From New World Encyclopedia
Chinese Silk (絲)
Western Strings (plucked)
IPA [tɕʰin], [kutɕʰin] or [tɕʰiɕiɛntɕʰin]
Plain "chin", "goo-chin" or "chi-shien-chin"
Chinese Name
Chinese , 古琴, 七絃琴
Hanyu Pinyin qín, gǔqín, qīxiànqín
Wade-Giles ch'in2, ku3-ch'in2, ch'i1-hsien2-ch'in2
Ancient names 琴 (yáoqín), 琴 (yùqín)
Ancient variants , , etc
Other names 國樂之父 (guóyuè zhī fù)
聖人之噐 (shèngrén zhī qì)
Japanese Name
Hiragana きん, こきん, しちげんきん
Hepburn kin, kokin, shichigenkin
Korean Name
Hangul (), 고금 (구친), 칠현금
McCune-Reischauer kŭm (ch'in), kogŭm (kuch'in), ch'ilhyŏn'gŭm
Revised Romanization geum (chin), gogeum (guchin), chilhyeon-geum
Variant names 琴 (hwigŭm / hwigeum)
English Name
Usual spellings qin, guqin
Unusual spellings Gu Qin, GuQin, Gu-qin, Gu qin, Gu Qing, etc...
Organologically correct name (Fretless) Seven-stringed Zither
Other (incorrect) variants used Lute, Harp, Table-harp

The guqin (Chinese: 古琴; pinyin: gǔqín; Wade-Giles: ku-ch'in; IPA: [kutɕʰin]; literally "ancient stringed instrument") is the modern name for a plucked seven-string Chinese musical instrument of the zither family (中華絃樂噐|噐]]/中华弦乐器). It has been played since ancient times, and has traditionally been favored by scholars and literati as an instrument of great subtlety and refinement, as well as being associated with the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius. It is sometimes referred to by the Chinese as 「國樂之父/国乐之父」, meaning "the father of Chinese music" or 「聖人之噐/圣人之器」, meaning "the instrument of the sages."

While certain rules of acoustics were followed in the construction of a qin, its external form varied widely, both in the basic structure of the instrument and in the embellishments. According to tradition, the qin originally had five strings, representing the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth. The sixth and seventh strings were added later. The 13 hui (徽|徽) on the surface represent the thirteen months of the year (the extra thirteenth is the 'leap month' in the lunar calendar). The surface board is round to represent Heaven and the bottom board flat to represent earth. The guqin is nearly always used as a solo instrument, but can be played together with a xiao (end-blown bamboo flute), with other qin, or played while singing. It was originally played in intimate settings for a few listeners. A student usually learns to play the qin directly from a master. The geographical isolation of China resulted in many regional “schools” of qin style, but modern players often study with multiple teachers and master the styles of several schools.

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Traditionally the instrument was called simply qin 「琴」, which can also be written as 琹, 珡 or other ancient forms,[1] but by the twentieth century the term had come to be applied to many other musical instruments as well. The yangqin (揚|揚]]琴/扬琴) hammered dulcimer, the huqin (胡|胡]]琴) family of bowed string instruments, and the Western piano (Traditional Chinese: ; Simplified Chinese: 钢琴; pinyin: gāng qín; literally "steel-stringed instrument") are examples of this usage, so the prefix "gu-" 「古|古]]」 (meaning "ancient") was added for clarification. It can also be called qixianqin 「七絃琴」 ("seven-stringed instrument").

The guqin is not to be confused with the guzheng (古箏; "ancient stringed-instrument (with movable bridges)"), another Chinese long zither also without frets, but with movable bridges under each string. Because Robert Hans van Gulik's famous book about the qin is called The Lore of the Chinese Lute, the guqin is sometimes inaccurately called a lute.[2] Other incorrect classifications, mainly from music compact discs, include "harp" or "table-harp."


The guqin is a very quiet instrument, with a range of about four octaves, and its open strings are tuned in the bass register. Its lowest pitch is about two octaves below middle C, or the lowest note on the cello. Sounds are produced by plucking open strings, stopped strings, and harmonics. The use of glissando—sliding tones—gives it a sound reminiscent of a pizzicato cello, fretless double bass or a slide guitar. The qin is capable of over 119 harmonics, of which 91 are most commonly used. By tradition the qin originally had five strings, but ancient qin-like instruments with 10 or more strings have been found. The modern form has been standardized for about two millennia.


According to legend, the qin, the most revered of all Chinese musical instruments, has a history of about 5,000 years; the legendary figures of China's pre-historyFuxi, Shennong and Huang Di, the "Yellow Emperor"—were involved in its creation. Nearly almost all qin books and tablature collections published prior to the twentieth century give this story as the factual origin of the qin,[3]. The qin is mentioned in Chinese writings dating back nearly 3,000 years, and related instruments have been found in tombs from about 2,500 years ago. The exact origin of the qin is still a subject of historical debate.

The ancient form of the qin was short (almost a third of the size of a modern qin) and probably only played using open strings. This is because the surface of these early qins where not smooth like the modern qin, the strings were far away from the surface, which was engraved, and did not have markings for the harmonic positions.

