- Pear-shaped fretted lute with 4 or 5 strings
- Sometimes called the Chinese lute
TRADITIONAL CHINESE CLASSIFICATION:
- Japanese biwa
- Korean bipa
- Vietnamese đàn tỳ bà
The pipa is one of the most popular Chinese instruments and has been played for almost two thousand years in China. Pipa has been played solo, or as part of a large ensemble or small group since the early times. The pipa pieces in the common repertoire can be categorized as wen (文, civil) or wu (武, martial), and da (大, large or suite) or xiao (小, small).
The earliest mention of pipa in Chinese texts appeared late in the Han Dynasty around 2nd century CE. According to Liu Xi's Eastern Han Dynasty Dictionary of Names, the word pipa may have an onomatopoeic origin (the word being similar to the sounds the instrument makes), although modern scholarship suggests a possible derivation from the Persian word "barbat". The pear-shaped pipa is likely to have been introduced to China from Central Asia, Gandhara, and/or India. Pear-shaped lutes have been depicted in Kusana sculptures from the 1st century AD. Pipa from the Han Dynasty is referred to as Han pipa, however, depictions of the pear-shaped pipas in China only appeared after the Han Dynasty during the Jin Dynasty in the late 4th to early 5th century. There are therefore differing opinions about the form of the Han Dynasty pipa. Pipa acquired a number of Chinese symbolisms during the Han Dyansty - the instrument length of three feet five inches represents the three realms (heaven, earth, and man) and the five elements, while the four strings represent the four seasons.
- There are a number of different traditions with different styles of playing pipa in various regions of China, some of which then developed into schools.