Chinese Lore- Legendary Chinese String Instruments (Guqin) (1)

Over this and the next post, I will be covering the 10 greatest guqins in ancient China. Guqin literally means ancient string instrument. It is basically a musical instrument of the zither family (multiple strings stretched across a flat body). It typically has seven strings but there is a more ancient version with five string only. There are two voice boxes on the back of a guqin, one big and one small. The big one is known as long chi or ‘dragon pond’. The smaller one is called feng zhao or ‘phoenix lake’. Apparently, its shape is modelled along the body of a phoenix and it is a complex instrument to make since it contains multiple parts that have to be fashioned in a certain way that conforms to various aspects of significance within Chinese culture. There is no clear ordering for which of these instruments are superior compared to others. The ordering is in reverse chronological order of construction period/when records of them first appeared. The reason for such an order is just that the four most ancient ones have way more lore attached to them whereas the other six are quite bland in comparison. So basically I’m operating on the base of “save the best for the last” here.

Just in case someone is interested, this link (http://afe.easia.columbia.edu/timelines/china_timeline.htm) provides a timeline illustrating the transition between different dynasties and periods in ancient China. Pictures of all these instruments can be seen in here: http://www.360doc.com/content/12/0422/12/4604492_205612846.shtml.

  1. Rushing Thunder

Appearance & Characteristics:

Covered all over by snakeskin patterns, with its name carved on the back above the ‘dragon pond’. Moreover, to either side, there are sets of poems engraved by previous owners. One set says, “Many times I travel in the four directions, renowned guqins can be encountered but not obtained. Unexpectedly I have a pleasant encounter with the Rushing Thunder, my wish of many times is finally met.” The other set says, “I have encountered so many puzzles and terrors that there is no longer anything worth sighing, whenever I play the Rushing Thunder my excitement is stoked. Companions for thirty years, I can’t part with it for the purpose of developing my character.”

  1. Legacy of Antiquity

Appearance & Characteristics:

Covered by broken lines like flowing water, with its name carved on the back above the ‘dragon pond’.

  1. The Sole Tranquillity

Appearance & Characteristics:

The top of this instrument is painted in alternate strips of black and red, with crisscrossed patterns of the plum blossom and snakeskin. The back of it is covered by broken lines among cow fur. The name of this instrument is carved onto the top of the ‘dragon pond’ voice box while inside the voice box are carved four Chinese characters referring to a specific year in late Tang (the first year of a particular Emperor’s reign).

  1. The Saints’ Legacy

Appearance & Characteristics:

Another Tang masterpiece, the name of this instrument is engraved onto the top of the “dragon pond” voice box on its back while below is stamped the word for “include”. On two sides of the “dragon pond”, sixteen words that made up four phrases are engraved onto this instrument and filled up with golden paint. The rough translation of these phrases is “Huge riverbed greeting autumn, the cold river printing out the moon. Everything is unhurried, the lonely Chinese parasol split apart in melancholy.”

  1. Jade Penchant of the Highest Heavens

Appearance & Characteristics:

The entire body of this instrument is predominantly covered by a pattern similar to that on the torso of a snake and occasionally by the type of broken lines that appear among cow fur. Its back is covered by broken lines that are protruding upwards like sword blades. Consequently, every few years, the musician who owned this instrument must sand down such protrusions so that it would not affect the quality of the sound that this instrument produces. The engravings found inside this instrument point to its being made around the middle of the Tang dynasty.

  1. Spring Thunder

Appearance & Characteristics:

The name of this instrument is carved onto its back in green. On the two sides of its ‘dragon pond’, there are inscriptions of two separate sayings that praise its sound. Sounds produced from this instrument is deep and clear at the same time. It is crafted in the Tang dynasty by a famous craftsman of such instruments.

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