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Zhuihu: The Traditional Two-Stringed Fiddle of China

Last Updated on 2023/12/21

The Artistry and Design of China’s Zhuihu Instrument.

Zhuihu, also known as 坠琴 (Zhuì qín), 曲胡 (Qū hú), and 二弦 (Èr xián), is a traditional Chinese bowed string instrument. It is a two-stringed fiddle with a fingerboard, primarily used in Henan and Shandong provinces. The Zhuihu is notably utilized in Henan opera, Shandong Qinshu, and Lv Opera as a main accompanying instrument. Its precursor was the smaller-sized Sanxian, a three-stringed plucked instrument.

Historical Development

The evolution of the Zhuihu dates back to the late Qing Dynasty, over a hundred years ago. The transformation occurred in Henan and Shandong, where local performing arts like “Ying Ge Liu” and “Sanxian Wrapped in Books” were popular. Initially, the Sanxian’s sound was found to be incompatible with the vocal styles of the performers, leading to its adaptation. The instrument was modified to use a horsehair bow and the body of the Sanxian was replaced with a lute-like sound box, resulting in the creation of the Zhuihu.

An anecdotal origin story from the Kangxi period of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) describes an artist whose Sanxian was damaged by rats. In a rush to repair it for a performance, they replaced the skin with a thin piece of paulownia wood and used a bow between the strings, inadvertently creating an instrument capable of mimicking human voices and other sounds.

Instrumental Design

The Zhuihu shares similarities in design with the Huqin family, like the Erhu. Its sound box is short and thick, made from copper or hardwood, and covered with python skin. The neck resembles that of the Sanxian and doubles as a fingerboard. It typically has two strings, tuned to A and D1, covering a range from A to D3. The Zhuihu is unique for its ability to imitate human voices, animal sounds, and even certain percussive elements.

Performance and Usage

This instrument is not only used for accompanying traditional operas and narrative singing but also for solo and ensemble performances. It has gained a special place in Chinese folk orchestras due to its expressive sound and wide range. Its capability to produce a blend of soft and powerful tones makes it distinct from other instruments.

Variants and Innovations

Different regions and theatrical forms have led to variations of the Zhuihu, categorized traditionally into three types: 曲胡 (Qū hú), 坠琴 (Zhuì qín), and 坠子 (Zhuì zi). Further innovations have led to the development of new forms like the Deep Ze Zhuihu and the three-string Zhuihu, each with unique structural and tonal characteristics.

Cultural Significance

The Zhuihu has a rich history tied to the cultural and musical traditions of China. It has played a significant role in the preservation and evolution of regional operas and music styles. The instrument’s adaptability and unique sound have made it an integral part of Chinese musical heritage, echoing the country’s rich cultural diversity.

Source: Baike Baidu

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