Qin tuning key (qin zhenyao) with tiger and snake

Historical period(s)
Eastern Zhou dynasty, 5th century BCE
H x W: 8.2 x 4 cm (3 1/4 x 1 9/16 in)
Credit Line
Gift of Charles Lang Freer
Freer Gallery of Art
Accession Number
On View Location
Currently not on view
Musical Instrument

Zither tuning key (qin zhenyao)

China, Eastern Zhou dynasty (770 - 221 BCE), snake, tiger

To 1916
Yamanaka & Company, New York to 1916 [1]

From 1916 to 1919
Charles Lang Freer (1854-1919), purchased from Yamanaka & Company, New York in 1916 [2]

From 1920
The Freer Gallery of Art, gift of Charles Lang Freer in 1920 [3]


[1] Undated folder sheet note. See Original Bronze List, S.I. 972, Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery Archives.

[2] See note 1.

[3] The original deed of Charles Lang Freer's gift was signed in 1906. The collection was received in 1920 upon the completion of the Freer Gallery.

Previous Owner(s) and Custodian(s)

Charles Lang Freer 1854-1919
Yamanaka and Co. (C.L. Freer source) 1917-1965


Several types of zithers were played in ancient China. The earliest (the se, zheng, and zhu) used movable bridges for tuning, but the qin, a seven-stringed zither that evolved between the fifth and second century B.C.E., has tuning pegs on the underside that are turned with a metal key. The decoration of these tuning keys-combative animals and a bear native to China's northern territory-may have been inspired by the goods traded with seminomadic peoples along China's northern frontier. Some scholars believe this may indicate that the qin developed, at least in part, in response to foreign musical traditions.

Published References
  • Thomas Lawton. Chinese Art of the Warring States Period: Change and Continuity, 480-222 B.C. Washington, 1982-1983. cat. 13, p. 50.
Collection Area(s)
Chinese Art
Web Resources
Google Cultural Institute
CC0 - Creative Commons (CC0 1.0)

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