Chinese Studies Music in China
by
Jonathan P. J. Stock
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 June 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199920082-0021

Introduction

One of the world’s most significant historical centers of scientific and cultural innovation, China is today a preeminent center of industrial and economic productivity. The Chinese cultural sphere remains vibrant, and is once again becoming globally impactful. Within the broad field of expressive culture, Chinese music includes a vast panoply of genres and usages: ancient and new; folk and elite; commercial and ritualistic; indigenous, imported, diasporic, and exported. The size and inherent diversity of the Chinese population ensures the sustaining of considerable stylistic and aesthetic variety in all this music, and globally distinctive components include a rich body of ideas about music theory and practice, several indigenous systems of music notation, numerous musical instruments, and many distinctive musical genres. Some of these musical expressions are confined to particular localities or ethnic minority populations; some are the preserve of subgroups of the majority Han Chinese, whether the urban youth, religious practitioners, elite theatergoers, or folk music revivalists. This bibliography provides pathways into this vast field, identifying research sources that serve as initial orientations within a large body of scholarship on music in China. Primarily English sources are cited because this is an English-language resource, but it should be emphasized that there is far more research available in Chinese, as well as significant work in Japanese, Korean, French, and other languages. I also cite books rather than articles, where available, as these have room for greater depth. Any in-depth study will require a working knowledge of Chinese or collaboration with Chinese culture bearers, and foreign-language sources inevitably cite key Chinese items in their references. After a look at accessible overviews and general reference sources, we explore studies of music history. Space is then given to research on a cross-section of representative traditional genres and musical instruments, which is followed by work focusing on more recent developments. A final section presents research on crosscutting issues in Chinese musical scholarship. The selected examples cover the historical and the present day, music from urban as well as rural settings, and expressions from across the amateur-professional spectrum. Although they cannot embrace every subfield or emphasis in Chinese music research, they collectively represent the breadth and depth of contemporary Chinese musical research currently open to readers of English, plus a few key sources in other languages.

General Overviews

Although Western authors have written many books on music in China, there has been a tendency since the 1980s to focus these studies on a single region, genre, musician, or instrument. Running against this trend are entries in major reference works (see Encyclopedias and Bibliographies) and also a small number of volumes written by experts, among which Liang 1985 remains valuable as an introduction to the history, instruments, and aesthetics of Chinese music, although it obviously does not cover the years since 1985, a period that has seen a considerable amount of change in many areas of Chinese musical culture. It also offers little on ritual music, which has historically been a significant part of the musical lives of ordinary villagers. Meanwhile, Picard 2003 takes a thematic approach, first looking at salient characteristics of the setting of Chinese music, genres, and instruments, and finally at China’s musical impact outside its early-21st-century borders. Also valuable as a primary source is Thrasher 2000, which uses descriptions of highly characteristic musical ensembles and instruments to convey information on central principles in Chinese traditional music more generally. Jones 1995 focuses on folk traditions; here the treatment is regional, with much information on the origins and styles of folk music from across much of mainland China. Like Picard 2003, Jones 1995 pays significant attention to the interface of ritual and music. Lau 2008 and Cheung and Wong 2010 are textbooks intended directly for use in high school or lower-level college classes.

  • Cheung, Joys Hoi Yan, and King Chung Wong, eds. Reading Chinese Music and Beyond. Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong, 2010.

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    Collection of articles intended for teaching use, offering an overview of Chinese music in historical and contemporary contexts. Topics embraced include music for traditional stringed instruments, new compositions in the mid-20th century, and the representation and appropriation of the music of minority ethnic populations.

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  • Jones, Stephen. Folk Music of China: Living Instrumental Traditions. Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.

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    In-depth account of folk music genres among the majority Han people as they existed in the 1990s and in historical context. Combines ethnographic observation and extensive literature review. Some coverage on urban and elite genres.

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  • Lau, Frederick. Music in China: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.

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    Accessible starting point for study of Chinese music, with numerous short examples on CD. Interweaves contemporary and traditional topics, including Western-style genres. Final chapter focuses on music of overseas Chinese, overlooked in many studies.

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  • Liang, Mingyue. Music of the Billion: An Introduction to Chinese Musical Culture. Paperbacks on Musicology 8. New York: Heinrichshofen, 1985.

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    Introduces history of music in China and numerous instruments and genres, with particular attention to the seven-stringed zither qin. Focuses on majority Han people. Many line drawings and music examples.

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  • Picard, François. La musique chinoise. Paris: Éditions You-Feng, 2003.

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    Survey of Chinese music and its primary resources, including numerous musical instruments presented in their respective historical and societal contexts.

