The Ancient Music of the Chinese Guqin

The Ancient Chinese Guqin

The Ancient Chinese Guqin

The Guqin is the oldest stringed instrument of the Ethnic Han Chinese. It is treasured all around China and has been featured in art and literature throughout history due to its rich and symbolic connotation. Recently, a tomb was unearthed in Hubei Province with artifacts some of around 2,400 years old and among them were Guqin relics. It was traditionally, particularly during the time of the Tang and Song Dynasties, to pass such items down from generation to generation. In ancient China, chess, calligraphy, painting, and music were iconic to Chinese tradition. Foremost among these traditions is the Guqin harp.

In November 7, 2003, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural organization headquarters in Paris announced to the world of the second batch of “Human Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage”. The ancient Chinese Guqin was among the items on this list.
The Guqin is quite long with approximate dimensions of 120-125cm in length, 20 centimeters wide, and 6 centimeter thick. Originally the instrument used to be relatively wide, however over time it was developed to be thinner as we recognize it today. The Guqin also used to have only have five strings which were represented in sheet music by the 5 characters meaning: 宫,商,角,徵,and 羽. Later two more strings were added:文 and 武, symbols of the minister and the monarch. There are 13 emblems that can be found on the Guqin, with 12 representing the months of the year, and the last and biggest emblem representing the lunar leap year month. There are also three distinctive sounds of the Guqin, which represent Heaven, Humans, and Earth. The symbolic significance of the instruments helped to shape much of Confucian thought as a reflection on the music and on Chinese values of peace.

In August, 1977, the United States The Voyager space flight carrying a gold-plated record containing famous cultural music from all over the world. Among these was music of the Guqin Master — Guan Pinghu playing the ancient seven minute long piece QinQu or “Water” used to represent the music of China.

The story behind the song “Water” is of the first every Guqin played during the Spring and Autumn period by Boya and ZhongZi as it was used to make friends. The story goes on to teach to search beyond the earth’s celestial “human” mission, and into the vast universe to seek new “friends”.

Below is an example of a Guqin song. The musician is Zhang Zisheng playing the song “Water”, which was the song that represented China in the “Traveler 2” record. I hope you enjoy this very important piece of Chinese cultural heritage!

– May Lee, CPG Sourcing Team Leader


古琴一般长约120—125公分,象征一年三百六十五天 。宽约20公分左。厚约6公分左右。琴前宽后窄,象征尊卑之别。宫、商、角、徵、羽五根弦象征君、臣、民、事、物五种社会等级。后来增加的第六、七根弦称为文、武二弦象征君臣之合恩。十三徽分别象征十二月,而居中最大之徽代表君,象征闰月。古琴有泛音、散音和按音三种音色,泛音法天,散音法地,按音法人,分别象征天、地、人之和合。这些古琴形制命名的象征意义,反映出儒家的礼乐思想及中国人所重视的和合性。

1977年8月,美国发射的“旅行者”2号太空船上,放置了一张唱片, 其中收录了著名古琴大师管平湖先生演奏的长达七分钟的古琴曲《流水》用以代表中国音乐。这首曾经由春秋时代著名琴家伯牙的弹奏而与钟子期结为知音好友的古曲,如今又带着探寻地球以外天体“人类”的使命,到茫茫宇宙寻求新的“知音“。

本人在此将中国的这一文化瑰宝介绍给各位朋友,一来是向朋友们推介中国文化的博大精深,二来是想古琴为CPGde 桥梁以寻得更多的“知音“, 商务上的和文化上的。

– 李梅, CPG 采购主管

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