Based on the detailed description in the poetical essay "Qin Fu" 【琴賦/琴赋】 by Xi Kang (223–262), the form of the qin that is recognizable today was probably set around the late Han Dynasty. The earliest surviving qin in this modern form, preserved in both China and Japan, have been reliably dated to the Tang Dynasty. Many are still playable, the most famous perhaps being the one named "Jiuxiao Huanpei" 《九霄環佩/九霄环佩》, attributed to the famous late Tang dynasty qin maker Lei Wei (雷威). It is kept in the Palace Museum in Beijing.

In 1977, a recording of "Liu Shui" 【流水】 (Flowing Water, as performed by Guan Pinghu, one of the best qin players of the twentieth century) was chosen to be included in the Voyager Golden Record, a gold-plated LP recording containing music from around the world, which was sent into outer space by NASA on the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts. It is the longest excerpt included on the disc. In 2003, guqin music was proclaimed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.[4]

Guqin Literature

A number of ancient sources discuss qin lore, qin theory and general qin literature. Some of these books are inserted into certain qinpu (qin tablature collections). The content of qin literature is mainly essays discussing and describing the nature of qin music, the theory behind the notes and tones, the method of correct play, the history of qin music, and lists of mentions in literature. Some texts provide extremely detailed and thorough technical instructions; others are simply philosophical or artistic musings.

Schools, Societies and Players

The famous painting "Ting Qin Tu" (聽琴圖, Listening to the Qin), by the Song emperor Huizong (1082–1135)

Historical Schools

Geographical isolation in China resulted in the development of many distinct qin schools known as qin pai (琴派) over the centuries. Such schools generally formed around areas where qin activity was greatest. Some schools have disappeared, some have produced off-shoots, such as the Mei'an school which developed from the Zhucheng school. Many school originated from a single player, such as the Wu school, named after the late Wu Zhaoji. Style of playing can vary considerably between schools. The differences are often in interpretation of the music; northern schools tends to use a more vigorous technique than Southern schools.

Modern qin players often study with teachers from a variety of schools and absorb each of their styles, blurring the distinction between schools.This is especially true for players trained in conservatories. Players from the same school, trained under the same master, may have different individual styles (such as Zhang Ziqian and Liu Shaochun of the Guangling school).

Guqin societies

Guqin schools concern themselves with transmission of a style; guqin societies provide an opportunity for guqin enthusiasts to perform and interact. A qin society encourages meeting with fellow qin players in order to play music and discuss the nature of the qin. Gatherings like this is called yajis, or "elegant gatherings," and take place once every month or two. Sometimes, societies go on excursions to places of natural beauty to play qin, or attend conferences. They may also participate in competitions or research. The main purpose of qin societies is to promote and play qin music, and they do not follow a strict tradition or structure..


Through the ages there have been many remarkable qin players, including artists and scholars, for whom it was a favorite form of self-expression. Certain melodies are associated with famous figures, such as Confucius and Qu Yuan. Some Chinese emperors were known for playing the qin, including the Song dynasty emperor, Huizong, who painted himself playing the qin in "Ting Qin Tu" (聽琴圖, Listening to the Qin).[5]


  • Confucius 孔子: Philosopher, 551-479 B.C.E., associated with the piece Kongzi Duyi 《孔子讀易》, Weibian Sanjue 《韋編三絕/韦编三绝》 and Youlan 《幽蘭/幽兰》.
  • Bo Ya 伯牙: Qin player of the Spring and Autumn Period, associated with the piece Gao Shan 《高山》 and Liu Shui 《流水》.
  • Zhuang Zi 莊子: Daoist philosopher of the Warring States Period, associated with the piece Zhuang Zhou Mengdie 《莊周蒙蝶》 and Shenhua Yin 《神化引》.
  • Qu Yuan 屈原 (340-278 B.C.E.): Poet of the Warring States Period, associated with the piece Li Sao 《離騷》.
  • Cai Yong 蔡邕: Han musician, author of Qin Cao 【琴操】.
  • Cai Wenji 蔡文姬: Cai Yong's daughter, associated with the piece Hujia Shiba-pai 《胡笳十八拍》, etc.
  • Sima Xiangru 司馬相如: Han poet, 179-117 B.C.E.
  • Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181–234): Chinese military leader in the Three Kingdoms, one legend has him playing guqin calmly outside his fort while scaring off the enemy attackers.
  • Xi Kang 嵇康: Sage of the Bamboo Grove, musician and poet, writer of Qin Fu 【琴賦】.
  • Li Bai 李白: Tang poet, 701–762.
  • Bai Juyi 白居易: Tang poet, 772–846.
  • Song Huizong 宋徽宗: Song emperor famous for his patronage of the arts, had a Wanqin Tang 『萬琴堂』 ("10,000 Qin Hall") in his palace.
  • Guo Chuwang 郭楚望: Patriot at the end of the Song Dynasty, composer of the piece Xiaoxiang Shuiyun 《瀟湘水雲/潇湘水云》.

The classical collections such as Qin Shi, Qinshi Bu and Qinshi Xu include biographies of hundreds more players.[6]


Contemporary qin players, from the early twentieth century to the present, have tended to have many different pursuits and occupations in addition to qin playing. Only a few players are paid to exclusively play and research the guqin professionally. Qin players are often well-versed in other cultural pursuits, such as the arts, and play other instruments.


