2005 P. Missin



The above illustration* is taken from A.C. Moule's 1908 work A List of the Musical and Other Sound-Producing Instruments of the Chinese. He describes the ku kuai as follows:

A toy which is sold or given to pilgrims to the Mao Shan, a hill south-east of Nanking. It consists of a drum of bamboo about 1.125 inch high and 1.75 inch in diameter. Both ends are covered with pieces of bamboo and there is a partition in the middle. Two little bamboo pipes are put into the sides as mouth-pieces and the reeds can be sounded either by suction or by blowing. Two different notes are produced.

A similar thing [called Sheng tzu] is sold to pilgrims at T'ai An. Here the reeds are inserted into the sides of short bamboo pipes. Two pipes are fastened side by side, or the reeds are put at the two ends of a single longer pipe, which has a division in the middle. Each reed has a blowing tube, like those of the Ku Kuai, let into the side of the pipe.

These toys are interesting as preserving perhaps the original form of the free reed.

Not having seen either of these instruments, there is little I can add, other than that sheng tzu (笙子) would be rendered in modern pinyin as sheng zi, which literally means a baby sheng. Ku kuai (古怪) would be rendered in pinyin as guguai, which does not translate quite so easily. Gu means old or ancient, guai means an oddity, freak or monster - perhaps these characters are being used phonetically. I have no idea whether these toys are still given to pilgrims at these festivals.

* There is an example of this instrument at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston which once belonged to the noted collector Francis Galpin. If I am not mistaken, it seems to be exactly the same specimen that is pictured in Moule's book.

A Brief History of Mouth Blown Free Reed Instruments
What Is A Free Reed?
Origins Of The Free Reed
Eastern Free Reed Instruments
A Selective Discography Of Asian Free Reed Instruments
Western Free Reed Instruments

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