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The Lost Melodies of Zhu

Last Updated on 2023/12/23

Rediscovering the Zhu: From Imperial Courts to Cultural Eclipse.

The Zhu (筑) is an ancient Chinese string instrument, one of the earliest known plucked-string instruments in China. It gained widespread popularity during the Warring States period and continued to be prominent until the Sui and Tang dynasties. However, after the Song Dynasty, the Zhu gradually fell into obscurity and was eventually lost.

Design and Structure
The Zhu is similar in appearance to a baseball bat, with a long, slender neck and five silk strings. It features movable bridges called “zhu ma,” which support the strings above the body of the instrument. The shape and playing style of the Zhu can be observed in various historical relics, including the Western Han tomb lacquer coffins in Changsha Mawangdui, lacquerware from a Western Han tomb in Lianyungang, Jiangsu, and the Tanghe painted bricks from Nanyang.

In terms of its playing posture, the Zhu was not played horizontally like the Guzheng but was positioned vertically in front of the player. The broader part of the Zhu, likely the sound box, was placed lower and in front of the player, with the narrower neck pointing upwards towards the player. The player would press the strings with the left hand and strike them with a bamboo mallet in the right hand, hence the term “striking the Zhu.”

There were different types of Zhu, such as the Warring States five-string Zhu, the Han Dynasty five-string Zhu, and thirteen-string versions from the Han and Song dynasties.

Historical Significance
The Zhu was already widely popular during the Warring States period. Famous personalities like Gao Jianli played the Zhu. For instance, Gao Jianli played it to bid farewell to Jing Ke, who attempted to assassinate the King of Qin. Liu Bang, the founder of the Han Dynasty, also played the Zhu, composing “The Great Wind Song” with its accompaniment.

During the Southern and Northern Dynasties, the Zhu was used to accompany Xianghe songs. In the Sui and Tang periods, it was part of the Qing music ensemble. By the Song Dynasty, the Zhu was gradually replaced by other string instruments like the Qin and Zheng, which had more expressive capabilities.


  1. “Shi Ming” by Liu Xi from the Eastern Han Dynasty describes the Zhu as being similar to the Zheng, with a slender neck and played with bamboo.
  2. “Han Shu” by Ban Gu, with commentary by Ying Shao, likens the Zhu to a larger Qin, played with bamboo sticks.
  3. “Old Tang Book” also compares the Zhu to the Zheng, noting its slender neck and bamboo mallet playing style.
  4. “Strategies of the Warring States” mentions the popularity of the Zhu among the people of Linzi.
  5. Sima Qian’s “Records of the Grand Historian” recounts Gao Jianli playing the Zhu during Jing Ke’s departure.
  6. Another account in the “Records of the Grand Historian” describes Liu Bang playing the Zhu and composing “The Great Wind Song.”

Source: Wikipedia

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