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  • Thrasher, Alan Robert. Chinese Musical Instruments. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Well-illustrated overview of key traditional instruments and ensembles, with integrated coverage of significant characteristics of Chinese music culture.

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Encyclopedias and Bibliographies

Several large-scale music reference sources feature extended coverage of Chinese musical culture, and there are also accounts in the majority of textbooks on world music studies. Among these, the entries in Thrasher, et al. 2000 and Witzleben, et al. 2002 present content by many expert researchers. Jones 2003 provides a detailed review of a multivolume Chinese-language reference work, the approach and contents of which can be compared with English-language sources to reveal the overlaps and contrasts of scholarship in these languages. Lieberman 1979 is an annotated bibliography of sources on Chinese music that remains useful in research on topics up to that date. Shen 1999 seeks to summarize the trends in research among Chinese scholars, citing numerous examples. Readers of Chinese will certainly want to use Zhongguo yishu yanjiuyuan yinyue yanjiusuo 1984–1992, a two-volume dictionary with short entries on concepts, instruments, genres, and people in Chinese music. Liu, et al. 1987 is also valuable as an illustrated reference source for musical instruments. Readers of French will find Picard 2006 valuable; here the approach is to lay out the key terms of East Asian music culture side by side, thus emphasizing points of contact and distinction among China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam.

  • Jones, Stephen. “Reading between the Lines: Reflections on the Massive Anthology of Folk Music of the Chinese Peoples.” Ethnomusicology 47.3 (2003): 287–337.

    DOI: 10.2307/3113937Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Critical overview of the largest Chinese-language reference source on traditional music, which comprises a set of volumes for each province, arranged by musical genre, within an overall project titled Zhongguo minzu minjian yinyue jicheng (中国民族民间音乐集成).

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  • Lieberman, Fredric. Chinese Music: An Annotated Bibliography. 2d ed. New York: Garland, 1979.

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    Lists sources, primarily in Western languages, many of them briefly annotated.

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  • Liu Dongsheng 刘东升, Hu Chuanfan 胡传藩, and Hu Yanjiu 胡彦久, eds. Zhongguo yueqi tu zhi (中国乐器图志). Beijing: Qinggongye chubanshe, 1987.

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    Well-illustrated compendium of c. 250 Chinese musical instruments organized into historical and contemporary categories, and showing instruments of the ethnic minority peoples as well as the Han.

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  • Picard, François. Lexique des musiques d’Asie orientale (Chine, Corée, Japon, Vietnam). Paris: Éditions You-Feng, 2006.

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    Innovative comparative approach: defines key terms in Chinese music alongside their East Asian neighbors. Includes a bibliography of key items in several languages and an extensive table of commonly used but divergently pronounced East Asian musical terms.

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  • Shen Qia. “Ethnomusicology in China.” Translated with commentary by Jonathan P. J. Stock. Journal of Music in China 1 (1999): 7–36.

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    Overview of significant trends and scholarly emphases in Chinese music research in the 20th century. Provides many examples from the categories of comparative musicology, folk music research, traditional music theory, and ethnomusicology.

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  • Thrasher, Alan Robert, Joseph Sui Ching Lam, Jonathan P. J. Stock, et al. “China.” In The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. 2d ed. Vol. 5. Edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell, 631–695. London: Macmillan, 2000.

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    Broad overview of Chinese musical culture. Links to further entries on instruments and musicians. Available online by subscription.

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  • Witzleben, J. Lawrence, Kenneth DeWoskin, Wu Ben, et al. “China.” In The Garland Encyclopedia of World Music. Vol. 7, East Asia: China, Japan, and Korea. Edited by Robert C. Provine, Yosihiko Tokumaru, and J. Lawrence Witzleben, 85–529. New York: Garland, 2002.

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    Entries typically go into greater depth than those in Thrasher, et al. 2000 but cover a narrower range of topics. Includes CD of music examples.

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  • Zhongguo yishu yanjiuyuan yinyue yanjiusuo 中国艺术研究院音乐研究所, ed. Zhongguo yinyue cidian (中国音乐词典). 2 vols. Beijing: Renmin yinyue chubanshe, 1984–1992.

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    Two-volume dictionary of Chinese music, with entries on a very wide range of topics.

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Journals

Research on Chinese music is published primarily in journals in the field of music, although some papers appear in Chinese studies, history, anthropology, and drama studies. Historically, the journal Chime was dedicated to research on Chinese music, and further articles appear in journals such as Asian Music, Chinoperl Papers, Ethnomusicology, and the Yearbook for Traditional Music. There are several key journals in Chinese, among which Zhongguo yinyuexue and Yinyue yanjiu lie at the more scholarly end of the spectrum. Selected papers from these journals have been published in translation in the journal Music in China, alongside newly written articles in English. Back issues of several Western-language journals with articles on Chinese music are accessible online through JSTOR (journal storage), while the Chinese Academic Journals database has issues of the Chinese-language journals mentioned, from the 1980s onward.