The note range of a qin

In the performance, the player of a qin will use a variety of techniques to bring out the full potential of the instrument.

They would read the specialist and unique tablature that was developed over the centuries and amass a repertoire of popular and ancient tunes for the qin.

Playing Technique

〈挑〉 Tiao[7]
〈勾〉 Gou
〈劈〉 Pi
〈撥〉 Bo

The music of the qin can be categorized as three distinctively different "sounds." The first is san yin (散音), which means "scattered sounds." This is produced by plucking the required string to sound an open note . The second is fan yin (泛音), or "floating sounds." These are harmonics, in which the player lightly touches the string with one or more fingers of the left hand at a position indicated by the hui dots, plucks, and lifts, creating a crisp and clear sound . The third is an yin (按音 / 案音 / 實音 /走音〕, or "stopped sounds." This forms the bulk of most qin pieces and requires the player to press on a string with a finger or thumb of the left hand until it connects with the surface board, then pluck. Afterwards, the musician's hand often slides up and down, modifying the pitch. This technique is similar to that of playing a slide guitar across the player's lap, however, the technique of the qin is very varied and utilizes the whole hand.

According to the book, Cunjian Guqin Zhifa Puzi Jilan, there are around 1,070 different finger techniques used for the qin, with or without names. It is therefore, the instrument with the most finger techniques in either Chinese or Western music.[8] Most are obsolete, but around 50 or so are sufficient to know in modern practice.

Tablature and Notation

First section of Youlan, showing the name of the piece: 《碣石調幽蘭第五》 "Jieshi Diao Youlan No. 5," the preface describing the piece's origins, and the tablature in longhand form.

Written qin music did not directly tell what notes to play; instead, it was written in a tablature detailing tuning, finger positions, and stroke technique, comprising a step-by-step method and description of how to play a piece. Some tablatures do indicate notes using the gongche system, or indicate rhythm using dots. The earliest example of the modern shorthand tablature survives from around the twelfth century C.E.. An earlier form of music notation from the Tang era survives in just one manuscript, dated to the seventh century C.E., called Jieshi Diao Youlan 《碣石調幽蘭》 (Solitary Orchid in Stone Tablet Mode). It is written in a longhand form called wenzi pu (文字譜, "written notation"), said to have been created by Yong Menzhou (雍門周) during the Warring States Period, which gives all the details using ordinary written Chinese characters. Later in the Tang dynasty Cao Rou (曹柔) and others simplified the notation, using only the important elements of the characters (like string number, plucking technique, hui number and which finger to stop the string) and combining them into one character notation. This meant that instead of having two lines of written text to describe a few notes, a single character could represent one note, or sometimes as many as nine. This notation form was called jianzi pu (減 字譜, "reduced notation") and it was so successful that from the Ming dynasty onwards, a great many qinpu (琴 譜, qin tablature collections) appeared, the most famous and useful being "Shenqi Mipu" (The Mysterious and Marvellous Tablature) compiled by Zhu Quan, the 17th son of the founder of the Ming dynasty.[9] In the 1960s, Zha Fuxi discovered more than 130 qinpu that contain well over 3360 pieces of written music. Sadly, many qinpu compiled before the Ming dynasty are now lost, and many pieces have remained unplayed for hundreds of years.[10]


Qin pieces are usually around three to eight minutes in length; the longest, "Guangling San" 《廣陵散》, is 22 minutes long. Other famous pieces include "Liu Shui" 《流水》 (Flowing Water), "Yangguan San Die" 《陽關三疊/阳关三叠》 (Three Refrains on the Yang Pass Theme), "Meihua San Nong" 《梅花三弄》 (Three Variations on the Plum Blossom Theme), "Xiao Xiang Shui Yun" 《瀟湘水雲》 (Mist and Clouds over the Xiao and Xiang Rivers), and "Pingsha Luo Yan" 《平沙落雁》 (Wild Geese Descending on the Sandbank). The average player will generally have a repertoire of around ten pieces which he or she will aim to play very well, learning new pieces when the opportunity arises. Players mainly learn popular well-transcribed versions, often using a recording as a reference. In addition to learning to play established or ancient pieces very well, highly skilled qin players may also compose or improvise. A number of qin melodies are program music depicting the natural world.


Dapu 〔打譜〕 is the transcribing of old tablature into a playable form. Since qin tablature does not indicate note value, tempo or rhythm, the player must work it out for him/herself. Normally, qin players will learn the rhythm of a piece through a teacher or master. They sit facing one another, with the student copying the master. The tablature will only be consulted if the teacher is not sure of how to play a certain part. Because of this, traditional qinpu do not indicate rhythm (though near the end of the Qing dynasty, a handful of qinpu had started to employ various devices, such as dots, to indicate rhythm). If a player did not have a teacher, he had to work out the rhythm for himself.

By the twentieth century, there had been attempts to try to replace the "jianzi pu" notation, but so far, they have been unsuccessful; since the twentieth century, qin music is generally printed with staff notation above the qin tablature. Because qin tablature is useful, logical, easy, and is the fastest way (once the performer knows how to read the notation) of learning a piece, it is invaluable to the qin player and cannot totally be replaced.

