Xu Fengxia plays the Guzheng and the Sanxian


Guzheng - played by Xu Fengxia

Xu Fengxia`s guzheng has 21 strings. Their pitch is defined by the position of the bridges.(the wooden triangle things in the middle). The "Zheng" was already in use during the "spring and autumn" period (about 700 b.c.) mentioned in documents from the area of Qingdi (now Sha´anxi province). During Han- dynasty(from 206 b.c.) this instrument became very popular througout China. It was played by the famous poet Liu Xi. In those days the strings were very thin and had - compared to now- a quite high pitch. There were more additional strings included-from 12 to the modern guzheng with 21 to 25 strings. The guzheng is made out of the wood of an asian type of plane-tree. The bridges are called "Yan Zhu", which means "Feet of wild geese". Because it is possible to change the position of the bridges this instrument can be played in any scale or key- from traditional Chinese pentatonic keys to western minor and major keys or new composed scales in contemporary music. The guzheng usually is plucked but Xu Fengxia also uses violin bows or makes percussive sounds-with her hand or various sticks. Xu Fengxia plays classical Chinese music from the court, adaptations of songs and dances from the many provinces and peoples of China, compositions of contemporary Chinese composers, own compositions and improvisations.



Professor Li Yi playing the Sanxian (Winkhausen 2006, photo by Günther Specht)

Sanxian- played by Xu Fengxia

The Sanxian was formerly called "Xianzi" what simply means "string instrument". Sanxian means "three strings". The instrument has a length of about 120cm and it is made out of ebony, mahogany and snake skin. The three strings are tuned in g-d-g. The sanxian is a fretless instrument. The earliest instruments date back from Qin dynasty. The name "Sanxian" was first mentioned in Yuan dynasty (13th century). The Ming dynasty composer first described this instrument. There are two types of Sanxian. The smaller Sanxian can often be heard in the pingtan style narrative music of Suzhou (a city near Shanghai) and in the Kun-opera, a local opera style from the Shanghai area. The larger Sanxian is often used in North China within a style called "Da Gu Shu" (ballad singing with a percussive accompamiement).

Xu Fengxia`s teacher Li Yi, a retired professor from the Shanghai conservatory, established a modern solo style for this instrument, making it a more instrument within the Chinese orchestra. Xu Fengxia studied with professor Li and even learned to play the Paganini capriccios on the Sanxian. Now she found out that she can also use the Sanxian like a guitar and it can be integrated in modern jazz and rock contexts.