UNESCO says the Guqin represents China’s foremost solo musical instrument tradition. Legend says that the Guqin has a 5,000 year history compared to Chinese writing that dates back nearly 3,000 years.
The body of the Guqin is a long and narrow sound box made of Catalpa wood with two holes, one large and one small. The large hole is called the “phoenix pool” and the small one the “dragon pond”.
This seven-stringed instrument was played by noblemen and scholars and was not intended for public performances. Twenty years of training were often required to become proficient.
Since it is known that Confucius played the Guqin, the instrument is sometimes referred to by the Chinese as “the father of Chinese music” or “the instrument of the sages”.
For millennia, the strings of the Guqin were made of various thicknesses of silk.
However, in recent times, the silk has been replaced with nylon wound around steel strings. Some say without silk, the Guqin doesn’t sound as rich.
The Guqin was one of four subjects the ancient scholars perfected. The other three were chess, calligraphy and painting. For centuries many Chinese felt China was so civilized due to these practices that no other country would bother them. Why bother to study how to fight wars? Why spend what it would take to keep the military modern and strong?
Then in 1794 came the White Lotus Rebellion (100,000 rebels killed), followed by the Opium Wars (50,000 killed), the Taiping Rebellion (20 million killed), The Nian Rebellion (75 thousand killed), Punti-Hakka Clan Wars (500 thousand killed), Miao Rebellion (75,000 killed), Hui Rebellion (millions killed), the Du Wenxiu Rebellion (1 million killed), the Dungan Revolts (8 to 12 million killed), the Boxer Rebellion (more than 100 thousand killed), the Sino-Japanese War (10 thousand killed), the Xinhai Revolution (almost 200 thousand killed), China’s Civil War between the Communists and Nationalists (8 million killed), and Japan’s invasion of China during World War II (15 to 20 million killed).
Compared to what China suffered, during the 8-year long American Revolution, total casualties were less than 60 thousand, and in the 4-year long American Civil War there were 620 thousand casualties.
That explains why—when the gunpowder settled in 1949, after 155 years of revolution, civil war and war—after Mao came to power, he launched a series of reforms with the goal to make China strong again to stop the revolutions and invasions. These reforms ended with the Cultural Revolution—1965 – 1976, with about 1.5 million killed and millions of others suffering imprisonment, seizure of property, torture or general humiliation.
During this period, the Guqin fell out of favor as the literati were persecuted as the scape goats of China’s long suffering.
Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the lusty love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.
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