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Ancient instrument strikes a chord with music lovers

Updated: Aug 16, 2023 China Daily Print
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Enthusiasts learn how to play guqin during a training course held in Nanping, Fujian province, on July 30. HUANG JIEMIN/FOR CHINA DAILY

CHONGQING — During a gathering of amateur guqin players in Chongqing, Southwest China, numerous attendees eagerly lined up for a chance to play a tune on an instrument dating back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

The venue soon filled with the soul-stirring notes of this quaint musical instrument — a traditional seven-stringed zither — showcasing the generous spirit of Jian Guochuan, a 56-year-old entrepreneur from Taiwan, who shared his treasured guqin with the enthusiasts.

"Many claimed my act runs counter to the principle of protecting the cultural relic, as they worry that the guqin could sustain damage," Jian said. "I believe that the ancient heritage can only truly realize its value when the sound of this instrument resonates with a wider audience."

The guqin has existed for over 3,000 years, and it represents China's foremost solo musical instrument tradition. Its music was listed as an intangible cultural heritage in 2008, which helped unlock the passion of many to learn the ancient instrument.

Jian was one of them. His interest in the instrument grew after he listened to an album by Guan Pinghu, a famous guqin master. Jian started playing the instrument in his 50s and embarked on a journey to look for collectible items across China.

To his disappointment, he quickly discovered that many collectors lacked the ability to play the guqin themselves, resulting in many being stored away in warehouses. He even came across some of the instruments lying in a state of utter dilapidation, which pained him deeply.

With the aim of preserving and utilizing the centuries-old relics more effectively, Jian began learning how to restore the instrument under the guidance of revered guqin repair expert Zheng Dexuan.

"Even the slightest damage often requires at least five months' repair work," Jian said. He added that he spends entire days hunched over the workbench in his studio restoring instruments, and to date, he has collected and repaired more than 20.

In 2019, he launched a cultural program, organizing periodic gatherings of guqin lovers and arranging training courses to teach the art of playing this precious instrument. Jian is not the only person dedicated to the mission of sharing the timeless and captivating melody of the guqin.

Wang Xi, one of Jian's guqin teachers who also teaches at the School of Music at Southwest University in Chongqing, organizes concerts and gatherings for local guqin enthusiasts. Wang has taught the instrument to more than 400 people, including her college students on campus, office workers and even some school children.

As an inheritor of the intangible heritage, Wang considers it her duty to promote guqin culture and raise awareness of this invaluable musical instrument.

Li Hao, a 19-year-old student majoring in music education at the university in Chongqing, eagerly enrolled in Wang's guqin lessons during his first year at the college.

"Learning this traditional musical instrument is incredibly cool because traditional Chinese culture will always remain a trendsetter," Li said, adding that he hopes to become a teacher at a primary or middle school in the future.

"I hope to make use of my knowledge to encourage more youngsters to learn and fall in love with guqin culture."

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