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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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline

A Short History of China: part 4 of 6

January 11, 2017

Before moving on with China’s history in the 20th century, it’s important to understand that China has a rich and long history of the arts: for instance, literature, poetry, painting, opera, and music. China, after all invented the printing press during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD) and paper in 105 AD. This history reaches back thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to fiction novels from the Ming Dynasty published to entertain the masses of literate Chinese.

For a comparison with European civilization, the printing press in the West wasn’t invented until after 1300 AD, centuries after China, and it’s possible that the west stole the technology for the printing press from China just like the British Empire stole the secrets of growing and brewing tea from China.

For literature, there are the four Chinese classics: “Outlaws of the Marsh” (set in the Sung Dynasty, 960 – 1279 AD), “Romance of the Three Kingdom” (set during the end of the Han Dynasty, BC 206 – 220 AD), Journey to the West, and The Dream of the Red Chamber (China’s Romeo and Juliet set in the 18th century in the middle of the Qing Dynasty).

Traditional Chinese Poetry is similar to Western poetry.  Lines in Chinese poetry may have a fixed number of syllables and rhyme was required, so ancient Chinese poetry resembles traditional English verse and is not at all like the free verse in today’s Western culture.

Mao Zedong was more than just a revolutionary and the leader of China from 1949 to 1976.  He was complex man who was also a poet. Anyone who studies all of Mao’s life instead of relying on his last decade would understand that he cared deeply about the common people. In addition, Mao is responsible for ridding China of illegal drugs like opium and cocaine, liberating women when he announced they were equal to men, and his health reforms almost doubled the average lifespan before he died.

Opera has a long history in China. To learn more, I suggest: Chinese Opera and Mao Wei Tao, China’s Living Treasure, and The Mother of Chinese Operas.

For brush painting (with a 6,000 year history) and calligraphy, I recommend: Gongbi Style Chinese Brush Painting, and Caressing nature with a long handled brush.

Last, there is China’s music. For instance, the Chinese mouth organ dates back to the Zhou Dynasty (BC 1111-222), and has been found in Han Dynasty tombs. Then there are the 2,553 year-old chimes of Marquis Yi.

Continued in Part 5 on January 17, 2017 or return to Part 4

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 unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.


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