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String instrument
Classification chordophone
Related instruments



The konghou (Chinese: 箜篌; pinyin: kōnghóu) is a Chinese plucked string instrument. In ancient China, the term konghou referred to three different musical instruments: a zither and two different types of harp. Today's konghou usually refers to the shu-konghou and the modern konghou improved in the last century.


There are three types of konghou, all with a differing appearance.

The wo-konghou (卧箜篌) (literally "horizontal konghou," a fretted bridge zither whose strings were plucked with a slender bamboo stick) was first mentioned in written texts in the Spring and Autumn period (770–476 BC).[citation needed] Archeological finds show details of construction; for instance, the soundboxes were carved from diversiform-leaved poplar.[1] It is one of the oldest Chinese musical instruments, similar to the Korean geomungo. The wo-konghou was used to play yayue (court music) in the Kingdom of Chu. During the Han Dynasty (206 BC–220 AD) the konghou was used in the qingshangyue genre. Though referred to as a konghou, this instrument more closely resembled a zither. It is no longer used in traditional Chinese music.

The shu-konghou (豎箜篌) or vertical konghou first appeared in the Eastern Han Dynasty (25–220 AD). It can be divided into big and small varieties. The playing of the shu-konghou was most prevalent in the Sui and Tang dynasties. It was generally played in rites and ceremonies and gradually increased in popularity among the ordinary people. It is also the most common type of konghou in Chinese cultural relics, murals and poetry. The Chinese harp refers to this kind of konghou.

The feng shou konghou (鳳首箜篌, literally "phoenix-headed konghou"), an arched harp, was introduced from India in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317–420 AD). Beginning in the Sui Dynasty (581–618), it was also used in yanyue (banquet music). The instrument became extinct sometime in the Ming Dynasty.

Modern konghou[edit]

The modern konghou appeared in the 20th century and is different from the ancient konghou, but its shape is similar to Western concert harps.

The main feature that distinguishes the contemporary konghou from the Western harp is that the modern konghou's strings are folded over to make two rows, which enables players to use advanced playing techniques such as vibrato and bending tones. Paired strings on opposite sides of the instrument are tuned to the same note. They start from a tuning peg and beyond the playing area travel over two bridges on opposite sides of the instrument, and are then fixed at the far end to opposite sides of a freely moving lever so that depressing one of the string pairs raises the pitch of the other. The two rows of strings also make it suitable for playing swift rhythms and overtones.

Today, the classical konghou is usually referred to as shu-konghou in order to differentiate it from the modern konghou.

In other places[edit]

The konghou was adopted in Korea, where it was called gonghu (hangul: 공후; hanja: ), but its use died out (although it has been revived by some South Korean musicians in the early 21st century). There were three subtypes according to shape:

  • Sogonghu (hangul: 소공후; hanja: ; literally "small harp")photo
  • Sugonghu (hangul: 수공후; hanja: ; literally "vertical harp")photo
  • Wagonghu (hangul: 와공후; hanja: ; literally "lying down harp")[2]

In Japan, the wo-konghou (fretted zither) was called kudaragoto (百済琴 / くだらごと), and the shu-konghou (angular harp) was called kugo (箜篌 / くご). These instruments were in use in some Togaku (Tang music) performances during the Nara period, but seem to have died out by the 10th century. The kugo (angular harp) has been revived in Japan since the late 20th century, and the Japanese composer Mamoru Fujieda has composed for it.[3] Tomoko Sugawara commissioned a playable kugo harp from builder Bill Campbell and earned an Independent Music Awards nomination for her 2010 album, Along the Silk Road, playing traditional and newly written works for the instrument.



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