By now he is known all over the world as the “the father of guzheng.” His name is Xu Zhen Gao. He holds the official title of China’s highest master in the art of guzheng-making.
Xu was born on November 27, 1933 in Yangzhou (Jiangsu province). At age 16 he moved to Shanghai to study instrument making from Master Liao Jin Lin. Right from the beginning he was Liao’s best apprentice. At the time master Liao was China’s only guzheng maker, supplying instruments for the Da Tong Yue Hui (Shanghai National Symphony Orchestra).
The pastime of guzheng-playing along with the art of guzheng-making nearly disappeared in the 1940’s; only a handful of guzhengs were being built in all of China each year, and all for the Shanghai orchestra.
In 1951, when the central government began the process of consolidation of private businesses into large government -owned factories, Xu Zhen Gao’s workshop became part of the Shanghai Dunhuang Musical Instruments No. 1 Factory (simply known as Dunhuang). Xu Zhen Gao was appointed as the company’s head designer and manager of the guzheng manufacturing division.
In 1961 Xu had revolutionized the guzheng design with the introduction of the first 21-string guzheng as well as the S-curved string rest. These new developments came after years of research and trials. Until 1961 the guzheng had 18 strings.
One of Xu’s greatest accomplishments is the salvation of the guzheng instrument: During some of the most difficult times in China’s history, Xu worked tirelessly to teach young craftsmen the art of instrument-making. Thanks to his life-long effort, the number of guzheng makers in China has grown from only four in 1959 to over 600 today. One could even say that Xu is directly responsible for guzheng’s rising popularity.
Despite his high age and official retirement, Xu still maintains a busy work schedule, getting up early every day, working on issues at the Dunhuang factory or at his private shop, Master Xu and Son Co., where he designs and hand-crafts instruments together with his son Xu Ting Dong.
Xu’s guzheng and guqin instruments can be purchased from Lunlun Zou, who is Xu Zhen Gao’s world-wide exclusive distributor.