The ruan (阮) or moon guitar is a four-stringed Chinese instrument similar to the pipa. It is also sometimes called the qin pipa (秦琵琶) and ruanxian (阮咸).
The most common ruan is the zhongruan (中阮) or tenor ruan. The bass ruan (大阮) is also fairly common; less frequently heard are the soprano (高音阮), alto (小阮) and contrabass: Diyinruan (低音阮) versions. Read more
Perhaps no musical instrument is more evocative of China than the erhu (二胡), but its origins are in central Asia: The erhu is one of several instruments including gaohu, zhuihu and jinghu that were historically known as “huqin” (barbarian’s fiddle) or “xiqin”.
The erhu became a common accompaniment to opera in the Ming and Qing dynasties. In the early 20th Century, compositions for erhu by Hua Yanjun (1893-1950) and Liu Tianhua (1895-1932) gave the instrument a respectable solo repertoire.
In this video Liu Hong introduces the erhu and plays the classic folk tune “Running River” (江河水).
I lived in the far west of China in Xinjiang from 2006 to 2010, and I was captivated by the musical heritage of the Uyghur people. Much of their history and entertainment revolve around gatherings of song and dance, and their most popular instrument is a stringed lute known as the rawap. Read more
The dizi (笛子) is one of China’s oldest instruments. Similar- though not identical to- the Western flute, the dizi probably originated around 8,000 years ago and remains ubiquitous in contemporary China. Early dizi were made from bone but bamboo became the most material. Read more
‘Playing the pipa behind the back’ is a special kind of Chinese gongfu that expresses flying in heaven at Dunhuang. [See image of pipa player from Mogao caves at Dunhuang]
The road to industrialization with Chinese characteristics was taken by Mao Zedong after imitating the Soviets for 8 years, when he threw away the crutch and stood independently. The most unique aspect of that was the reverse method of strengthening agriculture in order to speed up heavy industry: this an example of ‘playing the pipa behind the back’ studied from life. Read more
The guzheng is a 21-stringed zither that has been played in China – in one form or another – for about two thousand years. Aside from having 21 strings (compared to the guqin‘s 7 strings), the guzheng’s other major difference from the guqin is that there are bridges: This means that the left hand can change pitches by bending the strings up and down, whereas the guqin changes pitches by a horizontal motion like a slide guitar. Read more
The pipa (琵琶) is a pear-shaped type of lute with four strings. It’s one of the most common Chinese musical instruments – varieties of pipa have been played in China for about two thousand years. Like many instruments now considered Chinese, its origins are in central Asia. Read more
In 1977 NASA sent Voyager I into deep space to explore the great beyond. The spacecraft contained a 12-inch copper disc titled “Sounds of the Earth”, featuring “greetings from the People of Earth in 60 languages, and natural sounds such as ocean surf, thunder [and] chirping birds.”
Representing China among the 50 musical examples from around the world was a piece for the seven-stringed zither, the guqin. Called “Flowing Waters” (流水), the piece was performed by the late guqin master Guan Pinghu. Read more
Take a hike on a mountainous section of wild Great Wall, and enjoy organic family farm cooking, within easy reach of Beijing. Book online.
Great Wall Fresh is a Danwei social project to use the Internet to enable farmers in rural Hebei and Beijing to become green tourism entrepreneurs.
Sinica is a weekly podcast about current affairs in China, hosted by Kaiser Kuo and Jeremy Goldkorn with a variety of guests drawn from Beijing's resident and transient community of journalists, China scholars and industry experts.