The first examples of Xiao flutes, which were similar to current versions, date back to the Han dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD), which represents a period approximately 500 years before the first Pueblo flutes in the Americas. In the Nanjing Museum, you can find a clay figurine depicting a musician playing the Xiao, dating from the Han period. These flutes are believed to have been initially imported from the Qiang culture, situated in the northwest of Sichuan province, also known as Szechwan, a region that was part of the Silk Road. Traders traveling this route often carried flutes with them, and this possibly made them one of the trade items of the time.
It is important to note that these first Xiao models did not have the same arrangement of holes and the same number of holes that we find in current versions. The standardization of the number and arrangement of holes occurred only during the Jin dynasty (265-420 AD). Furthermore, these primitive flutes had different designations, one of them being the term "shudi" or "shuúzhúdi," which can be literally translated as "upright bamboo flute."
Before the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), any flute made from a single tube was commonly called "di". The term "xiao" was reserved for a set of pipes joined together in a way similar to a pan flute. As the Tang dynasty progressed, the transverse flute gained increasing popularity, and from that point on, the name "di" came to be associated primarily with transverse flutes. Meanwhile, the term "xiao" began to be used to describe an upright flute, and the Chinese pan flute came to be called "paixiao," which can be translated as "xiao line." But it was only during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) that the name "xiao" became established as the standard designation for the specific instrument we have today.
Variations of the xiao include the qinxiao, which is a narrower version, and the shorter, fatter southern version called the nanyin dongxiao ("southern-sounding carved flute") or nanxiao, from Fujian and Taiwan, which was imported into the Japan in the 14th century and later became the Shakuhachi.
Traditionally, xiaos are used as a solo instrument or combined with a guqin, a Chinese zither. The sound of the xiao is rich and smooth like a Pueblo (Anasazi) flute, but softer, with less wind and air noise. Xiaos can also play two octaves. Original text by Scott August, a master in the art of playing the Xiao flute and Pueblo flutes, find out more here .