The Qinxue Congshu 【琴學叢書】 (1910) uses a more detailed system involving a grid next to main qin notation; right grid line indicates note, middle indicates beat, left indicates how the qin tablature relates to the rhythm.

There is a saying that goes "a short piece requires three months [to complete the dapu], and a long piece requires three years." In actual practice, it might not take that long to dapu a piece, but three months suggests that the player will have not only memorized the piece, but have achieved the correct fingering, rhythm and timing. Once the technique is mastered, emotion must be put into the piece. Therefore, it could be said that it really does require three months or years to finish dapu of a piece, in order for the player to perform it to a very high standard.

Rhythm in Qin Music

Although there is guesswork involved, the qin tablature has clues to indicate rhythm, such as repeating motifs, indication of phrases or how the notation is arranged. Throughout the history of the qinpu, many attempts have been made to indicate this rhythm more explicitly, involving devices like dots for beats. A major project to regulate the rhythm on a large scale was the compilation of the Qinxue Congshu tablature from the 1910s to 1930s. The construction of the written tablature was divided into two columns. The first was further divided into about three lines of a grid, each line indicating a varied combination of lyrics, gongche tablature, se tablature, pitch, and/or beats depending on the score used. The second column was devoted to qin tablature. [11]

Western composers have noticed that the beat in a piece of qin music is subject to change. This is due to the fact that qin players may use some free rhythm in their playing. The beat will depend on the player’s emotion or feeling, and how he interprets the piece. However, some melodies have sections of fixed rhythm which is generally played the same way. The main theme of Meihua Sannong, for example, uses a fixed beat. Some sections of certain melodies require the player to play faster with force to express the emotion of the piece. Examples include the middle sections of Guangling San and Xiaoxiang Shuiyun. Other pieces, such as Jiu Kuang, have a fixed rhythm throughout the entire piece.

Generally, qin melodies sound better with a steady rhythm and the composers had that in mind when creating pieces.


While certain rules of acoustics were followed in the construction of a qin, its external form could and did take on a huge amount of variation, both in the basic structure of the instrument and in the embellishments. Qin tablatures from the Song era onwards have cataloged a plethora of qin forms. All, however, obey very basic rules of acoustics and symbolism of form. The qin uses strings of silk or metal-nylon and is tuned in accordance to traditional principles.


According to tradition, the qin originally had five strings, representing the five elements of metal, wood, water, fire and earth. Later, in the Zhou dynasty, Zhou Wen Wang (周文王) added a sixth string to mourn his son, Bo Yihou (伯邑考). His successor, Zhou Wu Wang, added a seventh string to motivate his troops into battle with the Shang. The thirteen hui (徽|徽) on the surface represent the thirteen months of the year (the extra 13th is the 'leap month' in the lunar calendar). The surface board is round to represent Heaven and the bottom board flat to represent earth. The entire length of the qin (in Chinese measurements) is 3 chi, 6 cun and 5 fen (三尺; 六寸;五分); representing the 365 days of the year (though this is just a standard since qins can be shorter or longer depending on the period's measurement standard or the maker's preference). Each part of the qin has meaning, some more obvious, like "dragon pool" (龍池/龙池) and "phoenix pond" (鳳 沼/凤沼).

Names of (from left to right) the front, inside and back parts of the qin


A selection of different qin strings. Top to bottom: 〖太古琴絃〗 Taigu Silk Qin Strings [中清 zhongqing gauge] with a container of 'string gum' 「絃」, 〖上音牌琴弦〗 Shangyin Shanghai Conservatorie Quality Qin Strings (metal-nylon), 〖虎丘古琴絃〗 Huqiu Silk Strings

Until the Cultural Revolution, the guqin's strings were always made of various thicknesses of twisted silk (絲/丝), but since then most players have used modern nylon-flatwound steel strings (鋼絲/钢丝). This is partly due to the scarcity of high quality silk strings and partly due to the newer strings' greater durability and louder tone.

Silk strings are made by gathering a prescribed number of strands of silk thread, then twisting them tightly together. The twisted cord of strings is then wrapped around a frame and immersed in a vat of liquid composed of a special mixture of natural glue that binds the strands together. The strings are taken out and left to dry, before being cut into the appropriate length. The top thicker strings (strings one to four) are further wrapped in a thin silk thread, coiled around the core to make it smoother. According to ancient manuals, there are three distinctive gauges of thickness that one can make the strings. The first is taigu 〖太古〗 [Great Antiquity] which is the standard gauge, the zhongqing 〖中清〗 [Middle Clarity] is thinner, whilst the jiazhong 〖加重〗 [Added Thickness] is thicker. According to the Yugu Zhai Qinpu, zhongqing is the best.

Although most contemporary players use nylon-wrapped metal strings, some argue that nylon-wrapped metal strings cannot replace silk strings for their refinement of tone. Furthermore, nylon-wrapped metal strings can cause damage to the wood of old qins. Many traditionalists feel that the sound of the fingers of the left hand sliding on the strings is a distinctive feature of qin music. The modern nylon-wrapped metal strings were very smooth in the past, but are now slightly modified in order to capture these sliding sounds.

