Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Top 10 Amazing Obscure Chinese Instruments

Must read

Do you wish to know about Chinese instruments? This article will help you to know all about the top 10 obscure Chinese instruments.

China offered us beautiful cultural music for ages. Their music depicts the dawn of Chinese civilization so well. The evidence of Chinese music dates back to the Zhou Dynasty. At present, the music is still the same with a contemporary feeling.

Chinese instruments go beyond history. There are over thousands still existing. Such musical instruments are divided into eight categories: silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd, and skin.

In this article, you’ll get to know about obscure Chinese instruments that are even unknown to the common public. Let’s have a look at them.

Top 10 Obscure Chinese Instruments

1. Dizi

Chinese instrument

Known as ‘versatile dizi‘ or ‘transverse flute,’ it’s used in different folk music and Chinese opera genres. The instrument is made out of a single piece of bamboo; it belongs to the woodwind category of Chinese instruments, and is also called ‘di’ or ‘Chengdu.’

Apart from folk music, Dizi is also used in modern Chinese opera. This instrument is popular among common people, easy to make, and is handy. Since hengdis are made of bamboo, people often call it Chinese bamboo flute.

Dizi Varies in Color According to Chinese Regions:

  • Purple or violet dizi belong to northern China.
  • Dizi is produced from Suzhou, and Hangzhou uses white bamboo.
  • Chaozhou region uses very slenderly, lightweight, and light-colored bamboo. They emit a lighter tone.

Even though dizi are mostly made of bamboo, you’ll still find fewer ones made of stone or has a wooden body. Several simple flutes a blowing hole and finger holes, while dizi has a unique additional hole, known as Mo King.

A dizi is played using advanced techniques like circular breathing, slides, popped notes, harmonics, multiphonics, and double tonguing. Feng Zicun was a famous dizi player back in the 20th century.

2. Chiba

Chiba is a type of xiao and a vertical Chinese end-blown flute. Contrary to northern xiao, Chiba is more similar to southern xiao. It is one of China’s oldest woodwind instruments.

This instrument is shorter, wider, with an open mouthpiece, slightly conical in shape, and has a root end. Compared to three major types of northern xiao, Chiba closely resembles the Japanese Shakuhachi.

It offers an angle edged for a better breathier sound, similar to shakuhachi. Chiba doesn’t have any ivory inlet and comes with five to eight finger holes, depicting other Chinese xiao designs.

3. Bianzhong

Chinese instrument

An ancient Chinese musical instrument that consists of bronze bells. It is played melodically. Sets of chime bells are used in polyphonic musical instruments, some of them are 2,000 to 3,600.

China is the earliest country to produce and use chime bells. These were hung within a wooden frame and struck with a mallet.

If you use a wooden hammer to beat the bronze bell, it emits a different pitch. The stone chimes are also called bianqiang. These served as an important instrument in China’s ritual in ancient times.

The Chinese instrument is also used in Royal courts. Developed since the Zhou dynasty, it can produce two distinct pitches.

In ancient China, Bian Zhong symbolized wealth and power; only the upper-class people used this instrument. The biggest bell measured 153.4 cm, while the smallest bell measured only 20.3 cm.


Bianzhong belonged to the category of ancient Chinese bells known as Zhong. The structure contains a leaf-shaped cross-section, a concave-shaped rim, and the overall shape expands from top to bottom.

All Bian Zhong are suspended within a wooden frame. It’s one of the best traditional Chinese instruments where the size determines its pitch.

Some are seen suspended at a vertical angle, by a loop, but these are rare. If you ever come across this beauty, don’t forget to click a picture.

4. Di

A bamboo flute that appeared during the 17th and 19th centuries BC in China. It is China’s old wind instrument, most important and common among people.

Di is a traverse flute with great radiance and wide diapason. The sound produced is in very high volume. A reed tissue or bamboo membrane covers the hole in traditional Di, between the mouth hole and six finger holes.

There are different varieties of traditional lengths and construction. This name once meant xiao flutes, but now belong to only traverse flutes.

Two Different Types of Di:

  • The Qu di is 2 feet long; it offers a melodious melody, voluminous, and soft sound.
  • The Bangdi offers a high pitched and more incredible sound. It’s a melody with live rhythms and dramatic characters.

Make sure to use this obscure Chinese instrument, once in your lifetime.

5. Duxianqin

Chinese instrument

The Duxianqin is a Chinese plucked stringed instrument, almost similar to the Vietnamese ‘Dan Bau,’ from which it was originated. It is one of the plucked instruments with only one string.

According to Chinese sources, this instrument belonged to the ethnic groups, the early Vietnamese groups living in China.

Duxianqin has a long-necked body since a large bamboo tube is used, rather than wood; bamboo is more common in Vietnamese.

The Chinese Government termed Duxianqin as an ‘intangible cultural heritage.’ Even today, some of the ethnic groups play this instrument.

It defines song, music, drama, and crafts, a musical piece that can be recorded but can’t be touched or interacted with.

This instrument is widely accepted and enjoyed in China. Many Duxianqin players are spotted playing on a small-scale and large scale in Chinese festivals.

How to Play it?

Harmonics are used while playing Duxianqin; the string’s tension varies with the flexible rod.

Pluck the string with your right hand, control the pitch simultaneously with the left hand, and move the rods to adjust the string’s tension.

The rod determines the pitch, either the rod is turned, towards or away from the player, it bends the pitch to a higher or lower note.

6. Erhu

Chinese instrument

Erhu is a two-string bowed musical instrument, specifically a spiked fiddle referred to as southern fiddle. This bowed instrument is also known as the Chinese violin, or two-stringed Chinese violin, in the Western world.

