History Of the Erhu

Erhu is a type of violin (fiddle) with two strings, which, together with zhonghu, gaohu, sihu, etc, belongs to the huqin family. The origin of the erhu, originally called an xiqin, is believed to date back to the mid-8th century and has been associated with Xi people,  a Mongolian tribe from Northern China. During the Dynasties of Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911), the erhu gained popularity and became a featured solo instrument at imperial banquets and ceremonies.

 After the foundation of People's Republic of China (1949), the manufacture of the erhu, the playing techniques, the repertoire as well as the musical education of this instrument underwent unprecedented development, growing rapidly in the genres of solo and ensemble, as well as concerti with symphony orchestra. Thanks to two famous artists Hua Yanjun (1893-1950) and Liu Tianhua (1895-1932), both of which made exceptional contributions to the improvement of the erhu, the erhu has become one of the most popular instruments in China.

The erhu is a simple looking instrument consisting of a long, round wooden neck with two tuning pegs, inserted into a hexagonal hardwood sound body (box) that acts a resonator. The wooden components of the erhu are usually made of ebony or sandalwood. The front opening is covered with python snakeskin, while the back is left open. The two strings (tuned to a D and A) used to be made of silk or nylon, but most strings used now are made of steel.  Trapped between the strings, is a horsehair bow, similar to that used by violinists.

The erhu has an otherworldly Theremin-like quality that can imitate the human voice, as well birds and horses. With a  slightly brighter sound than the violin, the erhu is able to express a full range of emotions that music lovers are discovering world-wide daily.