Traditionally, the strings were wrapped around the goose feet (雁 足),[12] but a device has been invented, which is a block of wood attached to the goose feet, with pins similar to those used to tune the guzheng protruding at the sides, so one can string and tune the qin using a tuning wrench. This is helpful for those who lack the physical strength to pull and add tension to the strings when wrapping the ends around the goose feet. However, the tuning device looks unsightly and many qin players prefer the traditional manner of tuning; many also feel that the strings should be firmly wrapped around the goose feet so that the sound may be "grounded" into the qin.


To string a qin, one traditionally had to tie a butterfly knot (shengtou jie (蠅 頭 結 / 蝇头结) at one end of the string, and slip the string through the twisted cord (rongkou 絨 剅/绒扣) which goes into holes at the head of the qin and then out the bottom through the tuning pegs (zhen 軫/轸). The string is dragged over the bridge (yueshan, 岳山), across the surface board, over the nut (longyin, 龍齦, dragon gums) to the back of the qin, where the end is wrapped around one of two legs (fengzu, 鳳足, "phoenix feet" or yanzu, 雁足, "geese feet"). Afterwards, the strings are fine tuned using the tuning pegs (sometimes, rosin is used on the part of the tuning peg that touches the qin body to stop it from slipping, especially if the qin is tuned to higher pitches). The most common tuning, "zheng diao" 〈正調〉, is pentatonic: 5 6 1 2 3 5 6 (which can be also played as 1 2 4 5 6 1 2) in the traditional Chinese number system or jianpu 〔簡譜/简谱〕 (1=do, 2=re, etc). Today this is generally interpreted to mean C D F G A c d, but this should be considered sol la do re mi sol la, since historically the qin was not tuned to absolute pitch. Other tunings are achieved by adjusting the tension of the strings using the tuning pegs at the head end. Thus manjiao diao 〈慢角調〉 ("slackened third string") gives 1 2 3 5 6 1 2 and ruibin diao 〈蕤賔調/蕤宾调〉 ("raised fifth string") gives 1 2 4 5 7 1 2, which is transposed to 2 3 5 6 1 2 3.

Cultural Context

The qin has been played since ancient times, and has traditionally been favored by scholars and literati as an instrument of great subtlety and refinement, as well as being associated with the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius.

“士無故不撤琴瑟,” "a gentleman does not part with his qin or se without good reason,"[13]

The guqin is nearly always used as a solo instrument, as its quietness of tone means that it cannot compete with the sounds of most other instruments or an ensemble. It can, however, be played together with a xiao (end-blown bamboo flute), with other qin, or played while singing. In old times, the se (a long zither with movable bridges and 25 strings, similar to the Japanese koto) was frequently used in duets with the qin. Sadly, the se has not survived into this century, though duet tablature scores for the instruments are preserved in a few qinpu, and the master qin player Wu Jinglüe was one of only a few in the twentieth century who knew how to play it together with qin in duet. Lately there has been experimentation with the use of other instruments to accompany the qin, such as the xun (ceramic ocarina), pipa (four-stringed pear-shaped lute), dizi (transverse bamboo flute), and others.

A painting by Chen Hongshou of a person with a qin.

In order for an instrument to accompany the qin, its sound must be mellow and not overwhelm the qin. Thus, the xiao generally used for this purpose is one pitched in the key of F, known as qin xiao 「琴簫」, which is narrower than an ordinary xiao. If one sings to qin melodies (which is rare today) then one should not sing in an operatic or folk style as is common in China, but rather in a very low pitched and deep way; and the range in which one sings should not exceed one and a half octaves. The style of singing is similar to that used to recite Tang poetry.

Traditionally, the qin was played in a quiet studio or room by the player alone, or with a few friends; or played outdoors in places of outstanding natural beauty. Today, many qin players perform concerts in large concert halls, almost always, out of necessity, using electronic pickups or microphones to amplify the sound. Many qin players attend yajis, at which a number of qin players, music lovers, or anyone with an interest in Chinese culture can come along to discuss and play the qin. The yaji originated as a multi-media gathering involving the four arts: qin, chess, calligraphy, and painting.

Ritual use of the qin

The guqin was also played in a ritual context, especially in yayue in China, and aak in Korea. The National Center for Korean Traditional Performing Arts continues to perform Munmyo jeryeak (Confucian ritual music), using the last two surviving aak melodies from the importation of yayue from the Song Dynasty emperor Huizong in 1116, including in the ensemble the seul (se) and geum (guqin). In China, the qin was still in use in ritual ceremonies of the imperial court, as can be seen in the court paintings of imperial sacrifices of the Qing court (e.g. The Yongzheng Emperor Offering Sacrifices at the Altar of the God of Agriculture 《雍正祭先農壇圖》, 1723–35).[14] The guqin was also used in the ritual music of Vietnam, where it was called cầm.

