I grew up in Beijing in a music family. My dad is an opera actor; he performed at the Central Opera in China, so we lived in a big block where all the membership of the China Central Opera House lived, and there was music around me from when I was little.

My family wanted me to learn the cello, but it was hard to find the [right] size because I started to play music from five years old. So my dad said, “Maybe try the erhu; it is from the string family anyway,” so I started to learn that with my neighbour, who is a huqin master.

The erhu has a long neck and two strings. The bow goes between the strings; it’s very narrow. [Unlike] the violin, the erhu has no fingerboard. You use more pressure to make the intonation change, so the intonation is difficult to control.

Then my dad brings me a banhu, which is different but still from the huqin string family, so I also learn that with the huqin master until I was 12.

Dong Ma holding his erhu.