On Chinese Zither

by Wei DeiDong & Wei DeiLiang


Guzheng (Chinese Zither) is a traditional musical instrument excellent both in sound and melody. Within a period of less than one century, from the end of Qing Dynasty and the beginning of the Republic of China to now, the Guzheng has made a quite outstanding progress in comparison to other traditional instruments.  Firstly, the progress is benefited from the energetic advocation and popularization work of the advanced ones and the older generations. Secondly, the progress should give the credit to that the zither has the "intrinsic natural beauty, which is hard to be unworthy of" so that it is "loved by people just being plucked on trial." The enchanting fascination derived from its natural graceful bearing is hard to be resisted.  Due to its abundant and extensive connotation profound and wonderful artistic conception, magnificent and splendid timbre and rapidly increased musical works, it has become the most prominent one in the Chinese traditional music field, and exhibits a thriving and flourishing tendency.  It has mingled the playing technique of multiple Chinese and Western musical instruments, such as pipa, guqin, piano, harp, guitar, etc., but has still retained its original features.  This is the point that why the learner is easy to learn but hard to mastered.  
Because it is easy to learn, so there are so many learners.  Similarly, because it is hard to be skilled, so the learners should take a longer time.  At present, the playing technique of guzheng has been weeded through the old to bring forth the new periodically, and the distinctive features of zither music of different musical group have been merged continuously.  So, it has been more extensively loved by the people of various strata, especially the intellecturals of the present age.

The Chinese art, especially the art and music of men of letters, has never been punctilious at depicting objects isolatedly. It has always surpassed the limited reality to produce certain profound and extensive philosophic effect, and attain the delighted Buddhist realm of the integration of God's will and human affairs.  Haven't you seen the quietly elegant Chinese painting on the wall?  There is a hill, a stone, a flower and a bird, all small ones. Setting off by the green pines and bamboos, in the thatched cottage surrounded by loose fence, there is an eminent recluse having refined manner.  He fixes his eyes on the weeping poplars and a cluster of wild willows nearby.  In the distance, there are several rows of flying wild geese and distant mountain. On his knees, there is a seven-stringed guqin of classic elegance.

A sentiment is quiently overflown from the guqin. It is a state of mind that is hard to be conceived by one song.  It seems that there is a certain implicit beauty which is unmeasurable, indescribable and nontransferable.  However, you cannot but realize the solemn and stirring feeling of the life dispersed from the deepness, quientness, lightness and elegance. So that, there would be a meticulous and feeble disturbance by fits in your life and soul.  It would be a complicated and wonderful state of mind in series and a mixed feeling of grief and joy in waves.

Having been handed down through the ages the timbre of guzheng is clear and melodious, noble
and unsullied, refined and elegant, sweet and beautiful.  It is full of romantic charm. The arrangement of the strings of guzheng makes it easily produce the magnificent phrases of the pentatonic scale. It seems as if the audiences hear the sound of waterfall or flowing stream, or the sound of great waves in the river or sea. The various performing techniques of the left hand (such as slight vibrating, kneading, skimming, sliding, etc.) makes the guzheng be able to depict the slight changes of human feeling more meticulously and ingeniously. No matter of the feeling of complaining or relating, the feeling like poem or picture, or the intense emotion of impassion or sorrowfulness, the guzheng can depict all of them incisively and vividly. Moreover, the unique charms and distinguishing features of guzheng address with the aesthetic mentality of our nation.  
By means of guzheng, the implicit beauty, the solemn and stirring feeling, the implications and the overtones can all be unbosomed easily, ingeniously and appropriated.

Mr. Ji Kang (225-264 A.D., the great writer, thinker, and musician of the three Kingdoms) said: Of all musical instruments, the virtue of guqin (a seven-stringed plucked instrument in some ways  similar to the guzheng) is at the most.  However, "Of all music, the guzheng music is the most wonderful." The guqin music has the ancient flavour, but the guzheng music shows no disloyalty. Should the bosom friend appreciate, the guzheng would transmit the graceful melody to him. Hardships in playing guzheng make nothing, but the scarcity of bosom friends would be grievous. In "Ode to Guzheng, in the tune of Recalling Jiangnan, " Mr. Cui Huaibao wrote:

"My lifelong aspiration is that,
I wish to be the zither of the musical instruments,
So that I would be able to approach the beautiful hands of beauty.
Oh, having produced the lovely music on her silk skirt,
I would be honored even I die."

In the poem "Playing Guzheng at night," the poet Mr. Bai Juyi (772-846 A.D., the poet of Tang Dynasty) wrote:

"In the moonlight, there are violet sleeves and red strings,
Being sentimentalized by her own playing, she's mute with her head drooping,
When the strings are still, the motion of fingers ceases, and the sound is pausing,
There are the distinctive complicated deep feelings."

It's right. The guqin music is harmonious and moderate, with appropriate ancient flavor. The guzheng music is clear and melodious, elegant, sober and calm. The Chinese parasol and earth. The guzheng has witnessed and experienced the inconstancy of human relationships, and gone through all kinds of hardships and difficulties for hundreds of years.  Of course, there would be the distinctive complicated deep feelings.  Let's listen to the sorrowful Complaint of the "song of guqin"

"Music! Music! Music!
You have been unfaithful, unfaithful, really unfaithful,
You have let me down till now.
I remember the singing in low voice and drinking with slightly filled cup in those days.
A song was worthy of a thousand gold coins.
Now, I have been thrown at the back of an old wall,
There have been only autumn wind, weeds on the wilderness, and white clouds,
Broken bridge and flowing water, but no old friend,
It is plaintive and desolate,
It is plaintive and desolate."

Actually, we should not forget the silent, solemn and dignified existence of guzheng, but should enjoy it, love it, know it, and develop it.