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The Wen Zhen Qin: The Evolution of a Tang Dynasty Instrument

Last Updated on 2023/12/06

文枕琴 (Wen Zhen Qin): Evolution and Innovation of an Ancient Chinese Instrument.

Introduction

The Wen Zhen Qin (文枕琴) represents the evolution and innovation of the Tang Dynasty’s Zha Zheng (唐代轧筝). Originally a primary instrument in the ancient Putian Hanjiang folk music ensemble known as Wen Shi Fan (文十番), the Wen Zhen Qin was initially called Zhen (蓁), which is also known as Wen Zhen (文蓁) with 11 strings or Zhen Zi (蓁仔) with 9 strings. Due to its pillow-like shape, it was colloquially known as the “Pillow Qin”. The Wen Zhen Qin emerged as a result of modifications and innovations made to the Zhen.

Historical Context and Characteristics

Origins and Description

The Zhen, resembling the ancient Guqin and Guzheng, looked like an early rattan and lacquer pillow. It featured nine or eleven “人” shaped bridges with silk strings arranged in a pentatonic scale. The instrument was played by rubbing the strings with a reed coated in pine resin, producing a soft, deep, and slightly noisy sound.

Improvements and Modern Adaptations

Subsequent improvements led to a wider range and richer tonality. The modified instrument can cover more than three octaves, with volume three times greater than the original. It integrates playing techniques from instruments like the Erhu, Violin, Guzheng, and Pipa, making it a versatile string instrument suitable for plucking and bowing. Notable solo pieces played on the improved Wen Zhen Qin include “Si Nian (思念)”, which won the highest excellence award at the second Fujian Province “Wuyi Spring (武夷之春)” music concert.

Recognition and Publications

Wen Zhen Qin (文枕琴) has been featured in various national and international publications, including People’s Daily (人民日报), China Daily (中国日报), and People’s Music (人民音乐). A dedicated article about the instrument was published in the 1985 issue of Musical Instruments (乐器) magazine. The story of Huang Fu’an (黄福安) and his Wen Zhen Qin has been broadcasted multiple times on Central Television and other major TV stations.

Basic Features

  1. The instrument retains its ancient design while innovating elements like the bridges, tuning pegs, bow, and strings.
  2. It maintains the elegant timbre of ancient string instruments while enhancing its brightness, dynamic range, and volume.
  3. Through innovative playing techniques, it extends its range and incorporates elements from various traditional Chinese instruments, making it suitable for solo, ensemble, and accompaniment purposes.

Historical Records

Tang and Song Dynasty References

As per historical texts like Old Book of Tang: Music Records (旧唐书·音乐志) and Chen Riyang (陈日左杨去木右)‘s Music Book (乐书) written in 1101 AD, the Zha Zheng, a predecessor of the Wen Zhen Qin, is mentioned with its unique playing method involving bamboo pieces.

Ming Dynasty Records

In the Ming Dynasty (明代), the Zhen (蓁) was documented in Yao Lu (姚旅)‘s Lu Shu (露书), noting its similarity in structure and playing technique to the Wen Zhen Qin.

Revival and Innovation

Modern Improvements

Under the guidance of experts like Wang Yaohua (王耀华) and Huang Wendong (黄文栋), Huang Fu’an (黄福安) began innovating this ancient instrument in 1979, leading to multiple awards and recognitions in national competitions. His compositions and performances have significantly contributed to the revival and evolution of the Wen Zhen Qin.

Importance and Value

  1. Academic Value: The innovation of the Wen Zhen Qin has revitalized a traditional cultural heritage, adding a new chapter to the history of Chinese music.
  2. Practical Value: Its development and popularization highlight the essence of ancient culture and contribute to the enrichment of public cultural life.

Preservation and Challenges

Endangered Status

Despite efforts to manufacture and promote the Wen Zhen Qin, it still faces challenges in professional performance due to a lack of resources and popular appeal compared to other traditional Chinese instruments.

Protective Measures

In 2022, the Wen Zhen Qin was listed as the 11th item in the Fujian Province’s Seventh Batch of Provincial Intangible Cultural Heritage Representative Projects, marking a significant step towards its preservation and recognition.

Source: Baike Baidu

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