Type: Free-Reed > Aerophone.
Region: China > Far East Asia.
Hornbostel-Sachs No#: 412.132
Descriptions: The sheng is a Chinese free-reed bamboo mouth organ. Its age is unknown although evidence is shown in pictographs dating from 1200 B.C. Images of the sheng are found in painted murals of the Dunghuang caves dating back to the 7 to 8 centuries. Although in China this instrument is identified with the Han culture. Identically similar varieties of this instrument can be found among China's minority cultures. Traditionally the sheng was performed in court music. In which the sheng is complete with a gourd very similar to the current Southern Chinese and northern Thai Naw.
During this period this instrument traveled through out many courts of Asia and according to some may have even reached Persia in the 10th century. Documentation confirms that this instrument did not reach Europe until 1777 with Pere Amiot. The inventions of the reed organ, concertina, harmonica and accordion are direct descendants of the sheng.
The first appearance of the word "sheng" is in some of the poems of Shijing (Book of Odes), dating back c. 7th century BCE. 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 (2nd century BCE) in Hunan province.
Development: There are several keyed sheng currently available Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass. This is quite a recent innovation as there have been many. The playing of the sheng in an orchestral setting is a relatively recent phenomena. Modern keyed sheng are tuned in a chromatic arrangement. Fitted with 30 or more pipes with metal wind chambers. Some contemporary sheng are fitted with keys placed on the front of the instrument.
Citations: New Grove Dictionary of Music by Stanley Sadie > Randy Raine-Reusch @ asza.com (sheng article, Keyed sheng article).