Guzheng Schools and Styles

guzheng Schools and styles, liúpài 流派

Jump to: Shāndōng (山東) | Hénán (河南) | Cháozhōu (潮州) | Hakka (客家, Mandarin: kèjiā) | Zhèjiāng (浙江) | Fújiàn (福建)

The 6 main Chinese guzheng liúpài / schools / styles are, in rough order of prominence: Shandong, Henan, Chaozhou, Hakka, Zhejiang, and Fujian. Here are brief overviews on their origin, example songs, and techniques they are famous for. Help me add more information by sharing what you know!


The Shandong region has long held strong musical traditions. Shandong zheng found its stride as a member of the popular string quartets called xiánsuǒ 弦索 which is thought to have been introduced in the early Qing dynasty, perhaps in the 1600s or 1700s. The other three instruments were either a pipa, xiqin, and yangqin (lute, fiddle, and dulcimer) or pipa, sanxian, and huqin (two lutes and a fiddle). Most zheng-only pieces from the region are solo renditions of these quartet pieces.

The quartets were commonly paired with narrative singing called qínshū 琴书. Accordingly, the left hand of the zheng is focused on mimicking how the vocalists sing. The right hand, meanwhile, puts its energy into short tremolos by the thumb and descending glissando.

“The Shandong school of playing is glamorous...melodic lines often rise and fall dramatically...Its music is characteristically light and refreshing.” (Wong 2005)

The music is noted for its "earthy" style and "flowers", embellishments of descending and ascending glissandi around the main melodic notes.” (Han 2000)

The songs of the time could be played individually or as part of one of ten large suites. These ten were called the shí dàtào (十大套), “The Ten Great Suites”. Unfortunately all but the first great suite have been lost (though my sources don’t say what “lost” means).

Example Shandong Songs

  • The Breeze Blows Gently in the Bamboo Forest 清风弄竹 Qīngfēng nòng zhú

  • The Swan Goose Calls in the Night 鸿雁夜啼 hóngyàn yè tí

  • High Mountain and Flowing Water 高山流水 gāoshānliúshuǐ

  • Autumn Moon over the Han Palace 汉宫秋月 hàn gōng qiūyuè

  • Lady Zhao Jun’s Lament 昭君怨 zhāojūn yuàn

  • Song of the Soaring Phoenix 凤翔歌 fèngxiáng gē

  • Big Ten Beat 大 八板 dà bā bǎn

  • Four Variations 四段锦 sì duàn jǐn

  • Bamboo Swaying in the Wind 风摆翠竹 fēng bǎi cuì zhú

  • Tinkling Bells in the Still of the Night 夜静銮铃 yèjìng luánlíng

Shandong Techniques

Hua (glissando) according to a strict beat, dianyin. Yinyin and huayin as well, although huayin in descending is used less frequently than in Henan. 勾搭 gouda and exaggerated 按滑 anhua (sliding portamento).


Henan zheng traces its history back to the area around Kaifeng city in the eastern part of Henan province, around the 1400s or 1500s. Zheng were largely used in string trios alongside a pipa and sanxian (two styles of lute). Wind instruments would sometimes join in to create larger ensembles. All of these groups were referred to as xiansuo. Over the centuries the musical tastes and regions continued to evolve, ultimately becoming what was known as dadiao quzi, or major tunes.

Henan province borders Shandong, leading to a great similarity between the styles.

Henan pieces possess a fiery and rough musical personality (Wong 2005) and is distinctive in its leaping melodic contour, an imitation of the singing style of dadiao quzi. (Han 2000)

Example Henan Songs

  • 闺怨 Gui Yuan (Lament of a Maiden)

  • 打雁 Da Yan (Hunting Wild Geese)

  • 陈杏元和番 Chen Xingyuan Hefan (Chen Xingyuan Is Married to a King of the Hun / Reconciliation with the Barbarians / Chen Xingyuan’s Matrimonial Alliance with the Barbarians) {Yes, these are all actual translations}

  • 陈杏元落院 Chen Xingyuan Luoyuan (Cheng Xingyuan Landing in the General’s Yard)

  • 天下大同 Tian Xia Da Tong (Universal Harmony)

  • 新开板 Xin Kai Ban

  • 高山流水 Gao Shan Liu Shui (High Mountains and Flowing Waters)

  • 昭君和番 Zhao Jun He Fan (Zhao Jun and the Barbarians)

  • 落院 Luo Yuan (The Courtyard)

  • 上楼 Shang Lou (Climbing Stairs)

  • 下楼 Xia Lou (Descending Stairs)

  • 百鸟朝凤 Bainiao Chaofeng (Hundred Birds Honoring the Phoenix)

  • 苏武思乡 Su Wu Sixiang (Su Wu Longing for Home)

  • 哭周瑜 Ku Zhou Yu (Weeping for Zhou Yu)

Henan Techniques

Copious huayin (pitch slides) in a variety of intensities and lengths; yao (tremolo or rolls, think drum roll) either performed only with the thumb plucking the same string with the finger joint or by twisting the wrist; dianyin (mordent) a fast sequence of notes such as 212 or 232. Vibratos tend to be quick and techniques tend to be more forceful with larger movements. There is also “a rapid descending portamento accomplished by the right thumb playing a rapid roll while moving along the length of a single string creating variations in timbre and dynamics, while the left hand simultaneously releases the pressed string with a rapid vibrato.” (Han 2013)


“Teochew(Chaozhou) zheng playing uses greater movement compared to Hakka zheng playing, and its sounds are brighter than Hakka pieces.” (Wong 2005)

