Traditional Chinese Musical Instruments: The Bowed String Family

Chinese music is influenced by the teachings of Confucius, who thought of music as a means of soothing one’s passions and of chasing away conflict and desire. Thus, music is an instrument of purifying a person’s thoughts.

There are several “families” of musical instruments used in traditional Chinese music. One of these is the Bowed String Family consisting of:

  • Erhu. This musical instrument is also called the Chinese violin. The Erhu is essentially a two-stringed fiddle.
  • Zhong-Hu. This musical instrument is also known as the Chinese viola. The zhong-hu has a deeper sounding tone than the Erhu. It is suitable for singing melodies, especially some Mongolian melodies.
  • Jing-Hu. This is also a two-stringed fiddle primarily used as an accompanying musical instrument for Beijing Opera. Its pitch is the highest among all instruments in the Bowed String Family.
  • Ban-Hu. This is similar to the Jing-Hu in timbre, and is usually used for solo, in depicting passionate and joyful sounds. This is also the leading accompanying musical instrument for northern Chinese tunes or ballads, especially for the local operas in Henan Province in central China.
  • Gao-Hu. This instrument is especially intended for Cantonese folk melodies and operas. It is similar to the Erhu but has a higher pitch and louder in volume. This musical instrument is usually used for making quick rhythms.
  • Sihu. The Sihu is a four-stringed bowed musical instrument used as accompaniment for the local operas in the North, such as Sanxi, Shanxi and Neimonggu in Inner Mongolia
  • Morin Khur. This is a distinctive Mongolian bowed instrument that has two strings and is played similar to the cello. The original Morin Khur used a head of a horse for its body, horse skin for resonator and horse hair for strings and bow.


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