Ancient Chinese Musical Instrument XUN

Xun is the oldest Chinese wind instrument with a unique sound.

Ancient people shaped rabbit head with clay, at last formed nail-shaped rabbit legs. There are two holes on rabbit-shaped Xun, one on rabbit back, square, he blowing hole; another at right of its tail, round, the sound hole. Via test, the wholes can give out two different tones.

Early rudiment of Xun is stone for hunting. Some stones had natural hollow space. When ancient ancestors pelted quarries with such stones, due to airflow, hollow space of stones would give out whistle. This sound gave inspiration of making musical instruments to ancient people.  That is how stone Xun comes into being.

In long time production and living practice, ancient people gradually mastered pottery firing technique. They tried to imitate structure of stone with hollow space to make pottery which can give out sound when blowing. Thus pottery Xun emerged as the times required. The earliest Xun can be dated back to 6,000 to 7,000 years ago.

The pottery Xun which can make sound as greatly favored by people, especially the kid, they loved it too much to part with it. In many places, when ancient ancestors died, they event would take pottery with them.

In ancient China, Xun was a widely spread musical instrument, thus some idioms related with Xun even appear, such as "the first son plays Xun and the second son play Chi", and "like Xun and like chi". These two idioms mean to play Xun made of pottery clay together with Chi made of bamboo, and they give harmonious and melodious sound. These phrases are used for describing harmonious fraternal relationship.

From pottery Xun of different periods, we can see that the development of this kind of musical instrument has changed from simplicity to complexity, from single hole to multi-hole, from randomly made to unites-shaped. From hunting tool, Xun gradually developed into utensil for fun and playing, then became formal musical instrument and entered into palace of royal families.

In Shang Dynasty, pottery Xun had reached an apex, forming the trend of centering on Henan and spreading around. In this period, structure of pottery Xun was more complex than ever. In early and middle period of Shang Dynasty, pottery Xun with 3 sound holes appeared, while in late period, Xun with 5 sound holes appeared. Shape of Xun also diversified, with pear-shape, egg-shape, gyro-shape, alive fruit-shape,  taper-shape and so on, and were decorated with colored stripes, gridding pattern, triangle pattern, etc. Pottery Xun of Shang Dynasty had round belly and flat bottom, with a blowing hole on top, being ruler of Xun of all dynasties.

In early Warring States Period, Xun had already been used in sacrifice activities of palace. After Qin and Han Dynasties, it was used for playing court music, and its structure also became more complex, with 6 sound holes, to play more melody, thus greatly favored by emperors and imperial concubines.

Sound of Xun is primitive, simple, deep, natural and peaceful, which gives a sense of distance and boundless, so it was highly valued by ancient people. Music played by it was regarded as classical music by Confucian who advocated "peacefulness is prized".

With development of pottery-making techniques, after Tang Dynasty, pottery Xun paid more and more attention to decoration. Compared with rabbit-shaped Xun,  Xun made in Tang and Song Dynasties gave little appearance of early pottery Xun. Till Qing Dynasty, decoration technique of Xun became more complex, and the exquisitely-made lacquer Xun was the most famous. The red lacquer Xun with pattern of dragon and cloud used by court band of Qing Dnasty was collected in Beijing Palace Museum. Xun still had 6 sound holes, but tone became richer, and professional player could make 26 tones with it. After Qing Dynast, there were Xuns with 8 and 9 sound holes emerging.

From the Chinese rabbit-shaped pottery 4,000 years ago, to Xun with pattern of dragon and cloud in Qing Dynasty, and the present Xun with nine holes, the age-old pottery Xun has been played from the remote past to today. Distant and lingering melodies from it makes people learn about the long history and splendid culture of Chinese nation.

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