Sounds from Under the Shifting Sands: Reflections on Kuchean Music Culture of the Sixth and Seventh Centuries
A variety of foreign musical instruments arrived in China during the period from Han (206 BC – AD 220) to Tang (AD 618–907). Lutes, appearing in nearly every type of Chinese musical ensemble to this day, arguably had the greatest impact.
The most common lute type to appear in Chinese ensembles is a pear-shaped, bent-necked instrument, now known as pipa. However, the modern pipa was preceded by a little-studied lute type, a round-bodied instrument with long, straight neck. Now known as a ruan, the round-bodied lute seems to have been intimately connected to wenren (Cultivated Gentlemen) and to their spiritual, political, and social cultivation as early as the 3rd century AD. Drawing largely on funerary evidence dating between the 4th and 8th centuries, this paper will explore the early role that the ruan played in male Chinese elite culture.