Sheng ( 笙 )

Period: Qing dynasty (1644-1911)

Date: late 19th century

Geography: China

Culture: Chinese

Medium: Wood, metal, ivory

Dimensions: Height: 19 3/4 in. (50.2 cm)
Width (Including mouthpiece): 4 1/2 in. (11.4 cm)
Diameter: 4 in. (10.2 cm)

Classification: Aerophone-Free Reed-mouth organ

Credit Line: The Crosby Brown Collection of Musical Instruments, 1889

Accession Number: 89.4.96


Southeast Asian in origin and used before the twelfth century B.C., the sheng also played an important role in Confucian music. Now, it accompanies folk songs and is occasionally used in the Beijing opera to add harmony. Similar to the Western harmonica, which it inspired, the sheng is the only Chinese wind instrument capable of sounding many notes at the same time. It is played by blowing and sucking. The bamboo pipes, symbolizing the folded wings of the phoenix, are fitted with free reeds made of metal, concealed by the bowl-shaped wind chamber.