovered qin that was said to be owned by Emperor Taizong (reign AD 960-976), the founding emperor of the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279).
The instrument was given the name Yu Ting Qing Yun, which was inscribed on its surface during the Northern Song Dynasty (AD 960-1127) and interpreted as "Pure Harmony of the Yun Palace" by Christie's specialists.
"The 'Pure Harmony' was the oldest documented qin of the Song Dynasty," said Zheng Minzhong, a researcher at the Palace Museum in Beijing, who is a renowned qin player.
Zheng saw the instrument in the studio of scholar Wu Zhenping in the summer of 1955 in Shanghai but lost track of it after Wu passed away in the late 1950s, he said.
"When Christie's presented the qin before me, I had complicated feelings, as I found nothing had changed about it except its underside had been re-lacquered."
The "Pure Harmony" instrument still sings clearly.
"It is the best qin I have ever played," said Zhang Deyi, a qin player invited to test out the 1,000-year-old instrument.
"It has a beautiful voice in a most casual way."
The style in which the qin is constructed is known as Fuxi, after the mythological king who was known to have made the first musical instrument from a wutong tree (Chinese parasol). The instrument has a graceful slim arched body and an exposed bridge made of hardwood, which tapers gently from the shoulder to the tail known as jiaowei or "burnt tail."
The Fuxi style is different from the scallop-edge sides characteristic of a Xianlai qin, or "The Voice of Angels," dated to the late Northern Song Dynasty, or the Confucius-style instrument, which has a more austere design with simple straight sides.
The underside of "Pure Harmony" was decorated with fine lines known as "serpent's belly" and delicate "ox fur" crackles.
The qin is inscribed on the interior with the characters for "Kaibao Wuchen," which reveals that it was made in the ninth year (AD 968) of the Emperor Taizong.
Its underside bears its name "Yu Ting Qing Yun," and a seal mark "Yushu Zhibao," or "Treasure of the Imperial Library," indicating that it was originally in the Song Imperial collection.
The ancient instrument is to go under the hammer next Tuesday in Hong Kong and is expected to go for 2.8 and 3.5 million Hong Kong dollars (US$360,000-450,000).
The record price for a qin was paid for the 1,000-year-old Dasheng Yiyin ("Music Left by the Saint").
That qin was part of the well-known Li Song Ju Collection of renowned scholar and researcher Wang Shixiang and his late wife Yuan Quanyou, also a scholar and artist.
It was auctioned for 8.91 million yuan (US$1.1 million) in November 2003 by the China Guardian Auction House.
Another famous qin auctioned in recent years was the 1,000-year-old Jiuxiao Huanpei ("Heavenly Jade"), which was sold for 3.46 million yuan (US$417,000) by China Guardian in July 2003.