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Konghou, tomb of Wei Guizhen (AD 597-665) The konghou (Chinese: ??; pinyin: konghˇu) is a Chinese plucked string instrument. In ancient China, the term konghou came to refer to three different musical instruments: a zither and two different types of harp.

Today, konghou usually refers the modern konghou concert harp, which was invented in the last century. Shu-konghou refers to an extinct vertical angular harp, and feng shou konghou to an extinct arched harp.

However, it should be remembered that during the Tang dynasty, the term was also used as a general term to describe string instruments from the other countries that played in the Chinese court. It may not have meant a specific type of instrument at that time.

Table of contents
  1. History
  2. Modern konghou
  3. In other places


There were three types of variations of the konghou name, and scholars have been working to match them to musical instruments. The variations are wo konghou, shu konghou and feng shou konghou.

Wo konghou

With the wo-konghou (???) (literally "horizontal konghou)," there have been two lines of thought; neither has been proven. One use of wo konghou could have been applied to a fretted bridge zither whose strings were plucked with a slender bamboo stick). The other possibility for the wo-konghou is as an angular harp turned on its side to function as a horizontal harp.


The zither form was first mentioned in written texts in the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 BC). It is one of the oldest Chinese musical instruments, similar to the Korean geomungo. The wo-konghou was used to play yayue (court music) in the Kingdom of Chu. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD) the konghou was used in the qingshangyue genre. This instrument seems to have been no longer used, but recently China has been reviving the wo-konghou and bringing it into the traditional orchestra.

Horizontal harp

In 1996, horizontal angular harps from the 5th century B.C. were found in Zagunluq village, Qiemo county, Xinjiang autonomous region, China. The harps bear close resemblance to harps from Pazyryk, Assyria and Olbia. Archeological finds show details of construction; for instance, the soundboxes were carved from diversiform-leaved poplar. The finds are evidence of contact between Xinjiang and Altai, Assyria and the Black Sea region. The finds show a pre-Han Dynasty konghou, that may date as far back as 1000 B.C.: that date is speculative and needs more evidence.

Shu konghou

The shu-konghou (???) or vertical konghou first appeared in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220 AD). It can be divided into big and small varieties. The playing of the shu-konghou was most prevalent in the Sui and Tang dynasties. It was generally played in rites and ceremonies and gradually increased in popularity among the ordinary people. It is also the most common type of konghou in Chinese cultural relics, murals and poetry. The Chinese harp refers to this kind of konghou.

Feng shou konghou

The feng shou konghou (????, literally "phoenix-headed konghou"), an arched harp, was introduced from India in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420 AD). Beginning in the Sui Dynasty (581-618), it was also used in yanyue (banquet music). The instrument became extinct sometime in the Ming Dynasty.

Modern konghou

The modern konghou appeared in the 20th century and is different from the ancient konghou. Its shape is similar to Western concert harps.

Modern concert konghous may be contrasted from the Western concert harps by looking at the strings, which are folded over on the konghou to make two rows. This allows players the use of "advanced playing techniques", including vibrato, bending tones and overtones. Paired strings on opposite sides of the instrument are tuned to the same note. They start from a tuning peg and travel over two bridges on opposite sides of the instrument, down through the playing area and are then fixed at the far end to opposite sides of a freely moving lever. Depressing the lever changes the pitch in one of the strings in the pair, raising the pitch of the other. The two rows of strings also make it easier to play swift rhythms.

Today, the classical konghou is usually referred to as shu-konghou in order to differentiate it from the modern konghou.

In other places


In Korea, like China, the names for the harps started as terms for nonspecific foreign stringed instruments. The konghou was adopted in Korea, where it was called gonghu (hangul: ??; hanja: ??), but its use died out (although it has been revived by some South Korean musicians in the early 21st century). There were three subtypes according to shape: Japan

In Japan, the wo-konghou (fretted zither) was called kudaragoto (??? / ?????), and the shu-konghou (angular harp) was called kugo (?? / ??). These instruments were in use in some Togaku (Tang music) performances during the Nara period, but seem to have died out by the 10th century. The kugo (angular harp) has been revived in Japan since the late 20th century, and the Japanese composer Mamoru Fujieda has composed for it. Tomoko Sugawara commissioned a playable kugo harp from builder Bill Campbell and earned an Independent Music Awards nomination for her 2010 album, Along the Silk Road, playing traditional and newly written works for the instrument.

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