Zheng is one of the ancient plucked instruments in the Chinese culture. As early as 237 B.C. during the Warring States period, zheng was already popular in the territory of Qin (now Shaanxi Province), thus it was also called the zheng of Qin. Because of the instrument’s ancient history and its simple yet elegant style impressed upon many, it is also referred to as guzheng, or classical zheng.
After more than two-and-a-half millennia, the art of guzheng is blossoming throughout the vast land of China. Integrating various folk music and local dialects, the art of guzheng has formed diverse performance styles and forms. The most influential styles include: Shandong style, Shanxi style, Henan style, Zhejiang style, Hakka style, Chaozhou style, and among the ethnic Chinese minority groups, yatuoke, or the zheng of Inner Mongolia and the gayageum of the Koreans.
These styles have very distinct characteristics. The Shandong style is vigorous and forceful; the Shaanxi style melancholy and lyrical; the Henan style is sonorous and uninhibited; the Zhejiang style fluid and delicate; the Hakka style is reserved yet graceful; and the Chaozhou style pure and exquisite. The various styles bloom side by side and stimulate one another, laying a solid foundation for the continued flourishing of the art of guzheng.
Guzheng has also undergone changes in different historical periods. These changes are primarily distinguished by the size of the instrument and its number of strings. From the 12 strings of the pre-Han and pre-Jin periods to the 13 strings of Tang and Song dynasties; from the 15-string and 16-string instruments in the Ming and Qing dynasties to the 21-string, 23-string, and 26-string varieties after the founding of the People’s Republic, as well as the modulation zheng emerged later, all demonstrate the development of the art form, gradually expanding guzheng’s range and enhancing its expressiveness. The most popular guzheng currently used in China and worldwide is the 21-string S model.