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Texas ISD School Guide
Texas ISD School Guide

Short Stories for Teachers

The History of Chinese String Instruments
By:Lee Millisaw

Chinese stringed instruments date back well over 2,000 years. Some instruments, such as the erhu and the guqin, are considered symbols of Chinese cultural heritage. Over the centuries, many stringed instruments have undergone structural changes in both the number of strings and body shapes. Additionally, the compositional methods for such instruments have likewise evolved.

Lutes such as the ruan date back to the Qin Daynasty (c. 200 BC). However, this instrument, also known as "the Chinese guitar," evolved into the pear shape by which it's known today sometime in the 5th century AD. The ruan derives its name from Ruan Xian, who was one of the "Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove," a group of Taoist poets and musicians from the 3rd century AD. Another lute instrument, the pipa, which contains 30 frets and a pear-shaped body, is at least 2,000 years old.

One of the most popular bowed string instruments is the Erhu, also known as "the Chinese violin." It most likely originates from the Tang Dynasty (618-907), having evolved from a Mongolian instrument known as the xiqin. The repertoire of the Erhu developed significantly during the next millennium and (as of 2011) can be heard as a featured instrument in orchestral performances. Some significant composers and performers of the erhu include Hua Yanjun (1893-1950) and Liu Tianhua (1895-1932).

Other Bowed String Instruments
Termed "the Chinese viola," the Zhonghu has a deeper timbre than the Erhu, the instrument from which it originated in the 1940s. Often used as an accompanying instrument during performances at the Beijing opera, the Jinghu was originally developed during 18th century. The Zhuihu is a commonly performed instrument in the Henan and Shandong Provinces of Northeastern China. This instrument was created at the end of Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) and was also partly based on the erhu.

Other Instruments
The guqin, a seven-stringed zither, is an ancient Chinese instrument which is over 3000 years old. The instrument was considered a mainstay in a classical Chinese education. Confucius himself was reportedly a player of the gugin. Another instrument in the zither family is the zheng or guzheng. The konghou, or "Chinese harp," dates back to 600 BC. The yangqin is a dulcimer and originated from the Middle East.

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