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Title: demo: Chinese bangu; Wu Baofu, percussionist. Format: DV.

Contextual Associations

The bangu is a single-head membranophone of the Han Chinese found in the percussion section of Beijing opera (jingju) ensembles. It is also found in a variety of regional Daoist ensembles, as can be gleaned from pictures in Stephen Jones' book Folk Music of China (see photos on pages 105, 250, 256, and 258).


This single-head drum is somewhat deceptive in appearance--the overall diameter of the membrane is much greater than the actual segment of it that is set into vibration. The body is constructed of five wedges of hardwood glued together and further secured with a band of metal around its circumference.  A mere 2 in. circle of the membrane at the center, called the guxin (‘drum heart’), is left free to vibrate (see detail photo, which shows the inside of the drum). The membrane is attached to the shell under great tension and held in place by three tightly spaced rows of tacks. One or two slender stick beaters are used to sound the drum.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The bangu rests on a stand with the head facing upwards. The player, who is typically seated, can strike the drum with either one or two beaters. When struck the bangu produces a very high pitched and dry sound, almost like a woodblock (see Video, for which the percussionist performs with two beaters). Typically, the leader of the percussion section accompanying Beijing Opera handles the bangu, paiban, and tanggu, often playing the first two simultaneously (in which case the performer uses only one beater for the bangu; see video clip on paiban page). In Beijing opera performance practice the bangu is sounded in combination with the daluo, xiaoluo, jingbo, and paiban to perform labeled rhythmic patterns called luogudianzi (‘gong and drum rhythmic patterns’), which are used to accompany dramatic stage action such as flamboyant entrances, battles, and acrobatics.


Thrasher (1984) states that the bangu has a history of only several hundred years, but no other detail about the origin and evolution of this drum was found. 

Bibliographic Citations

Hsu, Tao-Ching. 1985. The Chinese Conception of Theatre. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Jones, Stephen. 1995. Folk Music of China: Living Instrumental Traditions. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Liang, Mingyue. 1985. Music of the Billion: An Introduction to Chinese Musical Culture. New York: Heinrichshofen.

Thrasher, Alan R. 1984. "Bangu." NGDMI v.1: 150.


Instrument Information


Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Nation: China

Formation: Han

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

211.251.1 membranophone--individual single-skin conical drum

Design and Playing Features

Category: membranophone

Number of drums comprising instrument: single drum

Shell design: tubular - cylindrical-conical

Number and function of membranes: one, for sounding

Membrane design: unframed

Membrane attachment: unframed membrane nailed to shell

Membrane tension control: none, tension set at time of manufacture

Sounding for membranophone: striking with two handheld beaters

Sound modifiers for membranophone: none


4 in. depth of shell 9.4 in. diameter of shell 8.8 in. diameter of bottom opening of shell 2 in. diameter of upper opening of shell

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin

Entry Author

Roger Vetter