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History of Guqin

Roughly around the later periods of the Western Zhou era to the beginning periods of the Eastern Zhou era, the guqin was played by different people and for different purposes after one era transitioned into another. Due to the increase in numbers of the scholarly class, more and more scholars began to play the guqin while singing “ya” (hymns) in the Classic of Poetry as a type of hobby. The qin became known as ya-qins (grace), and famous scholars of that era – such as Confucius, Bo Ya, Zou Ji – became the most famous qin- players. There is a Chinese idiom saying that without a good reason, scholars do not stop practicing the qin. Therefore, the qin gradually became a popular item amongst academics and scholars.

After the Pre-Qin and Han dynasty, the guqin eventually became a necessary instrument for scholars to express themselves, cultivate one’s character, develop their interests and sentiment, and to find others with like interests. It has become so crucial for scholars that the ability to play the guqin is a necessity. The increase in qin players also allowed qin music to become more diverse and rich. Over time, qin music became more societal, ideological and applicable to everyday life. During the period from the Three Kingdoms to the Jin and the Southern and Northern dynasties, the scholars became even more intimate with the qin. Using Ji Kang and Ruan Ji as reference, the Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove were the most symbolic representation of the closeness between scholars and the qin.

Qins gradually went from being a privilege of the temple priests, lords and masters during special occasions to an instrument the scholars, common folk, and the society could enjoy playing in everyday occurrences. This reflected the qin’s artistic value, its unique attractiveness and a timeless artistic vitality. While listening to qin music, Zhuo Wenjun met Sima Xiangru and were thus married happily ever after. Zhuge Liang also played the qin gently, ultimately leading to the successful play of his empty castle tactic, demonstrating the guqin has played a special part in our lives and in past societal conflicts.