General, Uninformative Mentions

a.k.a. Why I started this Project

Jump to: In Print | On the Web

As I visited libraries, scored digital archives, and sought out circumstantial references I was disappointed by how rarely the guzheng made it into mass-market books. How little you ask? Behold a sampling of print and web references! Romanizations are original unless they are inside [square brackets]. This isn't absolutely every mention I've found, but these are the most informative.

In Print

1848: "The Middle Kingdom : a survey of the geography, government, education, social life, arts, and history of the Chinese Empire and its inhabitants", Volume 2, Chapter 16, Section on Musical Instruments (Page 100)

There are other instruments similar to the [qin] one with thirty, and another with thirteen strings, played with plectrums. [Likely a reference to both the se and an early zheng].


1874: "Short Notes on Chinese Instruments of Music", section of a larger book, N.B. Denny (Page  112)

筝 written “chang” and called “The small lute”. 'Originally a 12-stringed instrument, but, latterly, one kwong-hsin 蒙恬 [Méngtián] introduced a 13th. “The upper surface of the chang is round to represent heaven, the bottom flat to represent the earth, and the interior is hollow.' The instrument is now-a-days much used by blind beggars.


1884: "China Imperial Maritime Customs II - Special Series No. 6 Chinese Music", J.A. Van Aalst (page 64)

No. 21—The Tseng () is exactly the same as the se in form and principle; but it is smaller and has only 14 strings, all elevated on movable bridges. It is used in preference to the se at imperial receptions and on joyful occasions. The notation is identical with that of the se.

[Note: the character shown next to "Tseng" in the text appears to be a squished compound of 糸爭 (Mì zhēng) with mì as the left side of the character and zhēng as the right.]


1904: "Things Chinese or Notes connected with China", J Dyer Ball, 4th edition (page 411)

"Some of the stringed instruments are also more ancient; there are a number of lutes [zithers], guitars, and violins, some of the latter with the bow passing between the strings."


1908: "List of the Musical and Other Sound-Producing Instruments of the Chinese", A.C. Moule (Page 111)

3. CHÊNG(1) (TCHENG) 筝. A smaller kind of she [se]. Engel (p. 182) has : "Tche. Wood mounted with bone. Sixteen thin brass wires. L. 3 ft., 2 1/2 in. W. 8 1/2 in." The Rev. F. W. Galpin has a specimen, purchased perhaps at Hongkong, with fourteen brass wires.(2) The instrument shops at Hangchow, however, say that it has properly fifteen silk strings. At Peking a pair of Chêng has been seen, each 5 or 6 feet long and with fourteen silk strings.

The Chêng seems to differ from the Shé chiefly in the depth of the body, which is 4 or 5 inches for an instrument about 4 feet long. Van Aalst says: "[quotes Van Aalst above, 1884]" The Shuo Wên describes it as a stringed instrument with a bamboo body. A note in the music section of the Shih Chi also mentions bamboo, but with reference probably to quite a different Chêng. Another old book says : 'A sort of Shé, originally with twelve strings, but now with thirteen '.-K'ang Hsi. (see Plates X. and XI.)

(1) This must not be confused with Cheng, the French spelling of Shêng (III B.b.2) 1. Chêng often appears as Tseng in European books.

(2) Compare also Brussels Catalogue, 150. The instrument there described and figured has fourteen brass strings; and also a vibrating wire inside it. The small size of this specimen, less than 39 inches long, and the shape, which is more like the Ch'in than the Shê, suggest that the wire- strung Cheêng is a southern instrument distinct from that found at Hangchow or Peking. A similar instrument in the same collection (No. 761) is from Tonkin; and five of such instruments (played by women) appear in a photograph of an Annamese band. Tsai Yii evidently intended to indicate the northern silk-strung instrument by the name Chêng.


1958: "Nagel's Encyclopedia-Guide China" Section on Chinese Art (page 253)

The qin: a seven-stringed lute, and one of the oldest instruments. It looks like a flat narrow wooden box, about 4 feet long, covered in black lacquer, with seven strings.

The se and the zheng: different varieties of the qin. They had different numbers of strings from one period to another. The se had from 16 to 50 strings, and the zheng from 13 to 16. A little bridge under each string regulates its pitch. The zheng is popular today.

The pi pa...[etc]


1960: "A General Handbook of China, Volume 1" by Human Relations Area Files, Inc/Yale University, Chapter on Artistic and Intellectual Expression, Section II-A-4-C-2, "Plucked Strings" (There are no page numbers)

[After 440 words on the qin and 130 words on the se, we get:]

Cheng: a small kind of se also tuned to the five-tone scale. It usually has about fifteen or sixteen strings.


1982: "The Cambridge Encyclopedia of China", Section on Musical Instruments

Of the instruments used in Zhou times, the zither qin - originally probably five-stringed but later seven-stringed - has become the most refined musical instrument of China. The 26-stringed zither se is no longer in use, but its smaller version, the 13-stringed zither zheng (an ancestor of the Japanese koto) survives and is particularly popular in southern and southwestern China. The mouth-organ sheng...[etc]


1999: "Encyclopedia of China: The Essential Reference to China, Its History and Culture"

A 26-stringed zither-like instrument called a se used in ancient China is no longer played. However, a 13-stringed zither called a zheng (cheng) is still played in southern and southwestern China. It is the prototype of the Japanese musical instrument called the koto, which performs a comparable role in Japan to the qin in China. See also LITERATI; WANG WEI.

This book also contains my favorite type of reference, what I call "The researcher's &@#-$@%* it!"

ZITHER: See Qin.


Teases that didn't mention the guzheng, but should have!:

1898: "Paper on Chinese Music", Mrs. Timothy Richard, (Page 20)
Shallow overview of music in general; even the qin received barely a mention.

1913: "Some aspects of Chinese Music and Some Thoughts and Impressions on Art Principles in Music", G.P. Green
Pages 50-55 touch on the qin and se but don't mention other zithers.

On the Web

I've mentioned elsewhere that the internet is a desert in sore need of an English guzheng oasis. What do I mean? For starters, let's look at what you get if you type "guzheng" and some generic top level domains:

  • San Francisco Guzheng Music Society

  • redirects to, a storefront. They ship out of Canada, I think.

  • empty, parked since 2005.

Most other combinations are empty (.info, .biz, .international, etc).

Honorable mention: - Chinese language only, but goodness is there a lot of guzheng going on!

Now, what would you find if you did a general search on "guzheng"? Here's a sample of what I find when searching through Google (though it will be changed depending on where you are searching from and your own internet history).

  • - An online museum hosted by ASZA, a music production company whose artists include Mei Han, author of the 2013 thesis.

  • - Storefront for Eason Music, a company in Singapore. I doubt their claim of being "the sole distributor of Shanghai Dunhuang 'Yun' Brand" guzhengs, though perhaps they mean in Singapore. They made an informative video on picks and nails. Other links to their content marketing efforts abound.

  • - Storefront, browsing ebay listings for guzhengs

  • - Artist's website for Liu Fang. Extension of her other site,

  • - Storefront.

  • Storefront, run by Carol Chang, whom I cited for her discussion of wood used in the guzheng

  • - Enthusiast site with brief introduction to the guzheng

And after that's it's pretty much sound samples, music videos, more storefronts, artists, and the occasional app. With most of these informational tidbits just a few paragraphs long, you can see why I was hungry for more!