The zither, or ch'in
, has been regarded as a symbol of enlightenment by the Chinese since Confucian times (6th century b.c.). By the seventeenth century, it was a required object in most scholars' studies, if only for display. This rare example has inscriptions on the bottom, including the title Chung Ho
("middle harmony") and the number 57. One of a series made in 1634 for Prince Lu, a son of the Wan-li emperor, it was probably given as a gift to a friend or member of his aristocratic literary circle. The instrument also bears the gilded mark Lu-kuo shih ch'uan
("heirloom of the Lu State") and an engraved poem, signed by Ching-i chu-jen, that reads:
The moonlight is reflected in the Yangtze;
A light breeze blows over clear dew drops.
Only in a tranquil place
Can one comprehend the feeling of eternity.
Apparently, scholars liked having a variety of inscriptions and seals affixed to an otherwise utilitarian object.