Reflection upon Chinese Recently Unearthed Konghous

     in Xin Jiang Autonomous Region

     

    Xie Jin

    Musicology Department, Shanghai Conservatory of Music, China

     

    Abstract: In 1996, two wooden konghous of 5 century B.C were excavated in Zagunluq village, Qiemo county, Xinjiang autonomous region.  In 2003, another 3 wooden konghous of about 1000 B.C were excavated in Shanshan county, Xinjiang autonomous region, which are quite similar to the Konghous in Qiemo.  These excavations are of great significance to the study of the origin of Chinese Konghous.  For a long time, it is held that Chinese Konghous appeared in Han Dynasty,  but these recently unearthed konghous can be dated back to the Spring and Autumn Period or even earlier.  Furthermore, these Konghous claim further textual research of shiben—— the historical book of Warring States, which has long been overlooked in Chinese as well as international music academia.  The paper points out that shiben is not a single evidence, and that those written records of ancient konghous claim further research.  In addition, there are many similarities between the konghous in Xinjiang and the harps in Pazyryk, Assyria, and Olbia, which show that the musical communication had already begun between Xinjiang and those regions before 5 century B.C.

    Key words: Konghou   Xinjiang  origin

     

    Introduction

    In 1996, two ancient konghous of 5 century B.C were unearthed in Qiemo county, Xinjiang autonomous region of China.  Another important archaeological finding came out in March 2004: three ancient konghous of about 1000 B.C were excavated in Shanshan countyXinjiang autonomous region, which has caused a sensation throughout the world.  These archaeological findings have changed the time of konghou’s transmission into China, which was once thought as 2 century A.D in Chinese music academia.  These recently unearthed konghous are not only the material objects of the musical communication between Xinjiang and the countries to the west, but also the verification of cultural communication between Xinjiang and the north-west areas in ancient times.

     To our surprise, these konghous are not only similar between themselves, but also like the ancient harps in Pazyryk, Assyria, and Olbia.  Then, what’s the relationship between them?  This paper will discuss the structures of these recently unearthed konghous in Xinjiang autonomous region, as well as their history significance.

     

    The structures of konghous in Qiemo and Shanshan counties

     

    1The konghous in Qiemo county[i]

    During October to November, 1996, two konghous were excavated inⅠgraveyard, grave no.14.  No.14 grave is situated on the gobi terrace, which is about 2 kilometres west of Zagunluq village.  The 19 corpes are mostly placed in order, and the clothes and utensils are kept well.  Therefore, these konghous are mostly kept as the original state when they were buried.

    No.1 konghou(FIG. 1) was placed across the chests of two corpes, and are kept well except for the strings and skin cover.  This konghou is 876 cm long, which has a sound box, a neck and a stick.  The sound box and neck were carved out of a whole piece of wood, which is made of diversiform-leaved poplar, and the sound box looks like a half gourd.  The sound box is 416 cm long, 6.8 cm-13.2 cm wide, and 4.0 cm-6.8 cm high.  The exterior of the sound box was polished smooth, and there is the trace of skin cover at the opening.  The skin cover was stuck to the sound box by glue.  Compared with the outside, the inside of the sound box is much crude, which remains the cutting traces of knife.  The sound box is 2.8cm-5.2cm deep and 0.2cm-1.3cm thick.  There is a rectangular sound hole at the bottom of the sound box.  It is 20 cm long, and there are dents on each side of the sound hole.  The side view of the neck is rectangular, and the neck is about 46cm long and 8cm wide.  The top end of the neck is a little thicker, and an oval mortise is carved to fix the stick.  The stick is made of Chinese tamariskand is slightly curved towards the sound box.  The stick is 31.2 cm long, and it’s cross section is oval.  The end of the stick is fixed in the mortise, and is strengthened by a wedge.  There are obvious trace marks of three strings on the stick.

     

    FIG. 1

     

    No.2 konghou (FIG. 2was placed on the left side of a middle-aged woman.  The strings and skin cover are missing.  But the sound box, the neck and the stick are kept well.  The sound box has become a little deformed, and the neck is distorted slightly.  The sound box and neck were carved out of a whole piece of wood, which is made of diversiform-leaved poplar.  The konghou is 61.6 cm long.  The sound box is trapezoidal, which is 28 cm long, 4.5-9.2 cm wide, and 3-7 cm high.  The angular sound hole is at the bottom of the sound box.  The sound box is 24.5 cm long, 3.8-7 cm wide, and 2.7-4.6 cm deep.  There is trace mark of skin cover on the outside of the sound box, and 24 pegs are found to fix the skin cover.  The side view of the neck is rectangular, which is 33 cm long, 6-7 cm wide and 1.5-4 cm thick.  There is a rectangular mortise on the neck, which is used to fix the stick.  The mortise is hollowed out, which is 2.3 cm long and 1.4 cm wide.  The stick is 31 cm long, and it’s diameter is 1.2 cm.  The stick is strengthened by a wooden wedge.

