Learn More about the Traditional Chinese Instruments and the Musical Culture in China

Barsbold Baatarsuren
Barsbold Baatarsuren Travel tips May 31 min read
Traditional Chinese Instruments

Chinese are known for their enthralling music and mesmerizing melodies. Among China's many popular traditional musical instruments, the famous erhu, pipa, and guzheng stringed instruments, and also dizi flutes, are the most popular today and play a vital role in the music culture in China.

The stringed instruments were modified when they were imported from other countries. The incredible melodies of these Chinese instruments often tint travelers’ memories of their encounters in China. We are also sure that once you hear these beautiful memories, it’s hard to forget about these magical melodies.

Guzheng  古箏

The guzheng, often known as the Chinese zither, is a plucked string instrument with a 2,500-year history in China. It was China's most popular instrument. The modern guzheng has 21, 25, or 26 strings and measures 64 inches (1.6 metres) in length, whereas the earliest instrument recovered so far has 13 strings and was dated to circa 500 BC, possibly during the Warring States period (475–221 BC).


On one or both hands, Guzheng players frequently use fingerpicks made of plastic, resin, tortoiseshell, or ivory. Many people mix up the guzheng and guqin, which are both Chinese zithers with seven strings and no adjustable bridges.

Pipa  琵琶

The pipa is a four-stringed Chinese musical instrument that falls within the plucked category. The instrument features a unique pear-shaped hardwood body with a varied number of frets ranging from 12 to 26 and is sometimes referred to as the Chinese lute. The pipa is one of China's most popular instruments, having been played for about two thousand years.


This instrument is associated with a lot of music and stories in China. The most well-known is about a young lady named Wang Zhaojun. Wang Zhaojun is reported to have set out on a voyage north to marry a nomad lord.

On a lovely autumn morning, she left her hometown on horseback, and the horse neighed, leaving Zhaojun terribly unhappy and unable to control her feelings. She began to play gloomy melodies on a stringed instrument as she sat in the saddle. Hearing the music and seeing the beautiful young woman riding the horse, a flock of geese flying southward forgot to flap their wings and fell to the ground. Zhaojun earned the moniker "fells geese" or "drops birds" after it. Zhaojun's Lament () was later named after the tune she played on the saddle, and the stringed instrument was typically represented as a pipa.

In China, a poem known as Pipa xing is also well-known. It was written by Bai Juyi, a famous poet, and it depicted a pipa performance during a fortuitous encounter on the Yangtze River with a female pipa musician. The poem's most famous lines describe the sound of pipa: "The bold strings rattled like splatters of sudden rain, the fine strings hummed like lovers' whispers, chattering and pattering, pattering and pattering, like pearls, great and small, on a jade plate fall."

Erhu  二胡

The erhu is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument, specifically a spike fiddle, sometimes known as the Southern Fiddle. It is also known as the Chinese violin or a Chinese two-stringed fiddle in the Western world.


Two Springs Reflect the Moon, written by Wuxi folk artist Ah Bing, whose original name was Hua Yanjun, a blind street musician, is the most well-known piece of erhu music in China. Two Springs Reflect the Moon is an exquisite example of Chinese instrumental folk music originating from the heart of a small-town folk musician, and it portrays the composer's hidden anguish at having tasted to the full the bitterness of existence in the old society.

Guqin  古琴

The guqin is a plucked seven-string zither-like Chinese musical instrument. It's also known as the qixian-qin (seven-stringed zither). It, like the guzheng above, has been played since ancient times and has long been regarded as an instrument of remarkable complexity and elegance by scholars and literati, as well as being associated with the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius. It is sometimes referred to as "the father of Chinese music" or "the instrument of the sages" by the Chinese.


Guqin is most famous for being associated with Chinese singer Bo Ya () and his storey of ideal Chinese friendship. Bo Ya was supposed to be a good qin player, whereas Zhong Ziqi was said to be an excellent qin listener. Zhong Ziqi could see real mountains and feel rivers and oceans when Bo Ya played the guqin pieces Gao Shan (meaning "high mountains") and Liu Shui (meaning "flowing water"). When Ziqi died, Bo Ya shattered his qin's strings and vowed never to play the instrument again. As a result, the term Zhiyin (literally, "to know the tone") has come to be used to denote a close and empathetic friend, and the melody of High Mountains Flowing Water has become well-known.

Dizi  笛子

The dizi is a transverse Chinese flute. It's also known as the di or héngdi, and there are other variations, including the qdi and bngdi. It is a commonly utilized Chinese musical instrument in several genres of Chinese folk music, Chinese opera, and the modern Chinese orchestra. The dizi is another popular Chinese instrument since it is simple to produce and transport.


The majority of dizi are constructed of bamboo, but they can also be constructed of different types of wood or even stone. For example, Jade dizi (or yùdi) are popular among both collectors and professional players who seek an instrument with looks to match the quality of their renditions.

Hulusi  葫芦

The hulusi is a Chinese wind instrument with free reeds. It is held vertically, unlike the bamboo instrument above, and has three bamboo pipes that flow through a gourd wind chest; the middle pipe has finger holes, while the outer two are often drone pipes.


The tone of the hulusi is highly clear and mellow, similar to that of a clarinet. It was first used by a number of ethnic minority groups in Yunnan province, and it has since grown in popularity across China.

Dulcimer  扬琴


Dulcimer, a type of strike-stringed instrument, was originally introduced to China at the conclusion of the Ming Dynasty by Persian (an old Arabic country). It takes on the role of the piano in the performance. The strings are struck with two jean bamboos (a type of elastic tiny bamboo hammer).

Liuqin  柳琴


Since the Tang Dynasty, the Liuqin, a plucked stringed musical instrument, has originally appeared in Suzhou, Shandong, and Anhui, and has been one of the stringed instruments with a pear-shaped body. It has a similar appearance, construction, and playing rules to Pipa. The liuqin is frequently heard accompanying traditional Chinese opera.

Lusheng  芦笙


Lusheng is a yellow wind instrument used by the Miao, Yao, and Dong ethnic groups in the southwest. Sheng measure, Sheng tube, reeds, and resonance tube make up Lusheng. People enjoy having Lusheng parties to commemorate their own national festivals because it is a popular musical instrument among ethnic minorities.



Sun is a clay egg-shaped musical instrument with six holes that plays music. In Chinese music history, it was mostly employed for court music. Sun's playing skills are air and tongue blowing, and its performance techniques are fingering techniques.



A Chinese vertical end-blown flute known as Xiao. It's usually made of bamboo and has a top with blow holes. Xiao's performing techniques are comparable to those of the bamboo flute, and the instrument is well suited to playing long, calm, and sad tunes.

Chimes 编钟


Chimes are percussion instruments made of bronze. Chimes are a series of bells that hang from a large bell-cot and are arranged according to different bell tones. The bronze bell will sound different if you knock it with a wooden hammer and bar.

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