China Underground > Chinese Music > Chinese Instruments > The Art of Niujinqin: An Insight into Zhejiang’s Ancient String Craft

The Art of Niujinqin: An Insight into Zhejiang’s Ancient String Craft

Last Updated on 2023/12/22

Niujinqin: A Fusion of Art and History in Zhejiang’s Musical Instrument Making.

The Niujinqin (牛筋琴), also known as Changci Qin, is revered as one of the finest zithers in China. It holds a special place in the traditional music of Zhejiang Province, particularly in Wenzhou. This instrument is predominantly used in the accompaniment of Wenzhou Drum Lyrics, a local narrative singing style.

Origin and Craftsmanship

Originating in Pingyang, Zhejiang, the Niujinqin is a testament to exquisite craftsmanship. The making of this instrument involves two primary processes: the crafting of the strings and the construction of the frame.

String Making Process

The strings are made from beef tendons and require an elaborate 24-step process including selection, hammering, scraping, washing, soaking, and drying. A notable workshop in Aojiang Town, operated by Jin Kechun, produces the famous “Jin Fasheng Hao” beef tendon strings. This craft dates back to the Ming Dynasty, initially used for cotton bows. The tradition has been passed down for 13 generations within the Jin family, with notable members like Jin Achang (10th generation), Jin Fenglong (11th generation), Jin Kechun (12th generation), and Jin Yanwei and Jin Yanhua (13th generation).

Frame Making Process

The frame of the Niujinqin is typically made by round wood craftsmen, with the Chen Hongkui family from Shuiting Lian Village, Kunyang Town, being particularly renowned. Chen Hongkui, besides being a frame maker, is also a performer of Wenzhou Drum Lyrics. The Chen family’s frame-making skills have been passed down through four generations.

Cultural and Historical Significance

The Niujinqin’s craftsmanship, which dates back over a century since its successful development in the Qing Dynasty, represents a significant cultural carrier for the region. Its unique construction technique, entirely handmade, has garnered acclaim from music experts for its design, sound quality, and functionality.

Challenges and Preservation

Despite its rich history and cultural significance, the Niujinqin faces challenges in modern times. The rise of contemporary music has shifted public musical tastes, leading to a decline in traditional forms like Wenzhou Drum Lyrics. With fewer artists and a dwindling market (as a single Niujinqin can last 10 to 20 years), the craft of making this instrument is in danger. Recognizing its value, the Zhejiang Provincial Government included the Niujinqin making technique in its list of Intangible Cultural Heritage on June 5, 2007.

Source: Baike Baidu

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