This Chinese instrument is used in a large orchestra or as solo instruments in small bands. Erhu is popular among various ethnic groups in China.

A very flexible instrument that is used both in traditional and contemporary music such as jazz, pop, and rock. Erhu existed since the Tang Dynasty, as one among the Proto-Mongolic instruments.

It is often termed as the Hu people’s instruments due to its origin from the northwestern regions of China, a region inhabited by nomadic people back in Ancient China.

In 1920, after Liu Tianhua introduced Erhu to Beijing, it served as a popular instrument since then.

Structural Description

The Erhu is made of a long vertical stick. It’s top contains two big tuning pegs. The bottom contains a small resonator body covered with python skin on the front end. From the pegs to the base, two strings are attached.

Small loops of string circulate around the neck. It acts as a nut that pulls strings towards the skin. A wooden bridge is placed in between.

Strings are silk that is twisted. Today they are made of metal. Varieties of dense, heavy hardwood are used to make Erhu.

How is the Sound Produced? 

When bowing the Erhu, a sound is produced through the vibration of the python skin.

Pressing the strings with fingertips, the player stops the string without touching the neck. The player’s left hand is placed on one string.

Erhu’s maximum octave range is three and a half octave, but the normal playing range is two and a half octave.

At present, Erhu holds 14 parts that include Quin tong, Quin pi, Quin gan, Quin tuo, and ten others.

7. Jiahu Bone Flute

Chinese instrument

One of China’s oldest musical instruments that offer primitive music. This earliest wind instrument is 8000 years old, which is 2000 BC. In a literal sense, it’s called the ‘bone flute.’

These bone flutes hallowed out from Neolithic tomb, Jiahu, back in 1986. Jiahu flutes are made from the wings of a red-crowned crane.

The flute is 20 cm long, 1 cm in diameter, 7 even holes of the same size, with an additional hole near the last hole.

Spaces and the number of holes between each hole determine the musical range. It produces a much shorter whistle than other flutes.

This eight holed flute can play in harmonic intervals and two registers. The harmonic intervals are also cultural functions.

A flute is mandatory in most of the Chinese functions. It also played a part in the sacrificial ritual and bird hunting. Though this flute isn’t common at present, few musicians still play it today.

8. Gehu

Chinese musician Yang Yusen developed Gehu, a Chinese instrument from the 20th Century.

It’s a synthesis of the Chinese huqin family and the cello, with four strings tuned like C-G-D-A, similar to a cello.

Compared to other huqin family instruments, the bridge doesn’t touch the snakeskin, which faces the side.

Another contrabass known as diyingehu, functions as Chinese double bass. Gehu became a rare instrument in China, from the late 20th century, since snakeskin’s intactness increases with humidity.

Cello is considered a common replacement for Gehu. Taiwan and Hongkong still use this instrument.

Know more about Pipa, a pear-shaped body Chinese instrument.

9. Guqin

Chinese instrument

Another one under the Chinese instruments, Guqin is a seven-stringed zither Chinese instrument. Japan and Korea introduced guqin during Tang Dynasty, more than 2000 years back.

Most of its music is developed from folklore and literature. Even today, many scholars and literature men play guqin.

It is often called ‘father of Chinese music,’ or ‘instrument of the sages.’ It’s a quiet instrument with four octaves with open strings tuned in the bass register.

Sounds are produced through open strings, stopped strings, and harmonics. Most guqin had 14 strings. Over the past years, the number of strings increased.

Today, there are 21 strings. It’s a unique hand made instrument, crafted by eminent craftsmen with the use of special wood, lacquer, and standardized skills.

More than 3000 known music pieces of guqin are available from imperial periods. Back on 7th November 2003, UNESCO declared guqin as ‘Intangible World Cultural Heritage.’

It has been considered a great symbol for historical China, but today only a handful of Chinese people play it.

10. Guzheng

Chinese instrument

The Guzheng or Zeng is a Chinese plucked zither. It is tuned in a major pentatonic scale. It is made of a huge resonate soundboard, known as Paulownia wood.

Guzheng players wear plastic, resin, tortoiseshell, or ivory on both hands to play it. The oldest dates back to 500 BC, during the Warring States Period, with 13 strings.

Since the Qin Dynasty, it became prominent, and from the Tang Dynasty, this instrument became popular.

Meng Tiang, a general of the Qin Dynasty, highly influenced the use of guzheng. Chinese people believe guzheng originated from a bamboo tube zither.

The strings were once made of silk, but later, the silk string changed to bare wire, that is brass. Modern strings are steel coated.

Artists craft guzheng with unique content. These include carved art, carved lacquer, straw, painting, poetry, and calligraphy.

Playing Technique 

Use your fingers to pluck guzheng with or without plectra. Modern players use plectra that remain attached to their four fingers.

Early picks were made of bamboo, bones, animal teeth, ivory, tortoiseshell, and jade. Ancient players used the right hand to pluck notes and the left hand to add pitches and vibrations.

Modern techniques use both hands to play the strings. Several methods can be used to strike notes.

The guzheng offers a flexible range of music that permits harmonic progression. These were some of the top 10 obscure Chinese instruments; each instrument has a detailed description. You can choose to play any one of or all of it.

Every instrument offers unique sounds. Though the playing technique is isn’t that easy, but it’s worth a try. Also, there are other Chinese instruments like the Chinese drum, one of the percussion instruments, xylophone Jaiye, suona, sheng, and many others.

I hope, this article helps you out and answers all your queries on obscure Chinese instruments. Do let us know in the comment section, which is your hand-picked ones. You can very well learn them, or listen to these ancient musical pieces.

About the author

More articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Living Life