Qin Aesthetics

When the qin is played, a number of aesthetic elements are involved. The first is musicality. In the second section of "Pingsha Luoyan," for example, the initial few bars contain a nao vibrato followed by a phase of sliding up and down the string, even when the sound has already become inaudible. The average person trained in music may question whether this is really "music." Some players pluck the string very lightly to create a very quiet sound during this phase; other players insist that this plucking unnecessary because, instead of trying to force a sound out of the string, one should allow the natural sounds emitted from the strings. The sliding on the string even when the sound has disappeared is a distinctive feature in qin music. It creates a "space" or "void" in a piece, playing without playing, sound without sound. When the viewer looks at the player sliding on the string without sounds, the viewer mentally "fills in the notes," creating a connection between player, instrument and listener. This cannot happen when listening to a recording, as the performer cannot be seen.

With a really good qin, silk strings, and a perfectly quiet environment, the sound coming from the fingers sliding on the string can be heard. The player, who knows the music, can “hear” this sound even if it is not there. When silk strings are used, the sliding sound might be called the qi or "life force" of the music. The really empty sounds are the pauses between notes. If a player cannot create a sound that can be heard when sliding on a string, it is generally acceptable to lightly pluck the string to create a very quiet sound, particularly during a live recording, when the player wants to convey sound as much as possible towards a third audience. [15]

Guqin in Popular Culture

As a symbol of high culture, the qin is frequently used as a prop in various forms of Chinese popular culture, with varying degrees of accuracy. In television serials and film, the actors often mime the playing of a qin, with the actual music recorded by a professional qin player. Sometimes guzheng music, rather than qin music, is used. A faithful representation of the qin was used in the Zhang Yimou film Hero (英雄, 2002). Xu Kuanghua appeared to play an ancient version of the qin in the courtyard scene in which Nameless (Jet Li) and Long Sky (Donnie Yen) play go. The music was actually played by Liu Li, formerly a professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. [16] It is suggested in the film that Xu made the qin himself. [17]

The qin is also used as a prop in older Chinese works of literature, such as Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber.

Related instruments

The Japanese ichigenkin 「一絃琴」, a monochord zither, is believed to be derived from the qin. The qin handbook Lixing Yuanya (【理性元雅】, 1618) includes some melodies for a one-string qin, and the Wuzhi Zhai Qinpu contains a picture and description of such an instrument.[18] The modern ichigenkin apparently first appeared in Japan just after that time. However, the honkyoku 〔本曲〕 (standard repertoire) of the ichigenkin today most closely resembles that of the shamisen 「三味線」.

The Korean komungo 「거문고」 may also be related, though distantly. Korean literati wanted to play an instrument the way their Chinese counterparts played the qin. For some reason they never took to the qin itself, instead playing the komungo, a long fretted zither plucked with a thin stick. The repertoire was largely the komungo parts for melodies played by the court orchestra. Another ancient Chinese zither, the zhu 「筑」, appears to have been plucked with a stick, so the komungo may also be related to that instrument.


  1. Zhang Yushu et al.. Kangxi Zidian 【康熙字典】. Folio 28.
  2. John Thompson on the Guqin Silk String Zither (2005) Qin: Lute or Zither?. Retrieved November 12, 2007.
  3. Wei Yin. Zhongguo Qinshi Yanyi 【中国琴史演义】, 1-10.
  4. Masterpieces 2001 and 2003, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. Retrieved November 12, 2007.
  5. Xin Yang, et al. (1997). Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting. , 122.
  6. Zhou, Zi'an. Wuzhi Zhai Qinpu 【五知齋琴譜】. Volume 1, folio 1, leaf <gold> 18-28.
  7. These four figures are from an old handbook.Zhang, He. Qinxue Rumen 【琴學入門】. Volume 1, leaves 39, 40, 43 and 47.
  8. Ping Guo. Guqin Congtan 【古琴丛谈】, 112.
  9. Zhu, Quan. Shenqi Mipu 【神竒秘譜】.
  10. Fuxi Zha. Cunjian Guqin Qupu Jilan, 【存見古琴曲譜輯覽】, 3-44.
  11. A more detailed analysis can be found here: Rhythm in Early Ming Qin Tablature. Retrieved November 12, 2007.
  12. Gong, Yi. Guqin Yanzhoufa 【古琴演奏法】. Page 11 and 13.
  13. Li Ji: Quli, second half 【禮記‧曲禮下】.
  14. Rawski, E. Evelyn & Rawson, Jessica (ed.). CHINA: The Three Emperors 1662—1795. Pages 117, 126 and 127.
  15. London Youlan Qin Society, Yaji 5th September 2004. Retrieved November 12, 2007.
  16. Composer Achieves Goal with 'Hero' Score, Retrieved November 12, 2007.
  17. Guqin Master Xu Kuanghua, China Info Travel. Retrieved November 12, 2007.
  18. Zhou, Zi'an. Wuzhi Zhai Qinpu 【五知齋琴譜】. Volume 1, folio 2, leaf 10.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

Chinese books on qin:

  • Gong, Yi. Guqin Yanzhoufa 【古琴演奏法】; 2nd ed., 2 CDs. Shanghai: Shanghai Educational Press, 1999. ISBN 7532066215
  • Guo, Ping. Guqin Congtan 【古琴丛谈】. Jinan: Shandong Book Press, 2006. ISBN 7807132094
  • Huang, Datong (ed.). Chiba Guqin Kao 【尺八古琴考】. Shanghai: Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press, 2005 ISBN 7806921680/J‧161
  • Li, Mingzhong. Zhongguo Qinxue 【中國琴學】 卷壹. Vo.1. Shanxi: Shanxi Society Science Magazine Association, 2000.
  • Li, Xiangting. Tangdai Guqin Yanzou Meixue ji Yinyue Sixiang Yanjiu 【唐代古琴演奏美學及音樂思想研究】. Taipei, 1992.
  • Li, Xiangting. Guqin Shiyong Jiaocheng 【古琴实用教程】. Shanghai: Shanghai Music Press, 2004. ISBN 780667439X
  • Miao, Jianhua. Guqin Meixue Sixiang Yanjiu 【古琴美学思想研究】. Shanghai: Shanghai Conservatory of Music Press, 2006. ISBN 7806922245
  • Wu, Na. Guqin Chuji Jiaocheng 【古琴初级教程】. Beijing: Tongxin Press, 2004. ISBN 7805938350/J‧105
  • Wu, Zhao. Jueshi Qingyin 【绝世清音】; inc. 1 CD. Suzhou: Ancient Inn of Wu Press, 2005. ISBN 7805749086/G‧259
  • Xian, Zhi. Qi-xian Midao: Jingdian Guqin Gushi 【七弦味味道‧经典古琴故事】. Beijing: China Three Gorges Press, 2006 (original 1991). ISBN 780223171X
  • Xu, Jian. Qinshi Chubian 【琴史初编】. Beijing: The People's Music Press, 2011 (original 1982). ISBN 7103023042
  • Xu, Junyue and Xiaoying. Zhepai Guqin Yishu 【浙派古琴艺朮】. Shanghai: Shanghai Arts and Literature Press, 2006 (original 1991). ISBN 7532130304
  • Yao, Bingyan and Huang, Shuzhi. Tangdai Chen Zhuo Lun Guqin Zhifa: Yao Bingyan Qinxue Zhu Shu zhi Yi 【唐代陳拙論古琴指法‧姚丙炎琴學著述之一】. Beijing: Shu zhi Zhai Wenhua Co. Ltd., 2005. ISBN 978-9889873912
  • Yi, Cunguo. Taiyin Xisheng 【太音希聲】. Guizhou: Zhejiang University Press, 2005 (original 1991). ISBN 7308042618/J‧093
  • Yin, Wei. Zhongguo Qinshi Yanyi 【中国琴史演义】. Yunnan: People's Press of Yunnan, 2001 (original 1991) . ISBN 7222032061/I‧866
  • Zha, Fuxi. Cunjian Guqin Qupu Jilan 【存見古琴曲譜輯覽】. Beijing: The People's Music Press, 1958. ISBN 7103023794
  • Zhang, Huaying. Gu Qin 【古琴】. Guizhou: Zhejiang People's Press, 2005. ISBN 978-7213029554
  • Zhou, Ningyun. Qinshu Cunmu 【琴書存目, 1915.


  • Chu, Fengjie. Yugu Zhai Qinpu 【與古齋琴譜】. Fujian: Private publication, 1855.
  • Gu, Meigeng. Qinxue Beiyao (shougao ben) 【琴學備要(手稿本)】. Shanghai: Shanghai Music Press, 2004. ISBN 780667453
  • Wang, Binglu. Mei'an Qinpu 【楳盦珡諩】. Beijing: China Bookstore, 2005 (original 1931). ISBN 7806632972/J‧331
  • Wu, Jinglüe and Wenguang. Yushan Wushi Qinpu 【虞山吴氏琴谱】 The Qin Music Repertoire of the Wu Family. Beijing: Eastern Press, 2001. ISBN 7506014548/I‧78
  • Xu, Shangying. Dahuan Ge Qinpu 【大還閣琴譜】. Beijing: Cathay Bookshop, 2005 (original 1673). ISBN 7806632883/J‧322
  • Yang, Zongji. Qinxue Congshu 【琴學叢書】. Beijing: Cathay Bookshop, 1996 (original 1910–1931). ISBN 7805685525/I‧139
  • Zhang, He. Qinxue Rumen 【琴學入門】. Beijing: Cathay Bookshop, 1998 (original 1864). ISBN 7805688656/J‧236
  • Zhou, Zi'an. Wuzhi Zhai Qinpu 【五知齋琴譜】. Beijing: Cathay Bookshop, 2000 (original 1722). ISBN 7805688648/J‧237
  • Zhu, Quan. Shenqi Mipu 【神竒秘譜】. Beijing: Cathay Bookshop, 2001 (original 1425). ISBN 7805689733/J‧284

Journals, newsletters and periodicals:

  • Zhongguo Huabao 【中國畫報】, 1986.
  • Beijing Guqin Research Association. Beijing Qin-xun 【北京琴讯】, Vol. 71. 2001.