Music History

Much research looks at the history of Chinese-specific musical genres and instruments (see Representative Traditional Musical Genres and Instruments), but the study of Chinese music as a whole organized in relation to particular historical periods, while regularly found in Chinese-language textbooks, remains less significant than in Western musicology. One explanation for this may be that music notation, long used in Chinese civilization, was in the great majority of cases employed as a reminder of the outline of a musical piece intended for use as a guide to learning. It was not a complete representation of every note expected in a finished performance. As such, the available historical data do not always allow the full reconstruction of complete musical compositions or the detailed assessment of musical style change. Readers of Chinese will find Yang 1981 a very regularly cited textbook for the history of music from archaeological sources up to the establishment of the Republic of China (1912). There are now many other such volumes on the Chinese-language market. Focusing on drama traditions (which in China are typically performed with instrumental accompaniment and singing), Mackerras 1990 also provides long-term historical coverage from the origins to the late 20th century. Stock 2013 identifies a series of enduring patterns in the ways China’s musical history has been accounted for over its lengthy course, both inside and outside China.

  • Mackerras, Colin. Chinese Drama: A Historical Survey. Beijing: New World Press, 1990.

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    Account of Chinese drama from its origins in the 12th century to the late 1980s, with information on performance practice, social role, and political status throughout. The author gives significant space to the developments from 1949 to 1980.

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  • Stock, Jonathan P. J. “Four Recurring Themes in Histories of Chinese Music.” In The Cambridge History of World Music. Edited by Philip V. Bohlman, 397–415. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.1017/CHO9781139029476.023Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Studies how writers on Chinese music history have dealt with the origins of music, the connections between musical pitch and politics, the roles of specialist musicians, and the multicultural basis of Chinese musical culture.

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  • Yang Yinliu 杨荫浏. Zhongguo gudai yinyue shi gao (中国古代音乐史稿). 2 vols. Beijing: Renmin yinyue chubanshe, 1981.

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    Two-volume treatise on music history from its origins up to 1911. Includes many notations and other illustrations. Classic text in China, now followed by a new generation of more detailed research studies which largely eschew its overtly Marxist presentation.

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Origins of Music in China up to the End of the Han Dynasty (up to 220 CE)

Detailed examinations of early music history include Tong 1983, a study of oracle bone inscriptions and a source of records of music in rituals of the Shang dynasty (16th–11th centuries BCE). Kaufmann 1976 offers translations of music-related passages from early Chinese philosophical and historical writings, and Brindley 2012 provides a unified interpretation of the ideas expressed in these sources. So 2000 is a richly illustrated report on music around the period of Confucius (551–479 BCE). A thorough study of the important bronze bell ensembles of Chinese antiquity is provided in Falkenhausen 1993. These instruments were widely used in court rites, and the study contributes to issues as varied as cosmological outlook and music theory. DeWoskin 1982 is an engaging discussion of the role of music and the wider concept of art during the Han dynasty (206 BCE–220 CE).

  • Brindley, Erica Fox. Music, Cosmology, and the Politics of Harmony in Early China. Albany: State University of New York, 2012.

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    Study of the concept of music in early China (5th–1st centuries BCE), relating to its use in the emerging imperial system as a tool for both governance and self-regulation.

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  • DeWoskin, Kenneth J. A Song for One or Two: Music and the Concept of Art in Early China. Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1982.

    DOI: 10.3998/mpub.19278Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores impact of Confucian, Daoist, and other philosophical outlooks on music in Chinese culture, paying close critical attention to the lengthy Chinese corpus of work on music and aesthetics.

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  • Falkenhausen, Lothar von. Suspended Music: Chime-Bells in the Culture of Bronze Age China. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

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    Detailed account of the rise of the ritual orchestra led by bronze bell-form instruments in early China. The author contextualizes the account by looking at ritual practices; the development of instrument-making technology; and the economics, symbolism, and politics of bell performance.

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  • Kaufmann, Walter. Musical References in the Chinese Classics. Detroit: Information Coordinators, 1976.

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    Translation of music-related passages in early Chinese writings such as the Yijing, with numerous, short essays by Kaufmann on music theory, instruments, and additional topics.

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  • So, Jenny F., ed. Music in the Age of Confucius. Washington, DC: Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, 2000.

