A traditional musical instrument from China, related to the Persian santur. It is also known as the Chinese Dulcimer and the Butterfly Harp.
The yangqin is a large wooden box with strings arranged in pairs (called courses) across the face, which the player hits with bamboo beaters, one in each hand. The instrument has a range of five octaves, creating an impressive variety of tone. The higher register gives that tinkly, almost banjo-like timbre that is instantly recognisable within Chinese music. The lower end of the instrument gives a metallic sound sometimes compared to the western harpsichord. The bright, diverse voice lends itself well to solos, and is often used in Chinese opera.
The first example appeared in the Ming period, an adaptation of similar instruments from the Middle East. The number and groupings of strings gradually developed, with the modern standard being finalised in the 1960s – three choirs (sections) containing ten courses each. Sustained notes are controlled by a changeable damper underneath the box.
Find out more:
http://www.melodyofchina.com/06instruments/yangqin.html has a brief sound sample to whet your appetite. A google search yields lots more results.
http://www.paulnoll.com/China/Music/China-musical-instruments.html is a great site with information on every Chinese instrument under the sun.