If you can imagine a higher realm, a place where heavenly maidens live carefree… perhaps you will discover the origins of the pipa, or Chinese lute. The pipa is believed to be a celestial instrument that heavenly beings use to impart the innocence and purity of their paradises to humans.
The traditional Chinese notion of “divinely inspired culture” holds that China’s rich civilization was passed down from above. Chinese script, medicine, agriculture, silk, and musical instruments are all seen as having been imparted or inspired by various deities.
The physical structure of the pipa itself is said to have connections to heaven and earth, as well as the ability to transport the listener to higher realms. The book Fengsu Tong of the Eastern Han Dynasty states, “the pipa is three foot five inches long,” representing the “principles of heaven, earth, and humans, and the five elements; the four strings represent the four seasons.”
The name “pipa” actually contains two Chinese characters, "pí" (琵) and "pá" (琶). The two are ancient Chinese strumming techniques—"pi" is the term for the right hand playing the strings forward, and "pa" is plucking backwards. And so the term "pipa" is often used in Chinese to describe various string playing techniques.
A single pipa positioned in the center of the Shen Yun Performing Arts Orchestra is like an axle, connecting the celestial worlds and traditional dances on stage with “heaven, earth, and man.” Be sure to keep your eyes and ears open for the pipa at your next Shen Yun performance; its stirring sounds can recall the beauty of ancient magical realms.