Free Singing in the Realm of Mystery

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'Free singing' ( 嘯詠 Xiaoyong ) was a unique singing skill in Daoist literature. Originally, it referred to skills of producing voices. In the Tang dynasty, Shun Guang, the author of the Meaning of Free Singing ( 《嘯旨》 Xiaozhi ), said: 'free singing is produced by breath which concentrates on a man's tongue.' More specifically, free singing came from humans mimicking the voices of animals like tigers and cicadas as well as natural sounds like tidal waves. Shun Guang's free singing was so powerful that he could startle the universe and move the gods. He divided free singing into 12 categories by the location of the tongue and the strength of the breath. According to some historical documents, free singing had been a magical skill for producing voices since ancient times. In the Book of Mountains and Seas ( 《山海經》 Shanhai Jing ), the Queen Mother of the West was good at free singing. In the later periods, free singing was found in many Daoist books, in which many female immortals became well known for their special skills of free singing. In the Intimate Biography of the Wu Emperor of the Han Dynasty ( 《漢武帝內傳》 Hanwudi Neizhuan ), free singing was the manner in which the Queen Mother of the West gave her orders. The History of the Later Han ( 《後漢書》 Houhan Shu ) recorded a contest between Xu Deng and Zhao Bin, two well-known magicians, who made tree leaves flow against the current through practicing free singing skills.

In the later periods, free singing evolved into Daoist breath incantations as well as skills of singing. Stories about Immortals' free singing in mysterious worlds were told in the Declarations of the Perfected ( 《真誥》 Zhengao ) and other Daoist books. Under these circumstances, ancient literati developed a special interest in free singing, which became so popular during the Wei and Jin dynasties that Ji Kang and Ruan Ji, two important figures of the 'seven sages in bamboo groves', were both good at it. As a unique image, 'free singing' was found in numerous poems by Guo Pu and Li Bai on the journeys of immortals. Meanwhile, stories became another important type of literature in unveiling the mysterious nature of free singing. Connected tightly with Daoist cultivation and breath refinement, free singing has long been considered to be an important phenomenon in the history of Daoist literature.