Keepers Of tradition
  Introduction        Folk Arts & Heritage Program        Search Archives        Blog
Browse themes:
  passing it on: apprenticeships PreviousNext
Chinese guzheng and gu-qin playing
Shin Yi Yang (foreground) playing the guzheng, Chinese guzheng and gu-qin playing, 2003; Brighton, Massachusetts;
Shin Yi Yang (foreground) playing the guzheng, Chinese guzheng and gu-qin playing, 2003

Brighton, Massachusetts
Apprentice Mei Hung playing for Shin-Yi Yang; Chinese guzheng and gu-qin playing; 2003: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Apprentice Mei Hung playing the gu-qin; Apprenticeship - Chinese gu-qin; 2003:
verticle bar Artist
Shin-Yi Yang
Brighton, MA
Web Site
verticle bar apprentice
Mei Hung
Cambridge, MA
The gu-qin and guzheng are ancient Chinese instruments that are rooted in thousands of years of tradition. Both are plucked instruments belonging to the zither family. Today, the gu-qin is extremely rare, and the modern nylon-string guzheng is rapidly replacing the traditional steel-string guzheng. Massachusetts resident Shin-Yi Yang, a master of both gu-qin and guzheng playing, recognizes that the loss of these musical traditions reflects a great loss to Chinese culture.

The gu-qin, also known as a seven silk string zither, was traditionally played by scholars in ancient Chinese society. Dating back even farther than the guzheng, it was the most important of the four basic art disciplines traditionally practiced by scholars: chess, calligraphy, painting and gu-qin. Scholars played the instrument to express their emotions, and its music also functioned as a tool for inspiration. The calming effect produced by the gu-qin's sound helps to relax the mind, and enhances one's concentration. Because this instrument is played primarily by scholars, it is rarely played in the public domain and is virtually unknown in mainstream Chinese culture. Shin-Yi Yang is one of only a handful of professional gu-qin players in North America.

Mei Hung, executive director of the Chinese Cultural Connection, first heard the soothing music of the gu-qin in a film. She was immediately captivated by its sound, but it was not until many years later that she met Shin-Yi Yang and realized she could learn how to play the instrument. Because it is such a rare instrument, it took over a year for Mei Hung to find a gu-qin and to begin taking lessons. In 2002, Shin-Yi Yang and Mei Hung were awarded a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant.

Although it has a greater range of musical expression than modern nylon-string guzheng, traditional steel-string guzheng is rarely taught in China today. It's presence in Chinese civilization dates back 2,500 years; however, schools do not require students to study this ancient instrument. Of the students who are taught, most are only interested in the folk, contemporary, and quasi-Western styles of playing, rather than traditional techniques.

As a child, Emily Chen was captivated by her mother's stories of ancient China. Unlike many other young music students, she was immediately drawn to the guzheng in her first lesson with Shin-Yi Yang. After five years of instruction, Shin-Yi recognized her student's natural ability to interpret the nuances of traditional guzheng music. The pair was awarded a Traditional Arts Apprenticeship grant in 2007, when Emily was only in tenth grade.
verticle bar Purchase Exhibition Catalogue