"High Mountains and Flowing Water" 高山流水 were originally one composition. Both of them were based on the legendary friendship between guqin master Yu Boya and Zhong Ziqi, his woodsman friend.
Yu was a distinguished musician during the Spring and Autumn Period (722 BC-481 BC). He and Zhong, a rustic, became soul mates because Zhong always understood what he tried to convey in his music; he always grasped the nuances.
When they first met, Yu judged a book by its cover. He did not believe that a woodsman like Zhong was able to understand his sophisticated music. However, right after he played a piece conveying the magnificence of high mountains, Zhong exclaimed, “how magnificent are the mountains!” and described them.
Still refusing to believe that Zhong could truly understand his music, Yu then played a piece depicting the vigor of rushing water. To his surprise, Zhong was able to understand exactly the movement and mood of the water.
Yu then realized that the person standing in front of him was one of the rare people with whom he could share his thoughts. He apologized to Zhong for thinking that because he seemed simple, he could not understand music. And the two became fast friends ever since. When Zhong died, Yu smashed his guqin because he believed no one again could grasp his music.
Because of this legend, “High Mountain and Flowing Water” represents cherished friendship in Chinese culture. Although the piece “High Mountains and Flowing Water” performed today is not the same one that Yu played almost 3,000 years ago, it conveys the same idea, the magnificence of high mountains and the power of moving water.