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"Ambush from Ten Sides" (Chinese: 埋伏; pinyin: shí miàn mái fú) is a classical piece written for the pipa. "Ambush" is written in the "Wu" or martial style, and is about the circumstances of which General Xiang Yu in 202 BC was defeated by Liu Bang. This is the same subject matter as "The King Doffs His Armor" (霸王卸甲), but is written from a different perspective.

"Ambush from Ten Sides" is considered a masterpiece in Chinese classical music. The difficulty of the piece ensures that it can be played almost exclusively by virtuosos.



This is a famous Chinese classical pipa music whose composition describes the decisive battle in 202 B.C. at Gaixia (southeast of today's Linbi County, Anhui Province) between the two armies of Chu and Han. This piece gives an overall view of the battle, while "The King Doffs His Armor" focused on Xiang Yu and his defeat. Ambush from Ten Sides provides a vivid depiction, in the form of musical narrative, of the fierce and stirring scenes of the battle and the desolate and solemn scenes of the defeated Xiang Yu, and ends with the triumph of the victor. A wide variety of performance techniques of pipa are brought into full play in this piece that produce a majestic and passionate narrative which is sharp in artistic image, exalting in melody, and ultimately thrilling.


An early treatment of this theme was a piece called "Chu Han" (楚漢) from the late Ming/early Qing period, described in a work by Wang Youding (王猷定, 1598-1662), Sizhao Tangji (四照堂集).[1] It was noted as a particularly outstanding virtuoso performance by Tang Yingceng (湯應曾),[2] and it is possible that this piece is an early version of "Ambush from Ten Sides".

The actual piece of music with the title "Ambush from Ten Sides" first appeared in 1818 in the collection of lute music scores Nanbei Erpai Miben Pipapu Zhenzhuan (南北二派祕本琵琶譜真傳) compiled by Hua Qiuping from Wuxi.[3] Later there were a variety of different versions in circulation, varying in section divisions but consistent basically in musical content.


"Ambush from All Sides" is the form of multi-sectional da (large) form of traditional pipa composition. The currently popular music piece consists of a number of short sections, each with a generalized title. Different versions exist, and they may not all share the same sections.

The beginning sections of the music focus on the description of the mighty and grand battle array of the Han Army. The music in these sections is high-spirited and powerful, accompanied by the sounds of drums and horns. The beat of drums quickened gradually to create a tense explosive atmosphere before the breakout of the full-scale battles. Then comes the main body of the music, which is changeable and rapid. The techniques of flipping, sweeping, circular fingering, wringing, rolling, and halting are employed to represent the furious battle between the armies of Chu and Han. The later sections of the music depict Xiang Yu's suicide at Wujiang River after his defeat. The melody is mournful, solemn and stirring to reflect the desolation and sadness Xiang Yu, which contrasts sharply with climax of the piece depicting the triumph of the victor Liu Bang.

Today "Ambush from All Sides" still remains one of the most popular pipa music pieces in China.


  1. ^ Shimian Maifu / Ambushed on Ten Sides
  2. ^ 《湯琵琶傳》 Original text: 而尤得意於《楚漢》一曲,當其兩軍決戰時,聲動天地,瓦屋若飛墜。徐而察之,有金聲、鼓聲、劍弩聲、人馬辟易聲。俄而無聲。久之,有怨而難明者,為楚歌聲;淒而壯者,為項王悲歌慷慨之聲、別姬聲;陷大澤,有追騎聲;至烏江,有項王自刎聲、餘騎蹂踐爭項王聲。
  3. ^ John Myers (1992). The way of the pipa: structure and imagery in Chinese lute music. Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-455-5.

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