The guqin, a seven-stringed zither, is China's oldest
stringed instrument, with a history of some 3000 years. Chinese music
has a long history, and its essence is best expressed on the guqin.
In Imperial China, a well educated scholar was expected to be skilled
in four arts:
· Qin (the guqin),
· Qi (the game of Go),
· Shu (calligraphy) and
· Hua (painting).
Historically, the guqin has been viewed as a symbol of Chinese high
culture and the instrument most expressive of the essence of Chinese
music. More than 100 harmonics can be played on the guqin, which probably
is the largest number of harmonics of any instrument. The guqin has
its own notation, which itself has a history of at least 1500 years.
There are over 150 guqin handbooks in existence, which contain in
excess of 3,000 pieces of music as well as essays on the theoretical
aspects of the guqin and its music.
The U.S. spaceship "Voyager" was launched in 1977, a gold
CD was placed on board to introduce the music of our planet to the
rest of the universe. the guqin piece "Flowing water" was
included as one representative of the world's music.
Undoubtedly, the guqin is a part of our world's heritage, but today fewer than two thousand people can play it, and it is rarely seen in China . Music that was written over a period of many centuries is unknown to most people. In recognition of its supreme importance to Chinese culture, UNESCO in 2003 declared the art of the guqin a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity. The purpose of this UNESCO programme is to ensure that the best of every country's traditions is preserved, developed and made known to the outside world.
In Chinese, "gu" means old and qin means "musical instrument".
Historically, guqin was rendered as "Qin" in most ancient
texts. Because its long history, it has during the last 100 years
been widely called guqin.
There is much symbology surrounding the instrument. For example, it
measures 3' 6.5" (Chinese feet and inches), to symbolise the
365 days of the year; the upper surface is rounded, representing the
sky, the bottom is flat and represents the earth. The five strings
of the earliest qins symbolise the five elements: Metal, Wood, Water,
Fire and Earth. When Bo Yikao, son of King Wen, first ruler of the
Zhou Dynasty around the 11th century BC, died the Emperor added a
sixth string to mourn his son; the sound of the sixth string is sorrowful.
The seventh string was added by the second Zhou ruler, King Wu to
inspire his soldiers when his country went to war; the sound of this
string is very strong. Finally, the 13 mother-of-pearl inlays along
the outer edge represent the 13 months of the lunar year.
For a brief introduction to the guqin in English, please see