The word pipa describes the plucking motion of the right hand: pi, means 'to play forward' and pa, 'to play backward.' The pipa descends from western and central Asian prototypes and appeared in China during the Northern Wei dynasty (386-534). Originally it was held horizontally and played with a large plectrum, but Tang dynasty (618-906) musicians began using their fingernails to pluck the silk strings, and the instrument was then held upright. The back of this extraordinary pipa is a symmetrical 'beehive' of 110 hexagonal ivory plaques, each carved with a Daoist, Buddhist, or Confucian symbol. The instrument was probably made as a gift for nobility, possibly for a wedding.