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UNESCO Highlights
Special> Living Legacies> UNESCO Highlights
UPDATED: October 29, 2012 NO. 44 NOVEMBER 1, 2012
Guqin Style
Classical instrument maker keeps tradition alive
By Ma Li

VALUABLE POSSESSION: Miao Yuan takes pride in the guqin at his studio (SHI GANG)

Xuanjiashanfang, a studio engaged in guqin production, is immersed in melodious ancient Chinese music, filled with cedar fragrance and occupied by a group of focused workers.

Guqin is China's oldest stringed musical instrument, with a history of more than 3,000 years. UNESCO listed it as an Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2009.

In ancient times, a well-educated scholar was expected to be skilled in four arts: the game of Go, calligraphy, painting and guqin. The instrument is regarded as a treasure in China and the epitome of Chinese music, philosophy and culture.

Becoming acquainted

Located in a residential area on Qinghua East Street in Beijing's Haidian District, Xuanjiashanfang is building a name for itself as a guqin maker. Its owner, 60-year-old Miao Yuan became engaged in guqin production 12 years ago when he first sent his son to a guqin lesson.

"At that time, I made woodcarvings. I had never touched a guqin before," said Miao.

His son eventually dropped the guqin lessons, but Miao maintained an interest.

"The soulful sound of the instrument, as well as the profound artistic conception it conveys, seemed just the thing I have been searching for my whole life. It was not only a thing on which I anchored my hopes, but also something that filled my heart."

In 2000, Miao started to study guqin production and tried to make one on his own. "In the beginning, I knew nothing about guqin making. I made my first guqin by consulting some experts. It looked ugly, but the experts told me it sounded nice."

After his first creation Miao developed a passion for guqin-making, quitting his job to focus on the musical instrument full time.

"Simple yet sophisticated" has been his motto over the past 10 years. "These musical instruments look ancient and simple, but they contain thousands of years of China's history and culture. It requires not only concentration but also passion to make one well," said Miao.

It takes seven to eight months to complete the production of a guqin. The whole process consists of more than 10 steps including choosing wooden moldings, handling the wood, drying and painting. Each step involves careful decision-making and great attention to detail.

In 10 years, Miao has mastered the production skills needed to create a guqin. His studio has attracted many scholars and experts who appreciate the classic art form.

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