With the shape like an egg, it’s hard to imagine, that Xun is one of the earliest musical instrument of China, and it plays an important part in the history of primitive art. This simple-looked instrument proudly owns marvelous sounds and a long developing history of more than 4000 years.
The origin of this unique wind instrument can date back to the Stone Age and has much to do with the hunting of Chinese ancestors. They used this egg-shaped clay instrument with only one sound hole to imitate the sound of beasts. By the advance of society, the sound holes of xun increased, and it changed from a tool for hunting to a musical instrument, which can play complex melodies. There are already poems that described the performance of xun in the ancient Chinese poetry “Shi Jing” in about 6 century BC. The poem said, “The elder brother plays xun, while the younger brother plays chi (an instrument like bamboo flute). The chi was usually used as accompaniment of xun. The poem shows not only the harmonic relationship between brothers, but also the evidence of the ensemble performance in the ancient time
At the end of 3rd century AD, the mature form of xun with 6 sound holes is developed and could play scale with 5 to 7 sounds. In the history of Chinese music history, this development is of great importance of the history of traditional Chinese scale. It is a mystical yet interesting phenomenon that the ancient Chinese seven-voice-order has only five voices as mainstay. The development of xun could partly reveal the theory behind this doubt.
The round shape and dark clay color of xun make the instrument mystical, and its heavy voice contains much emotion than peoples imagine. Xun is maybe the best instrument to perform a heartbreaking tone, and it can also make solemn music that matches the royal court. In fact, the use of xun in the Chinese history is mainly for the performance of palace music. But in most Chinese’ impressions, the sound of xun ist symbol of respectable hermits, lady in sorrow, or heroes at the end of their strength. In other words, the sound of xun represents a particular beauty, which combines with loneliness, desolate and elegance. It is the embodiment of the unique Chinese aesthetic conceptions. In a traditional Chinese orchestra, xun plays the important part of alto voice. Its soft, heavy voice makes high-pitch and low-pitch in a harmonious proportion. In this sense, xun represents also the idea of harmony, which is one of the main parts of traditional Chinese values.
Nowadays, musicians use mainly xun with 9 sound holes, which was developed after the 1920s. In ancient times, people make xun from different materials such as bones, wood ivory, metal, clay or even jade. Today, most of the xuns that used for performance are made of clay or wood, and their shape has changed from egg-like to many different shapes. The most popular shapes of xun today are the shape of bull head and bottle gourd.