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Guqin, Chinese Music

A guqin is a typical and traditional Chinese musical instrument and belongs in the zither family. The literal meaning of guqin is ancient stringed instrument but it is also referred to as "Qixianqin" (seven-stringed instrument) as it has seven strings.


Legend says that the guqin is over 5,000 years old and was created by the legendary figures Fuxi, Shennong and Huang Di (the Yellow Emperor). The first written record of the guqin is nearly 3,000 years old and the first real guqin was found in tombs for people living approximately 2,500 years ago. guqins and guqin music were inherited to generation after generation since ancient China and in 2003, Guqin music was listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.


In Chinese history, the guqin is regarded as a symbol of elegance and civilization. Phrases used often in Chinese language include "a gentleman doesn't leave his guqin without a good reason" and "the most important things in life are books and a guqin". Literati of each stage of Chinese history wrote a lot of poems about the guqin and there were also many pieces of literature about famous guqin players, guqin techniques, guqin theories and guqin-making, etc.

The music produced by the guqin is pure and intoxicating. Playing the guqin is not only a form of entertainment or a skill, but it's also said that it improves your state of mind and influences your temperament in an elegant manner. The guqin is regarded as the father of Chinese music.

Ancient story
During the spring and autumn in the Warring States Period, Yu Boya, a scholar, was an expert gugin player. One day his teacher brought him to mountain Penglai. Yu Boya walked along a pathway and saw splendid sceneries with a spectacular waterfall and a clear spring among the mountains. Amazed by the fantastic natural scenery, Yu Boya started to play his guqin and created several excellent pieces of music. Then his teacher told him the nature was just the immortal guqin teacher they were looking for.

After this, Yu Boya's guqin technique became perfect and he named the pieces he created in the mountain "High Mountain" and "Running Water". People appreciated his wonderful music and guqin technique, but nobody truly understood the meaning of his music.

Once, Yu Boya travelled by boat and was forced to berth the boat along the riverside due to strong winds. Facing the bright moon and clear river surface, Yu Boya started to play his guqin. A woodcutter named Zhong Ziqi then jumped out from the bushes and told Yu Boya how much he loved his music and told him of his adoration and deep knowledge of guqin music. Yu Boya then played the "High Mountain" and "Running Water" for him that amazed Xhong Ziqi and caused him to cry out "what a magnificent mountain". Yu Boya was delighted with this reaction and claimed that even though he had a lot of friends, Zhong Ziqi was his only true friend. Their relationship blossomed and they both agreed to meet at the same place the next Mid-Autumn Day.

On the Mid-Autumn Day of the next year, Yu Boya went to the riverside and waited for Zhong Ziqi. However, he was told that Zhong Ziqi had passed away. With extreme grief, Yu Boya cried and played a piece of guqin music for Zhong Ziqi by his tomb. In an act of rage he cut his guqin strings with a knife, saying "who can I play the guqin for now that Zuqi is gone". He then proceeded in smashing his guqin into the ground.

The story of Boya destroying his guqin for Ziqi became a symbol of deep friendship, and is also the orgin of the Chinese word "Zhi Yin". This phrase literally means a person that deeply understands one's music and now refers to a good friend.