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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The emergence of the Chinese zheng : traditional context, contemporary evolution, and cultural identity Han, Mei


The zheng is a Chinese long zither that was developed from a five-string folk instrument over two thousand years ago to become a concert instrument with approximately twenty million practitioners around the world today. The opposing forces of metamorphosis and continuation have dominated the evolution of the instrument with the most rapid and drastic changes to its conception and practice witnessed in the twentieth century. This dissertation is a musical and cultural study of the zheng’s living tradition from traditional practice to contemporary evolution, with an emphasis on the transformation of its musical and cultural identity. The studied areas include composition, dissemination, performance technique, and aesthetics. These discussions reveal an underlying ancient Chinese aesthetic principle drawn from both Confucian and Taoist philosophies that applies to all developmental periods of the zheng––the relationship between sheng (generated sound) and yin (cultivated sound). In addition to being a researcher, the author combines her four-decade long experience of performing and studying the instrument with the voices of four generations of zheng performers and those of Chinese and non-Chinese zheng composers and scholars to reveal the core musical and aesthetic elements of traditional zheng practice. Crucially this includes analyzing contemporary changes in Mainland China and North America since the twentieth century in the context of political influences, Westernization, and globalization. The author argues that the fundamental values of traditional zheng practice are still pertinent to the contemporary development of the instrument.

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