Chinese Arts & Music Association


Guqin (Qin)

The Oldest Chinese Stringed Zither

Guqin, also called "Seven-stringed Zither", was rendered as "Qin" in most ancient Chinese writing. Qin is the most revered of all Chinese music instruments, one of the few played today known to have originated amongst the Han Chinese. It is said to have been invented by one of the earliest legendary Chinese emperors, FU Xi. The discovery of the remains of the Qin in ancient tombs (500 to 200 BC), together with description of the Qin and its music in many ancient Chinese writings assured its long history of almost 2000 years. The instrument was matured nearly 1600 years ago. Today, Qins of the Chinese Tang Dynasty (AD 700) up to the Chinese Qing Dynasty (19th Century) still exist in museums and in collections of modern Qin player. The Qin consists of a long, narrow upper wooden board made from tong tree (or other trees of the pine family) and a lower board made from catalpa tree (or other hardwood). These two pieces of boards are struck together and lacquered on the surface. There are 13 small dots (called hui) inlaid on the outside of the upper boards, which mark the positions of the musical notes and their harmonics. Seven strings are stretched on the upper board, starting from the thickest one on the outside to the thinnest on the inside. The Qin, in accordance with the Confucian Way, was used as a "vehicle for worship, formation of character, and regulation of political life of the state." It was the instrument of the Confucian Superior Man and most of the scholars of the day were required to study and regularly practice the instrument. Throughout recorded history the Qin was the chosen instrument of the Chinese literati, played for personal enjoyment and self-cultivation. It was one of the scholars' Four Treasures, the others being qi (a board game that was introduced from China into Japan and then the west. The game is therefore usually referred to in English by its Japanese name, go), shu (Chinese calligraphy), and hua (Chinese painting). The vast majority of references to musical instruments in classical Chinese painting and poetry are to the qin.Compared with other Chinese instruments, the Qin is unique for at least three aspects: a. The effective vibrating length of the Qin strings is longer than of any other Chinese instruments, resulting in a large vibrating amplitude and a tone rich in the lower register that fits the sounds of nature. b. The fingerboard of the Qin is the upper board that does not consist of any frets. Its sound holes are opened on the lower board, which means that the sound is transmitted downwards. c. Over 100 harmonics can be played on the Qin, making the instrument having the largest number of overtones. Among the existing 3000 pieces of Qin music, only about 70 of them could be played by today's musicians. The ancient scores of the rest of these pieces need to be explored and transcripted. The oldest Qin score, Orchild in Seclusion in Jie Shi Diao, was 1400 year old. The score was said to have been composed by Confucious. The fingering and the recording of score has been changed and developed with the evolution of history, and therefore the trascription of Qin music is a very hard work.