The Sheng is a mouth organ. Its body is a bowl made of metal, wood, or a gourd. It has a blowpipe and seventeen or more bamboo or metal pipes that extend from the top of the bowl. The elegant symmetrical arrangement of the pipes represents the two folded wings of the mythical phoenix bird. Each pipe has, inside the bowl, a side hole covered by a metal tongue that interrupts the air current. The sheng produces a strikingly clear, metallic sound. Western harmonicas, reed organs, and concertinas use the same basic acoustical principles as the sheng.
Mouth organs similar to the sheng are first mentioned in Chinese texts dating from the 14th to 12th century DCE. Today the sheng is mainly used to play Chinese classical music in small and large ensembles with other Chinese instruments such as the pipa and erhu (see below). However, innovative musicians such as Wu Tong, of the successful Chinese hard rock band Again, also use the sheng in popular music.