Zheng or Gu-Zheng.
Long > Zither > Chordophone.
China > Far East Asia.
China, Randy Raine-Reusch.
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
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