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Ch'un-lei Zither

Tags: National Palace Museum | zither


T'ang Dynasty (618-907)
Length: 126.0 cm, height: 10.8 cm, width of body: 22.1 cm, width of end: 17.2 cm 
The "ch'in", or zither, is an ancient Chinese stringed instrument. Its actual appearance has changed over the centuries, and there are also stylistic differences observable in "ch'in" according to location and maker in China. This particular instrument is in the "liang-chu", or "continuous pearl", style, and is covered in a black lacquer finish exhibiting a dense network of crackle. The inlaid harmonic markers, tuning pegs, and feet are all jade, and are carved in very fine Chinese characters in seal script. The "dragon pool" for the sound chamber is round, whereas the "phoenix pond" nearer the end of the instrument is rectangular in shape. There are two Chinese characters,"ch'un lei" (literally, "spring thunder"), carved in cursive script on the underside of the neck, and Chinese phrases, alluding to the quality of the tone and harmonics of the instrument, to the left and right of the "dragon pool", this time in standard script, together with an inscribed colophon seal. Below the dragon pool is what appears to be a large square seal, but it is covered in black lacquer and difficult to make out. The characters "ch'un lei" refer to the name of a famous zither dating to the T'ang dynasty, said to have been made by the master instrument craftsman Lei Wei. According to the "Ch'ing-pi ts'ang", written in the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), the Ch’un Lei was kept in the Hall of a Hundred Zithers in the Hsüan-ho Palace during the late Northern Sung (960-1126), where it was the pride of the palace. After that, it came into the possession of Emperor Chang-tsung of the Chin dynasty. When the emperor passed away, the zither was buried with him, but retrieved 18 years later. Its condition had not suffered in the slightest, and it was returned to its rightful place as the emperor of zithers. Extant examples of zithers dating to the T'ang dynasty are extremely valuable and rare. In modern times, this particular instrument has found itself in the collections of Ho Kuan-wu, Wang Ching-wu, and Chang Ta-ch’ien, among others. It can still be played, and zither players who strike its strings even today allude to the depth and beauty of its tone, without exception.

Text: Ts'ai Mei-fen

Text and images are provided by National Palace Museum