The Chinese sheng is a mouth-blown free reed instrument consisting of vertical pipes.
It is one of the oldest Chinese instruments, with images depicting its kind dating back to 1100 BC, and there are actual instruments from the Han era that have been preserved today.Traditionally, the sheng has been used as an accompanimentinstrument for solo suona or dizi performances. It is one of the main instruments in kunqu and some other forms of Chinese opera. Traditional small ensembles also make use of the sheng, such as the wind and percussion ensembles in northern China. In the modern large Chinese orchestra, it is used for both melody and accompaniment
The sheng has been used in the works of a few non-Chinese composers, including Lou Harrison, Tim Risher, Daniel Bjarnason, Brad Catler, and Christopher Adler. Some believe that Johann Wilde and Pere Amiot traveled to China and brought the first shengs to Europe in 1740 and 1777 respectively, although there is evidence that free reed musical instruments similar to shengs were known in Europe a century earlier.
Chinese free-reed wind instruments named he and yu were first mentioned in bone oracle writings dating from the 14th–12th centuries BC, and were identified in later texts as types of sheng. The first appearance of the word "sheng" is in some of the poems of Shijing (Book of Odes), dating back c. 7th century BC. Ancient instruments with gourd wind chambers, varying numbers of pipes, with bamboo or metal reeds have been discovered in archaeological finds at the tomb of the Marquis Yi of Zeng (c. 433 BC) in present-day Hubei province, and the Han tombs at Mawangdui (c. 2nd century BC) in Hunan province.
In the eighth century, three yu and three sheng were sent to the Japanese court and these have been preserved in the Shōsōinimperial repository in Nara. All the instruments had 17 pipes with a long curving mouthpiece and are very similar to the traditional sheng in use today. However variants with different numbers of pipes, and chromatic instruments have been documented over the centuries.