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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.[1]

"Ambush from Ten Sides" is considered a masterpiece in Chinese classical music. The difficulty of the piece ensures that it is normally played 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).[2] It was noted as a particularly outstanding virtuoso performance by Tang Yingceng (湯應曾),[3] 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.[4] A number of different versions appeared later; these may vary in the number of sections but they are consistent in their musical content.[5]


"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 assembled army of the Han. The music in these sections is forceful and lively, with percussive sounds on pipa imitating drums and horns. The beat of drums gets gradually faster to depict the increasingly tense atmosphere before the onset of the battle. The main part of the music is played in a rapid manner, utilising a variety of pipa techniques to describe the furious battle between the armies of Chu and Han, such as flipping, sweeping, circular fingering, wringing, rolling, and halting. The last few sections of the music depict Xiang Yu defeat, then his suicide beside the Wujiang River. The melody is mournful and tragic to reflect the desolation and sadness Xiang Yu. Finally, the climax of the piece depicts the triumphant of the victor Liu Bang.[5]

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


  1. ^ Wu Bin. Ambush from Ten Sides. Prunus Press. ISBN 9781616121099.
  2. ^ Shimian Maifu / Ambushed on Ten Sides
  3. ^ 《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。
  4. ^ John Myers (1992). The way of the pipa: structure and imagery in Chinese lute music. Kent State University Press. ISBN 0-87338-455-5.
  5. ^ a b "Ambush from All Sides (十面埋伏)". Cultural China. Archived from the original on 19 February 2012.

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