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The history of the Guqin, an ancient Chinese musical instrument, is a long one that spans 3,000 years. Although similar, it should not be confused with another Chinese zither instrument, the guzheng, which has bridges.
Legend has it that the qin, the most revered of all Chinese musical instruments, has a history of about 5,000 years. This legend states that the legendary figures of China's pre-history — Fuxi, Shennong and Yellow Emperor — were involved in its creation. Nearly almost all qin books and tablature collections published prior to the twentieth century state this as the actual origins of the qin, although this is now viewed as mythology. It is mentioned in Chinese writings dating back nearly 3,000 years, and examples have been found in tombs from about 2,500 years ago. Non-fretted zithers unearthed in tombs from the south show similar instruments that gradually became longer and had fewer strings, but they are not named in the tombs. Chinese tradition says the qin originally had five strings, but then two were added about 1,000 BCE, making seven. Some suggest that larger zithers with many strings gradually got smaller with fewer and fewer strings to reach seven. Whether the southern instruments can be called "qin," or simply southern relatives of a northern instrument that has not survived, is questionable. The exact origins of the qin is still a very much continuing subject of debate over the past few decades.
The ancient form of the qin was shorter than that of today's and probably only played using open strings. This is because the surface of these early qins were not smooth like the modern qin, the strings were far away from the surface, had engravings on the surface (which would make sliding impossible) and did not mark the harmonic positions to be able to indicate to the player who would play them.
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The Chinese musicologist Yang Yinliu divided the history of guqin into three periods: the first is the pre-Qin period, the second from the Qin Dynasty to Tang Dynasty, the third from the end of Tang to the 20th century. It is believed that during the first period the qin became popular as part of the court orchestra and as an instrument of the elite.
In the second period, guqin music was influenced by Confucian ideology and Daoist philosophy, Central Asian music imported into the imperial court, as well as entertainment music of the Sui and Tang Dynasty. During this period attempts were made to codify playing techniques and notation. Based on the detailed description in the essay "Qin Cao" 【琴操】 by Cai Yong (132–192), the standard form of the qin was most likely set around the late Han Dynasty. The earliest surviving qin in this modern form, preserved in both China and Japan, have been reliably dated to the Tang Dynasty. Many are still playable, the most famous perhaps being the one named "Jiuxiao Huanpei" 《九霄環佩/九霄环佩》, attributed to the famous late Tang Dynasty qin maker Lei Wei (雷威). It is kept in the Palace Museum in Beijing. The earliest known piece of notated guqin music, Jieshi Diao Youlan, dates from this period.
In the third period, guqin compositions proliferated and the playing techniques were refined. The Song Dynasty is considered the golden period of guqin music, with numerous poems and essays on guqin written by the literati, and many well-known pieces can be dated to this period. Treaties and handbooks were also written, documenting its music and playing techniques, and aesthetic consideration also became the most important aspect of guqin playing in this period.
In 1977, a recording of "Liu Shui" 【流水】 (Flowing Water, as performed by Guan Pinghu, one of the best qin players of the 20th century) was chosen to be included in the Voyager Golden Record, a gold-plated LP recording containing music from around the world, which was sent into outer space by NASA on the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecraft. It is the longest excerpt included on the disc. In 2003, guqin music was proclaimed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. 
When consulting ancient and medieval Chinese texts, one will come across frequent references to the qin. Such references are particularly frequent in Classical Chinese poetry, such as the poetic verses of the ancient Shijing and certain poems of the Tang period.
In the Shijing 【詩經】 (Book of Songs), several poems mention the qin (with their numbers according to their order in the anthology):
In Tang Poetry, we have many mentions, including: