Where did this Chinese musical instrument originate?

May 30, 2017

The yangqin, the Chinese Hammered Dulcimer, probably did not originate in China. It might have arrived from either Europe or Persia about five hundred years ago and was adapted to fit Chinese music.

One theory says that the yangqin came to China on the Silk Road. A second theory says it arrived with Portuguese traders in the 1500s.  A third theory says the instrument was developed in China without foreign influence from an ancient stringed instrument called a Zhu.

By Chinese standards, it is a young instrument and was first heard during the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644), and has been commonly used in Chinese Operas since then.

In fact, in Modern China, the yangqin is a major discipline in the College of Music.

The yangqin has over 100 strings that are struck with thin bamboo sticks that have rubber tips on one end.  When struck with the rubber end, a soft sound is heard.  When the strings are struck with the other end of the stick, without the rubber tip, a crisper sound is heard.

Around the world, there are many versions of the hammered dulcimer all designed and played in a similar fashion, but each country has its own distinct sound influenced by cultural differences.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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