Among China’s traditional musical instruments, the zheng (or guzheng) is the most commonly played; it currently enjoys tremendous popularity, particularly among urban Chinese girls. The art of zheng has overcome several significant hurdles in the twentieth century, including tuning which was considered incompatible for use in large ensembles such as Chinese orchestras, poor projection of sound, and a repertory lacking technically challenging solo masterpieces idiomatic to the instrument. The zheng’s most enduring—and most beloved—solo repertory consists of favored traditional or ‘classic’ works, most of which rely on nuanced melodic content. In these pieces, the left hand does not pluck the strings but rather refines and supplements the sounds created when the right hand plucks the strings. On close examination, much of the zheng’s basic repertory was derived from earlier vocal music (“folk music”), instrumental ensemble works, or solo music for other instruments transcribed or transplanted into the zheng repertory, and thus much zheng solo music is apparently relatively new (post-imperial). A more formal zheng repertory began to appear in the second half of the twentieth century, as solo compositions specifically written for the zheng were created; many of these pieces were the work of expert zheng performers and pedagogues teaching and/or studying in the music conservatories of the People’s Republic. The zheng’s evolution from an ensemble and accompanimental instrument in late imperial China to a solo concert instrument with virtuosic potential and an increasingly idiomatic repertory occurred as the instrument’s repertory was explored, notated, and recorded. As master zheng musicians—mostly male--began to teach in Chinese conservatories, structural changes were also introduced into the manufacture of the instrument. This project looks at how this process happened, and discusses why it happened. Why were “schools” of zheng established and what is a “school” (liupai流派)? What do we know about the zheng’s solo repertory prior to the twentieth century? What role did improvisation play in zheng music before its repertory was notated, classified, and recorded? Did a gender switch happen (or is it happening now), with previously male masters being replaced essentially by women and girls? What has been lost and what has been gained in the zheng’s most transformative era: the past hundred years?
Historic Gains and Losses
Preserving the Unique Character of Zheng Art in Changing Times
Further Changes During the “Opening Up”