Jiangnan sizhu (Wu Chinese pronunciation: [koŋ d̥zoʔ]) is a style of traditional Chinese instrumental music from the Jiangnan region of China.[1][2]


The name Jiangnan sizhu (江南丝竹 pinyin: Jiāngnán sīzhú) is made up of two parts. Jiangnan is the traditional name for the area south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze river in southern Jiangsu, Shanghai, and northern Zhejiang. Sizhu, literally "silk and bamboo," refers to string and wind musical instruments, silk being the traditional material from which strings have historically been made in China, and bamboo being the material from which the Chinese flutes such as the dizi and xiao are made. The term sizhu by extension also came to refer to instrumental music in general, especially that played indoors. Other sizhu traditions also exist, particularly along China's southeastern coastal regions of Fujian and Guangdong.


Sizhu is a 20th-century term that refers to the folk ensembles that first appeared in the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911/12) dynasties and have continued to the present day.[3] Many regional variants exist, but the most influential has been the Jiangnan sizhu, which in the 19th century became established south of the Yangtze River, especially in the cities of southeast Jiangsu and northern Zhejiang provinces. By the early part of the 20th century, Shanghai had become the centre of sizhu activities; the city's elite organized numerous amateur clubs that played for social functions and for their own entertainment. The Shanghai sizhu became the basis of the modern Chinese orchestra in the mid-20th century.


Instruments typically used in Jiangnan sizhu include plucked, bowed, strummed and struck string instruments; flutes and sometimes also mouth organs; and small percussion instruments. The most commonly used instruments are:

Several other instruments sometimes are also used:

As in an Irish traditional music session, the instrumentation is not fixed, and so may vary according to the musicians who are available for a particular performance. Usually only one of each instrument is used, and an ensemble can range from as few as two to as many as ten or more musicians, with the erhu, dizi or xiao, pipa, and yangqin being the core instruments. Players may sometimes switch instruments between pieces.


Eight Great Pieces

At the centre of the repertory are the Eight Great Pieces (Ba Da Qu, 八大曲) or Eight Great Famous Pieces (Ba Da Mingqu, 八大名曲):

  1. Hua San Liu 花三六 (Huā Sān Liù, "Ornamented 'Three Six'")
  2. Huan Le Ge 欢乐歌 (Huān Lè Gē, "Song of Joy")
  3. Man Liu Ban 慢六板 (Màn Liù Bǎn, "Slow 'Six Beats'")
  4. San Liu 三六 (Sān Liù, "Three Six")
  5. Si He Ru Yi 四合如意 (Sì Hé Rú Yì, "Four Together as You Wish")
  6. Xing Jie 行街 (Xíng Jiē, "Walking in the Street", "Wedding Procession," or "Street Procession")
  7. Yun Qing 云庆 (Yún Qìng; "Cloud Celebration")
  8. Zhong Hua Liu Ban 中花六板 (Zhōng Huā Liù Bǎn, "Moderately Ornamented 'Six Beats'"; also called 薰风曲 Xūn Fēng Qǔ, "Warm Breeze Tune") (Witzleben p. 61)

The repertoire is based on old melodies such as "Lao Liu Ban" (Old Six Beats), also called "Lao Ba Ban" (Old Eight Beats).[4] These were elaborated to create new pieces such as "Zhong Hua Liu Ban" (Moderately Ornamented Six Beats), the latter of which is the most important piece of all the pieces derived from "Lao Liu Ban" (Old Six Beats) (Jones 276).

Other pieces

These are other pieces that are played by Jiangnan sizhu music clubs. It includes pieces that were originally instrumental solos, music from narrative genres, and sizhu pieces from Jiangnan and other areas.

New Jiangnan sizhu compositions include:

Social context

Jiangnan sizhu is generally considered to be a folk tradition rather than a professional one, and is most often performed by amateurs. It is typically performed in informal gatherings, often at tea houses. By the mid-20th century, it had also entered the curriculum of China's conservatories, where it continues to be performed by large ensembles of traditional instruments in fully scored arrangements.

Notable musicians

In the second half of the 20th century, a quartet from China playing Jiangnan sizhu repertoire as well as newly composed pieces comprised four men: dizi player Lu Chunling (1921–2018), pipa player Ma Shenglong (马圣龙, 1934–2003), yangqin player Zhou Hui (周惠, 1922–2011), and erhu player Zhou Hao (周皓, b. 1929). They brought the style to new audiences and performed together for many years.

Related genres

Shanghai opera, which was developed in the mid-20th century, has a musical style and accompaniment that is closely related to Jiangnan sizhu.

Reference and further reading

  1. ^ Thrasher 2008, p. 5-7.
  2. ^ Music, Garland Encyclopedia of World (February 2013). The Concise Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Routledge. pp. 1115–1117. ISBN 978-1-136-09594-8.
  3. ^ Thrasher 2008, p. 72-73.
  4. ^ Thrasher 2008, p. 44.