Guqin, also called "Seven-stringed Zither," was referred to as "qin" in most ancient Chinese writings. Qin is the most revered of all Chinese music instruments. One of those that are still played today is originated amongst the Han Chinese.
The musical instrument is said to be an invention of Fu Xi, one of the earliest legendary Chinese emperors. The discovery of the remains of qin in ancient tombs of 500-200 B.C. and the descriptions of qin and its music in many ancient Chinese writings have proved its long history of almost 2,000 years. Its physical structure had become standardized in the late Han Dynasty (25-220), several centuries before pipa was introduced to China. And became a matured musical instrument about 1,600 years ago.
Today, several pieces of the ancient instruments made in different dynasties, from the Tang to the Qing, still exist. They are either kept in museums or in collections of modern players.
Qin consists of a long and narrow upper wooden board made of tong wood (or other trees of the pine family) and a lower board made of catalpa wood (or other hardwood). After the two pieces of boards are stuck together, its surface is painted with lacquer. 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 on the outside to the thinnest on the inside.
Qin, in accordance with the Confucian teachings, was used as a "vehicle for worship, formation of characters, and regulation of political life of the state." It was the instrument of Confucian scholars. Throughout the history, qin was the chosen instrument of the Chinese literati, who played it for personal enjoyment and self-cultivation.
It was one of the scholars' Four Treasures, the others being qi (Chinese chess), shu (Chinese calligraphy), and hua (Chinese painting). This musical instrument has been depicted in many classic Chinese paintings and poems.
Qin is unique in at least three aspects: First, the effective vibrating length of the its strings is longer than any of other Chinese instruments, resulting in a large vibrating amplitude and a tone rich in the lower register that fits the sounds of nature. Second, the fingerboard of 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. Third, over 100 harmonics can be played on qin, allowing the instrument to produce the largest number of overtones.
The earliest music work for qin, Elegant Orchid in the Mode of Jieshi, said to have been composed by Confucius, was created 1,400 years ago. Despite the fact that the collection of guqin (over 3,000 pieces) is the largest among all musical instruments in China, only about 70 pieces have been brought back to life. Furthermore, the hundreds of works on the qin theory, aesthetics, musical temperament and philosophy are highly complicated and abstruse. The beauty, depth and delicacy of qin music are beyond any expression in words, the qin music has been regarded as the most sublime of China's ancient music, it is declining in modern China, due largely to its traditionally esoteric position in Chinese culture and the lack of governmental support. More efforts need to be made to further study and understand the rest of those ancient music works.
Liu Shui (Flowing Water)
Changmen Yuan (Sorrow at Changmen Palace)
Meihua San Nong (Three Variations on the Plum Blossom Melody)
Guan Shan Yue (Moon Over Guanshan)
Yangguan San Bie (Parting at Yangguan)
Qiufeng Ci (Autumn Wind)
Yi Guren (Memories of an Old Friend)
Jiu Kuang (Drunken Ecstasy)
Pu'An Zhou (Mantra of Pu'An)
Ping Sha Luo Yan (Geese Descending on the Sandy Isle)
(China.org.cn June 24, 2004)