The ruan is a short-necked fretted lute with a
circular body and four strings. Plucked with a plectrum, it produces a mellow
tone. Like the pipa, the ruan’s strings were traditionally made of silk, but
are now typically made of steel.
This moon-shaped lute dates
back to the third century C.E., its name a shortened form of Ruan Xian, who was
a master of the instrument during the Six Dynasties period.
Five sizes of ruans range
from contrabass to soprano. They are commonly used in Chinese opera and
orchestra, in ensembles or as accompaniment.