Wind instrument (lusheng), bamboo / wood / cotton, maker unknown, Southwest China, 1980-1995
The Chinese people have a strong musical culture with documentary evidence and artifacts dated as early as the Zhou Dynasty (1122BCE-256BCE). Traditional music is generally played on solo instruments or small ensembles of plucked and bowed stringed instruments, flutes, various cymbals, gongs and drums. Bamboo pipes and qin (fretless stringed instruments) are among the oldest known instruments in China. The lusheng is a free-reed mouth organ played to celebrate harvests or to worship their ancestors by the Dong, Hmong, Miao,Yao, Zhuang and other ethnic minority groups of the south western region of China. The lusheng is typically made of bamboo and is classified as a wind instrument.
The lusheng plays a pivotal part in the culture of the ethnic communities of south western China with lusheng fairs organised regularly on an informal and formal basis. Lusheng fairs are a sensory treat of colour and sound and are an important fixture in the life of the village. Along with horse racing, bird and cock fighting, the lusheng music provides musical prompts enabling the observation of the traditions and rituals that are an integral part of the fair. The traditional lusheng dance is anticipated with much enthusiasm from the young girls, who dressed in festive costumes, watch the lusheng performers carefully in order to choose a man that most appeals to them. When the man is found, the girls enter the lusheng team and begin dancing, adding to the visually and musically exciting spectacle.
Traditionally instruments in China are categorised by the material they are made from, such as skin, gourd, bamboo, wood, silk, earth/clay, metal and stone. The lusheng made primarily from bamboo, belongs to the class of free-reed instruments which also includes the mouth organ, accordion, harmonium, organ and other mechanical instruments. The lusheng is played to celebrate harvests or to worship their ancestors by the Dong, Hmong, Miao, Yao, Zhuang and other ethnic minority groups of the south western region of China.
The lusheng comprises a base, pipes, a reed and a sound box. The base is rectangular in shape and commonly made of pine or fir wood and is hollowed out to insert the pipes which are glued into position. The pipes, made of white or speckled bamboo are generally bound by thin bark or bamboo strips in two rows of four, six or eight pipes and inserted in the base at an angle. The tapered end has a mouthpiece also made of bamboo. The tongue cut into the pipe is almost the same width as the hole causing it to vibrate freely when air is blown into the upper end of the tube or a mouth-hole in a wind chest. The size of the pipes can range in length from 1/3 metre to 3-4 metres giving variations in pitch. Traditionally, the lusheng was played as a solo instrument or in small ensembles at festivals and village celebrations.
During the 1950s, the Chinese government sponsored innovations to the lusheng including the addition of more pipes increasing the ability to play more complex music, metal tubes affixed to each pipe to increase resonance and a set pitch allowing the lusheng to be played with other tuned instruments. The amended lusheng is now a concert hall instrument.
The wind instrument (lusheng) was purchased in the late 1980s from Huzejia, a Chinese dealer from the Ghizou area of southwest China.