     

    FIG. 2

    No.14 grave has been carbon-dated as 2711+61 years agoand the archaeologists have tentatively determined the date of these konghous as 5 century B.C.

     

     2The konghou in Shanshan county[ii]

     

    Shanshan county lies on the north side of Turpan basin.  The unearthed konghous vary in sizeone of them has only broken pieces, and this is the smaller one.  It’s 61 cm long.  It has a sound box, a neck, a stick and a string.  The sound box and neck were carved out of a whole piece of wood, which is diversiform-leaved poplar.  There is skin cover on the sound box, and it was stuck to the outside of the box.  There is the trace mark of five strings tied to the string stick, but only one string has been found. It is made of ox tendon. The grave is determined by the archaeologists as about 1000 B.C.

     

    FIG. 3

     

     

    History significance

     

    1The earliest time of Chinese konghou

    Because of different recordings of historical data and the lack of material object, the origin of Chinese konghou has long been argued about in music academia.  Among them, the view of “Han Dynasty ” is prevalent.  It can be seen not only in Chinese music dictionary[iii], but also in the research of Japanese and American scholars, such as KISHIBE Shigeio[iv], HAYASHI Kenzo[v], and Bo. Lawergren[vi].  However, these recently unearthed konghous have shown that konghou had appeared in Xinjiang long before Han Dynasty.

    2Further research of Chinese ancient historical records:Shiben

    Shiben is the historical record of warring states period, which has long been overlooked in the research before.  Most scholars put more emphasis on Shiji, which is the records of Han Dynasty, and have concluded that Chinese konghous appeared in Han Dynasdy according to it.  But now, judging from the recently unearthed konghous, long before Han Dynasdy, konghou had already appeared in Xinjiang.  And the date of these konghous are quite near that of Shiben.

    According to the records of shiben, konghou was made by ShiYan——a court musician of Shang Dynasty.  Because that it’s not the same with the recordings of shiji, in which konghou was recorded as the making of HouDiao——a court musician of Han Dynasty, shiben has long been neglected.

    Now, with the recently unearthed konghous in Xinjiang, more clues have come out.  I think, as the earliest historical recording of Konghou in China, shiben is of great significance to the study of the original time of Chinese konghou.  Considering the lack of detailed research on it, I think it necessary to give further research to shiben.

     

    3Important material objects of musical communication between Xinjiang and foreign countries

    The konghous in Xinjiang are not only similar between themselvesbut also alike with the ancient harps in Pazyryk (350 B.C, FIG. 4) [vii], Assyria (650 B.C, FIG. 5), and Olbia (400-200 B.C, FIG. 6)[viii].

     

     

    FIG. 4(Length: 83 cm)

     

    FIG. 5

     

     

     

    FIG. 6

     

    From the figures above, we can see that there’re many similarities between Chinese konghous and those ancient harps: the date, the shape, the position of sound box, the length of body, the number of strings, the position of playing, etc.

    Besides the similarities of these harps, there are many important clues that should be paid attention to——in Shanshan graves, bows of Sassanid character, clothes of Shaman traits and skulls of Caucasus race have also been found.  All those cultural relics have shown clearly that the cultural communication had already begun between Xinjiang and the areas of Altai, Assyria and the Black Sea.  All these have brought great challenges to the research of the ancient history of musical communication between those areas.

     

    Conclusion

    The konghous unearthed in Xinjiang have proved that konghou’s appearance in this area could be dated back to about 1000 B.C, and that the prevalent view of Chinese konghou’s origin is questionable.  These new findings have made it necessary to the further research of shiben ’s recordings.

    Furthermore, these newly unearthed konghous have provided us very important archaeological materials for the study of musical communication between Xinjiang and the areas to the north-west, which are also great challenges to the research of ancient cultural communication.



    [i] Baed on the excavation report published in wenwu, 2003.2, pp56-62.

    [ii] Baed on the excavation report published in wenwutiandi, 2004.5, pp3-7.

    [iii] Music Institute of Chinese Art Instidute edited, Chinese music dictionary, Beijing: People’s Music Publishing House, 1985, p.209.

    [iv] KISHIBE Shigeo, The Origin of the K’ung-hou (Chinese harp ) pp.170-209 .1968

    [v] HAYASHI Kenz, translated by Qian Dao-sun, Studies on Musical Instruments of East Asia, Beijing: People’s Music Publishing House, 1962, p.224.

    [vi] Stanley Sadie edited, The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, LondonMacmillan Publishers limited, 2001, P.895.

    [vii] The FIGURE is published in “The Ancient Harp from Pazyryk”, written by Bo Lawergren.

    [viii] Thanks to Professor Bo.Lawergren for providing the figures.

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