English books on qin:

  • Binkley, James. Abiding With Antiquity 【與古齋琴譜】., 2006. ISBN 978-1430303466
  • Gulik, Robert Hans van. The Lore of the Chinese Lute, 2nd ed. Rutland, VT:; and Tokyo: Charles Tuttle and Sophia University; Monumenta Nipponica, 1969 (original 1940). ISBN 0804808694
  • Gulik, Robert Hans van. Hsi K'ang and his Poetical Essay on the Chinese Lute. Tokyo: Monumenta Nipponica, 1941. ISBN 0804808686
  • Hsu, Wen-Ying. The Ku'Chin. California: Wen Ying Studio, Pasadena, 1978.
  • Liang, David Ming-Yueh. The Chinese Ch'in Its History and Music. Chinese National Music Association / San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 1972.
  • Lieberman, Fredric. A Chinese Zither Tutor: The Mei-an Ch'in-p'u. Trans. and commentary. Washington and Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1983. ISBN 029595941X

German books on qin:

  • Manfred Dahmer: “Qin - die klassische chinesische Griffbrettzither." With Audio-CD. Uelzen: ML-Verlag

Music books:

  • Herbet, Trevor. Music in Words: A Guide to Researching and Writing about Music. London: The Associated Board of Royal Schools of Music, 2001. ISBN 978-1848491007
  • Lai, T. C. & Mok, Robert. Jade Flute - the Story of Chinese Music. New York: Schocken Books, 1985. ISBN 0805239618
  • Liang, David Ming-Yue. Music of the Billion. New York: Heinrichshofen, 1985. ISBN 3795904749
  • Sachs, Curth. The History of Musical Instruments. New York: Norton & Co., 1940.

Non qin books (or books with a section on the qin):

  • Addiss, Stephen. Tall Mountains and Flowing Waters. Hawaii: University of Hawaii Press, 1987. ISBN 0824810392
  • Herdan, Innes (trans.). 300 Tang Poems 【英譯唐詩三百首】, Yee Chiang (illus.). Taipei: The Far East Book Co., Ltd., 2000 (original 1973). ISBN 9576124719
  • Liang, Jianmin (ed.) et al. Gu Hanyu Dacidian 【古汉语大词典】. Shanghai: Shanghai Cishu Press, 2000. ISBN 753260571X
  • Rawski, E. Evelyn & Jessica Rawson, (eds.). CHINA: The Three Emperors 1662—1795. London: Royal Academy of Arts, 2005. ISBN 1903973694
  • Temple, Robert. The Genius of China: 3000 years of science, discovery and invention. with Dr. Joseph Needham, FRS FBA (intro.). London: Prion. 2005 (original 1998). ISBN 1853755826
  • Wang, Yunwu. Wang Yunwu Da Cidian 【王雲五大辭典】. Hong Kong: Guanghua Book Department, 1969.
  • Wieger, L., S. J. Chinese Characters: Their origin, etymology, history, classification and signification. A thorough study from Chinese documents. L. Davrout, S. J. (trans.). New York: Dover Publications, 1965 (original 1915). ISBN 0486213218
  • Yang, Xin; Barnhart, Richard M.; Nie, Chongzheng; Cahill, James; Lang, Shaojun and Wu, Hung. Three Thousand Years of Chinese Painting. New Haven & London, Beijing: Yale University Press and Foreign Language Press, 2002 (original 1997). ISBN 0300094477
  • Zhang Yushu et al. 1921. Kangxi Zidian 【康熙字典】. Shanghai: Shanghai Old Books Distribution Place.
  • Zhonghua Xin Zidian. (Putonghua : Yueyin) Zhonghua Xin Zidian 【(普通話‧粵音)中華新字典】. Hong Kong: Chinese Book Department, Hong Kong Section, 2004 (original 1976). ISBN 962231001X

External links

All links retrieved July 20, 2017.

Qin society sites

General Qin sites

  • John Thompson on the Guqin Silk String Zither A host of information on the qin and silk strings for qins in English, including extensive study of Shenqi Mipu and analysis of playing style, plus useful section on qin sources.
  • Christopher Evans' Chinese Guqin Site Christopher Evan's site explains Chinese music theory, notation and technique as well as note position diagrams.
  • Yugu Zhai Qinpu Jim Binkley's translation of the qin construction manual with links to other sources. Includes a qin FAQ section and pictures of his 'blue qin' made by himself.
  • Wang Fei's Webpage A site about Wang Fei and her projects, with links to other interconnected sites.
  • Stephen Dydo's Site Has pictures of Stephen's qin construction as well as information of his other past-times besides qin.

Sites with music samples and/or videos

Qin guzhuan.JPG
Aesthetics | Construction | Contemprary players | History | Literature | Notation | Playing technique | Popular culture | Qinpu | Schools
Societies | Strings | Tuning | Yaji
Ao Ai | Guangling San | Hujia Shiba-pai | Jieshi Diao Youlan | Liu Shui | Meihua Sannong | Pingsha Luoyan | Xiao Xiang Shuiyun | Yangguan Sandie
Guangling | Jiuyi | Lingnan | Mei'an | Pucheng | Shu | Yushan | Zhe | Zhucheng
London Youlan Qin Society | New York Qin Society | North American Guqin Association
Historical personages
Bo Ya | Cai Wenji | Cai Yong | Confucius | Guo Chuwang | Ruan Ji | Emperor Song Huizong | Xi Kang | Zhu Quan
Cheng Yu | Gong Yi | Guan Pinghu | Li Xiangting | Lin Youren | Wang Fei | Wu Jinglüe | Wu Zhaoji | Zeng Chengwei | Zha Fuxi | Zhang Ziqian


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