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The Phoenix-Headed Konghou: China’s Lost Stringed Instrument

Last Updated on 2023/11/23

The Phoenix-Headed Konghou (鳳首箜篌): A Historical Chinese Instrument

The Phoenix-Headed Konghou (鳳首箜篌) is an ancient plucked-string musical instrument predominantly used by the ethnic minorities in Southwest China. This instrument falls under the category of bow-shaped Konghous, named for its phoenix-shaped head. Renowned for its long history, elegant design, elaborate decoration, and soft, mellow sound, the Phoenix-Headed Konghou, also known as “Kanhou” or “Konghou” in ancient China, has been referred to as “Sangko” in Southeast Asia and as “Zonggaoji” during the Qing Dynasty.

Historical Journey:

  • The introduction of the Phoenix-Headed Konghou into Central China traces back to the early 4th century.
  • During the Sui and Tang dynasties, it was widely used in court rituals and enjoyed popularity among the nobility.
  • By the late 14th century, the instrument had completely disappeared in China, with only a few remaining in the Pyu State (present-day Myanmar).
  • In the 1950s, the renowned artist Cheng Yanqiu donated a Phoenix-Headed Konghou to the Chinese Academy of Art, where it is preserved in the Chinese Musical Instrument Museum in Beijing.
  • The 1990s saw a revival of the instrument when a Burmese musician, fleeing war, brought it back to the Southwest region of China. Before passing away, this musician entrusted the instrument and its playing techniques to the young Chinese performer Luo Yawen. Luo collaborated with Konghou restoration experts like Huang Yiqi and Konghou player Xu Bilan to study, restore, and reintegrate this instrument into traditional Chinese ritual music, particularly focusing on Tang Dynasty ceremonial music.

Source: Baidu Baike

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