“Chaozhou zheng music is characterized by its highly embellished melodies, baban form in increasing tempo variations, and its distinctive modes.” (Han 2000, see footnote 19 p. 16)

“More subtle right hand technique varying placement and what part of the the nail or finger strikes the string to get more nuance and different sounds.” (Han 2000 p 19)

Example Chaozhou Songs

  • 寒鸦戏水 Han Ya Xi Shui (Jackdaw Playing o’r the Water/Winter Crows playing Over a Stream)

  • 秋思 Qiu Si (Autumn Longing)

  • 黄 鹏词 Huang Peng Ci

  • 昭君怨 Zhaojun Yuan (Lady Zhaojun’s Lament)

  • 柳青娘 Liuqing Niang (Madam Liuqing)

  • 平沙落雁 Ping Sha Luo Yan (Wild Geese Alighting on the Sandy Shore)

  • 小桃红 Xiao Tao Hong

  • 锦上添花 Jinshang Tianhua (Adding Flowers to Colourfulness)

  • 大八板 Da Baban (Great Eight Beats)

Chaozhou Techniques

Yinyin, ascending dianyin. Huayin, especially descending, used even less, and shorter if present. Descending glissando (hua) mainly lead ins to other notes, not strictly in time to a beat. “Teochew zheng pieces have irregular beats, and alternate between hard and soft taps on the strings. These taps are executed quickly while playing, and provide sounds of different thickness and length.” (Wong 2005 page 82)


“Hakka melodies are similar to but less highly embellished than those of the neighboring Chaozhou school.” (Han 2000)

The repertoire is divided into “‘stiff string’ and ‘soft string’ pieces.

“Stiff string pieces are light-hearted, plain and smooth flowing, while soft string musical pieces have fragile beats and are classic and refined.” (Wong 2005)

Example Hakka Songs

  • 崖山哀 Yashan Ai (A Lamentation on the Mountain Cliffs/Anguish at the Cliff)

  • 翡翠登潭 Fei Cui Deng Tan (A Halcyon Skimmed over the Deep Pool)

  • 出水莲 Chu Shui Lian (Lotus Blossoms Emerging from the Water)

  • 散楚词 San Chu Ci (Scattered Words)

  • 玉连环 Yu Lian Huan (Jade Ring)

  • 千里缘 Qian Li Yuan (Thousands of Miles)

  • 将军令 Jiang Jun Ling (The General’s Command)

  • 蕉窗夜雨 Jiaochuang Yeyu (The Night Rain Tapping on the Window)

  • Xunfeng Qu (Mild Breeze Melody/Tune of Warm Breeze)

  • 昭君怨 Zhaojun Yuan (Sorrow Of Madam Zhaojun)

  • 小桃红 Xiaotao Hong (Red Little Peach)

  • 一点金 Yi Dian Jin (A Piece of Gold)

Hakka Techniques

Huayin, frequent. Rouyin and extend use of measure-long sequences in characteristic patterns. Hua glissandos present but used “economically”.


Mainly part of ensembles.

“In my opinion these idiosyncratic Zhejiang zheng techniques create a more powerful sound and greater versatility than other zheng styles, which made the instrument an ideal choice for creating new compositions following the artistic criteria under communist political agenda in the 1950s. In addition, techniques of plucking with two hands opened the door to adopting western influenced techniques, such as playing chords and arpeggios, and compositional methods, such as the use of counterpoint.” (Han 2013)

Example Zhejiang Songs

  • 将军令 Jiang Jun Ling (The Order of the General / The General’s Command)

  • 月儿高 Yue’er Gao (The High Moon)

  • 海清拿鹅/海清拿天鹅 Hai Qing nahe (The Vulture Snatched a Crane)

  • Ba Wang Xie Jia (The King of the Chu Taking off His Coat of Mail)

  • 灯月交辉 Dengyue Jiaohui ("Moonbeams and Bright Light")

  • 四合如意 Sihe Ruyi (Quadra Harmony and Gratification)

  • 云庆 Yun Qing (Cloud Celebration)

Zhejiang Techniques

Based in plucking techniques of other instruments like Pipa. Yao (yaozhi, rolling, tremolos) and hua (glissando) are popular and unique. Both are longer, extended usages. Sometimes played together, right hand tremolo, left glissando past and around it. Also payin (arpeggio on harmonic interval.)” Typical techniques include yao (using the right thumb to play long tremolo) and sidian (four points), also known as kuai sidian (fast four points), a group of four sixteenth notes played by different combinations of the right thumb and the first and second fingers in fast tempi, as well two hands plucking.” Han 2013


Also known as the Min or Minnan school. Located around Yunxiao county, Zhaoăn county, and other southwestern counties of Fujian. Many songs are borrowed from Chaozhou and Hakka schools.

“Fujian zheng performance is closer to that of Hakka than Chaozhou, with an emphasis on simplicity and fewer embellishments, yet the repertoire more closely resembles Chaozhou melodically and in piece titles.” Han (2013)

Example Fujian Songs

  • 无意凭栏 Wuyi Pinglan (Casually Leaning on the Rail)

  • 蜻蜓点水 Qingting Dianshui (A Dragonfly Touching Lightly on the Water)

  • Tan Gu Luan (Sighing Over Widowhood)

  • 蛟龙吐珠 Jiaolong Tuzhu (Water Dragon Spewing Pearls)

Fujian Techniques

Idiosyncratic performance techniques include the right middle finger plucking inward consecutively on two adjacent strings, and rapidly muting a string with the edge of the right hand after plucking to create staccato.