Name: Zheng or Gu-Zheng.
Type: Long > Zither > Chordophone.
Region: China > Far East Asia.
Acquisition Date:
Acquisition Source: China, Randy Raine-Reusch.

Description: The zheng or guzheng is a long zither and a member of the plucked chordophone family of musical instruments. In the Chinese system of classification the zheng is classified as a “silk instrument”. Its believed the origins of the zheng are from the Qin Dynasty or "Warring States Period" (475 - 221 BC). The word "gu" translates as "antiquity", or "ancient". During the first century BC the zheng had been described as a plucked half tube zither. Upon the arrival of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907 AD) the amount of the strings for the zheng had increased. Later in the Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911 AD) the guzheng remained very popular. The zheng continued to evolve as a musical instrument by the Sui Dynasty (581-618 AD) the 13-string guzheng became an important instrument in court music. Although a 12-stringed instrument continued to exist in the “qing shang youe” which evolved during the Sui and Tang Dynasties. Eventually the 12-stringed instrument was replaced by the 13-stringed instrument. Many traditions were threatened to disappear during the turbulent war torn years of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). Through out the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) the guzheng evolved to having 14 and 15 strings. Due to the social climate of the Ming Dynasty musicians who played the zheng were stigmatized as being a member of low social status. The skill and repertoire of the guzheng were traditionally taught orally.

Composition & Repertoire: During the 19th century important contributions were made to the repertoire of the zheng from important musicians and teachers include Wang Xunzhi, (1899–1972) is known for popularizing the Wulin “zheng” school based in Hangshao, Zhejiang. Lou Shuhua rearranged a traditional guzheng piece and renamed it “Yu zhou chang wan”. Liang Tai-Ping (1900-2000) published the first teaching manual “Nizheng pu” in 1938. Numerous musicians and composers continued improving upon the repertoire of the zheng; they include Cao Dongfu (1898-1970) from Henan, Gao Zicheng (b. 1918) and Zhao Yuzhai (b. 1924) both who are from Shandong. Su Wenxian (1907-1971). Guo Ying (b. 1914) and Lin Maogen (b. 1929) both of whom are from Chaozhau. The Hakka zheng player Luo Jiuxiang (1902-1978), Cao Guifen and Cao Zheng (1920-1998) are trained in the Henan school. The Cao family from Henan are celebrated masters of the guzheng. In the 20th century Prof. Cao Zheng was innovative in spearheading music instructional programs which offer zheng courses in universities. Since the 1980s contemporary pieces including experimental melodies are currently being composed in both inside and outside of China. The Playing Techniques: The playing techniques include note bending with the three fingers of the left hand, to right hand playing includes the use of tortoise shell plectrums each plectrum is wrapped with tape around the thumb, pointy and middle fingers are used. The tortoise shell picks produce a very beautiful and clean tone. When playing the zheng often the left hand works independently from the right hand. The right side of the zheng where the tunings pins are located. The tape serves as a means so the hinges don't rattle during the performance, a lot of solo notes are utilized along with two or three note "chords". The numerical notation system used on each of the pieces of tape is called Jian Pu. Non traditional playing techniques include the use of altered tunings, prepared zhengs where the zheng is prepared with alligator clips (this technique is based on the prepared piano) and playing the zheng with a bow.

Construction: The zheng has up to 21 to 25 strings however the 21 string zhengs are the current standard. During ancient times the zheng was originally strung with silk strings. Since the 2nd century some zhengs were equipped with hand carved jade bridges. Nowadays many of the guzheng are strung with steel wound nylon strings or sometimes with metal strings. The body of the zheng is made of wutong wood or Paulownia elongata, a species of tree found throughout China, Japan and Vietnam. Throughout the surface and the sides of the zheng, the ornamentation applied is “bas relief” artwork. The theme of the artwork features cranes who are an important sacred and cultural symbol through out far east Asia. The top surface of the zheng is concave, the bottom surface of the zheng is flat. Three sound holes are cut into the bottom of the instrument. Zheng are supplied with two collapsible wooden stands as seen in the photo. The stands used to support the guzheng allow the musician to play the zheng to sit on a chair or stool. Tuning the guzheng is achieved by manually moving each bridge and occasionally adjusting the tuning pins on the right side of the instrument. Such bridges are common on the long zithers of East Asia and Vietnam. On the right side of the zheng there are metal tuning pins the pins keep the tension of the strings. The tuning pins are protected in a built in container that opens and closes. This is so the tuning pins can be accessed for releasing the tension of the strings when they need to be replaced. There is a recent innovation in the development of the zheng, where the zheng is propped on a pillar and it is equipped with pedals. In accompaniment with the 21 strings there are 21 wooden moveable bridges.