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The pipa, pípá, or p'i-p'a is a traditional Chinese musical instrument, belonging to the plucked category of instruments. Sometimes called the "Chinese lute“, the instrument has a pear-shaped wooden body with a varying number of frets ranging from 12 to 31. Another Chinese four-string plucked lute is the liuqin, which looks like a smaller version of the pipa. The pea…


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The pipa is one of the most popular Chinese instruments and has been played for almost two thousand years in China. Several related instruments are derived from the pipa, including the Japanese biwa and Korean bipa in East Asia, and the Vietnamese đàn tỳ bà in Southeast Asia. The Korean instrument is the only one of the three that is no longer widely used.

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There are some confusion and disagreements about the origin of pipa. This may be due to the fact that the word pipa was used in ancient texts to describe a variety of plucked chordophones from the Qin to the Tang dynasty, including the long-necked spiked lute and the short-necked lute, as well as the differing accounts given in these ancient texts. Traditional Chinese narrative prefers the story of the Han Chinese Princess Liu Xijun sent to marry a barbarian Wusun king during the Han dynasty, with the pipa being invented so she could play music on horseback to soothe her longings. Modern researchers such as Laurence Picken, Shigeo Kishibe, and John Myers suggested a non-Chinese origin.

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