The guqin, a seven-stringed zither, is China's oldest stringed instrument, with a history of some 3000 years. Chinese music has a long history, and its essence is best expressed on the guqin. In Imperial China, a well educated scholar was expected to be skilled in four arts:
· Qin (the guqin),
Historically, the guqin has been viewed as a symbol of Chinese high culture and the instrument most expressive of the essence of Chinese music. More than 100 harmonics can be played on the guqin, which probably is the largest number of harmonics of any instrument. The guqin has its own notation, which itself has a history of at least 1500 years. There are over 150 guqin handbooks in existence, which contain in excess of 3,000 pieces of music as well as essays on the theoretical aspects of the guqin and its music.
When the U.S. spaceship "Voyager" was launched in 1977, a gold CD was placed on board to introduce the music of our planet to the rest of the universe. the guqin piece "Flowing Water" was included as one representative of the world's music.
As a result of the many political upheavals in Chinese history, especially the Cultural Revolution, the guqin has undoubtedly become an endangered instrument. Unfortunately, there are very few people, even in China, who have truly mastered this instrument and they seldom perform in public. Music that has been written over a period of many centuries is unknown to most people.
In Chinese, gu means old and qin means musical instrument. Historically, guqin was rendered as qin in most ancient texts. Because its long history, it has during the last 100 years been widely called guqin.
There is much symbology surrounding the instrument. For example, it measures 3' 6.5" (Chinese feet and inches), to symbolise the 365 days of the year; the upper surface is rounded, representing the sky, the bottom is flat and represents the earth. The five strings of the earliest qins symbolise the five elements: Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth. When Bo Yikao, son of King Wen, first ruler of the Zhou Dynasty around the 11th century BC, died the Emperor added a sixth string to mourn his son; the sound of the sixth string is sorrowful. The seventh string was added by the second Zhou ruler, King Wu to inspire his soldiers when his country went to war; the sound of this string is very strong. Finally, the 13 mother-of-pearl inlays along the outer edge represent the 13 months of the lunar year.