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Guan Pinghu in the 1940s.

Sounds of the world : Guan Pinghu, the spirit of chinese Guqin

This article is a result of a collaborative project between #AuxSons and Alejandro Abbud Torres Torija, lecturer at Sciences Po Paris Campus Reims, and regular contributor to #AuxSons. As part of the class “Sounds of the world : Music as mirror of the intimate and the collective”, international students from Sciences Po Paris Campus Reims prepared articles reflecting these themes. 


55 years ago today, disappeared Guan Pinghu (March 4, 1897-March 28, 1967), born in Suzhou, Jiangsu. He was one of the leading players of Guqin (古琴), which is a traditional Chinese musical instrument with a 7-string flangeless zither. He was born into a family of artists and learned the Guqin from his father (Guan Nianci).


When we listen to Mr. Guan’s music, we can always feel an unusual sense of serenity, a clear beauty. On the one hand, it has something to do with Mr. Guan’s great compassion and great concern, as well as the theme and connotation of the music. It has something to do with Mr. Guan’s important early music, as well as his techniques. His music, the rhythm is regular, the rhythm is square, urgent but not disorderly, slow but not scattered, language is very unified.

However, this regularity is obviously different from the rhythm characteristics of western music, but with a level, high and far-reaching intention, the personal spirit is balanced into each stage of the development of the music. It avoids emotional expression and surface beauty and makes the emotion deep, upright but not harsh, vivid but not allergic, primitive but not haggard, moist but not sweet.

In ancient China, Guqin could not only be performed alone but also served as a bridge between poetry and literature, people recited poems while playing Guqin. Until today, the Guqin culture fulfills the need for a variety of cultural orientations: the love of ancient music, the experience of the life of the ancient literati nobility, the feeling of the ancient literati noble spirit, the drawing of the ancient literati noble manners, and the pursuit of the ancient literati noble status.

In addition, the Guqin has also led to some more important goals: health, spiritual cultivation, meditation, and even moved to tea, reading, Taichi, yoga, and other activities, and has become a subconscious obsession among the above-mentioned items with the meaning of cultivation, seeking the way of the solemn action.

In modern life, people can play the Guqin to cultivate themselves when they are happy or annoyed, and on this level, the Guqin can be seen as an outlet for their emotions; on the other hand, guqin pieces are used as background music for some ancient Chinese court dramas and even stage plays, which not only makes a connection with modern commerce but also helps to interpret Chinese history to modern people.

The Guqin is now even taught as an instrument in some school music classes; at my alma mater, the Guqin now plays an important role not only in music classes; but even in calligraphy classes, art classes, Chinese studies classes, etc. There are shades of the Guqin influencing our lives everywhere …

So it is not only a musical instrument, but also a spiritual way of life for scholars to cultivate their morality and nature, and even to meditate and realize the tao. It is in fact a cultural heritage.


The author :  Yutong Li, from China, is a second-year student at SciencesPo Paris. Her fields of interest include Economic Law, Sociology, and environmental protection, and of course, music! She has been playing the piano for 16 years, and she has self-learned more than 7 different kinds of Chinese traditional musical instruments like Pipa, Guzheng, Bawu, etc… She loves yoga and figure skating during her spare time. 

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