The Zheng, commonly known as Guzheng, (pronounced "Goo-Zheng"), is a plucked string instrument that is part of the zither family. It is one of the most ancient Chinese musical instruments according to the documents written in the Qin dynasty (before 206 BC). Zheng is the forerunner of Japanese koto, Korean kayagum, Mongolian yatag, and Vietnamese dan tranh. Due to its long history, the zheng has been called guzheng or Gu-Zheng where "Gu" stands for "ancient" in Chinese. The guzheng has been a popular instrument since ancient times and is considered as one of the main chamber as well as solo instruments of Chinese traditional music. Since the mid-19th century, guzheng solo repertoire has been growing and evolving towards an increasing technical complexity.
The Chinese character for "zheng" composed of two parts: the upper part means "bamboo" and the lower part is "argue" (see the above character). According to a legend, there was a master of se, 25-stringed zither, who had two talented daughters who love playing the instrument. Now there came a time that the master became too old, and wanted to pass his instrument over to one of them. However, both daughters wanted to have it. The master felt miserable and finally, out of desperate, he decided to split the instrument into two - one got 12 strings, and the other 13. To his amazement, the new instrument sounds mellow and even more beautiful than its original. The happy master gave the new instrument a new name "zheng" by making up the character with the symbolisms representing "bamboo" and "argue". The word "zheng", the name of this instrument, pronounces the same as the word "zheng" which means "argue" or "dispute". The origin of the Chinese character representing this instrument seems to indicate that the early version of the instrument was made of bamboo, which is different from that of today. However, this legendary story, though it might be true according to the origin of the Chinese character for this instrument, should not be taken too seriously.
Zheng (Guzheng) is build with a special wooden sound body with strings arched across movable bridges along the length of the instrument for the purpose of tuning. In the early times the zheng had 5 string; later on developed into 12 to 13 strings in the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907AD) and 16 strings in the Song and Ming dynasty (from the 10th to 15th century). The present day zheng usually has 21-25 strings.
Tuning: The pitch of a given string is determined by the position of the bridge, therefore, Guzheng can in principle be tuned to any desired scales. Traditionally, pentatonic scale is used. The instrumentalist plucks the strings with the right hand and touches the strings with the left hand to produce the desired pitch and create subtle tones and ornaments (see the pictures with Liu Fang playing the Guzheng). Full scale can also be obtained by skilfully applying press on certain strings from the other side of the bridge with the left hand.
techniques: Guzheng player attaches a little plectrum on each finger using a special tape. For traditional repertoires, the instrumentalist mostly uses three fingers of the right hand for plucking whereas the left hand pressing the string from the other side of the bridge to create special tonalities and ornaments. For some contemporary repertoires, both hands are needed to produce complicated harmonies using four fingers of each, which means that even the fingers of the left hand need to ware plectrums. In some cases, one can use cello bow to play on the Guzheng to produce sustained sounds and special effects. One can also use sticks to hit on the strings in the way like a percussion instrument.