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    Examines archaeological accounts and historical records. Excellently illustrated introduction to imperial bell sets and other instruments of Chinese antiquity. Published in conjunction with the exhibition at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

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  • Tong, Kin-Woon. “Shang Musical Instruments: Part One.” In Special Issue: Chinese Music History. Asian Music 14.2 (1983): 17–182.

    DOI: 10.2307/833936Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first in a series of three articles by the author, exploring musical implications of early oracle bone inscriptions. Continues in Asian Music 15.1 (1983): 102–184, and 15.2 (1984): 67–131.

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End of the Han Dynasty to the Qing Dynasty, 220–1911 CE

Picken 1981 initiates an extensive study of music from the Tang court (618–907 CE), transcribing surviving manuscripts and other evidence in China and neighboring nations. The Tang period was an era of unprecedented musical exchange in East Asia. Tang emperors imported musicians and music from vassal states all around the nation’s borders, and they were in turn imitated by the courts in Korea and Japan, and fragments of the earlier court music were retained or documented in each of these locations. The work by Laurence Picken’s team has allowed the reconstruction of Tang pieces in performable versions and offers a persuasive account of musical transmission, stability, and change in this wide region. Chen 2005 transcribes music notation preserved in the Dunhuang manuscripts, a massive cache of materials dating back to the 4th century CE found near a Buddhist community in Western China, and Zhao 2012 provides a detailed historical analysis of the broader processes of international musical culture contact. By way of contrast, Lam 2013 traces the somewhat later emergence of knowledge about Chinese music in Europe through the reports of travelers and missionaries. Lam 2001 is a biography of one of the leading musical figures of the later Song dynasty (960–1279 CE), Jiang Kui (b. 1155–d. 1221 CE). Idema and West 1982 deals with the ensuing Yuan dynasty (1271–1368 CE), setting opera traditions richly into their cultural and literary contexts. The public prominence of traditional opera means that sources on this topic typically provide a sense of musical life in the nation more generally (see Opera). An even richer portrait results from feeding in the insights of studies of further repertories, such as the Ming-dynasty (1368–1644 CE) court ritual music detailed in Lam 1998 or the exploration in Lowry 2005 of the publication during the 16th and 17th centuries of popular song lyrics. Meanwhile, Han 1978 assesses how the Chinese tradition of providing titles and narratives to instrumental music endows those pieces with meaning.

  • Chen, Yingshi 陈应时. Dunhuang yuepu jieyi bianzheng (敦煌乐谱解译辨证). Shanghai: Shanghai yinyue xueyuan chubanshe, 2005.

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    Systematic study of music notations preserved in the Dunhuang manuscripts, including their conversion into Western staff notation and associated theoretical essentials.

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  • Han, Kuo-Huang. “The Chinese Concept of Program Music.” Asian Music 10.1 (1978): 17–38.

    DOI: 10.2307/834123Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Historical account of Chinese approaches to encapsulating meaning in music. Argues that Chinese people prefer concrete titles and narratives in the cultural sphere, but that this does not mean that musical pieces are fixed representations of their topic, any more than Chinese paintings directly record the topography in front of the artist.

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  • Idema, Wilt L., and Stephen H. West. Chinese Theater, 1100–1450: A Source Book. Wiesbaden, West Germany: Steiner Verlag, 1982.

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    Detailed analysis of early Chinese opera, including translations of surviving texts and essays on social context. The book uses rich historical sources to summon the flavor of historical performances and provides insight into the biographies of professional entertainers. The latter part of the book translates surviving operatic scenes in full.

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  • Lam, Joseph Sui Ching. State Sacrifices and Music in Ming China: Orthodoxy, Creativity, and Expressiveness. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998.

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    Account of theory and practice in court ritual music, exploring the role of correctly tuned and performed music in cementing dynastic authority.

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  • Lam, Joseph Sui Ching. “Writing Music Biographies of Historical East Asian Musicians: The Case of Jiang Kui (A.D. 1155–1221).” World of Music 43.1 (2001): 69–95.

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    Study of an early Chinese composer and songwriter in his historical context and as variously retold by a succession of biographers over the intervening c. 750 years.

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  • Lam, Ching-Wah. The Idea of Chinese Music in Europe up to the Year 1800. Beijing: Central Conservatory of Music Press, 2013.

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    Survey of Western attempts to understand Chinese music from Marco Polo, through the Jesuit missions (including significant writings by Jean-Joseph Amiot), and up to the diplomatic mission of Lord Macartney (1793–1794) and the simultaneous European fashion for chinoiserie.

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  • Lowry, Kathryn Anne. The Tapestry of Popular Songs in 16th- and 17th-Century China: Reading, Imitation, and Desire. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2005.

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    Deals with the little-studied topic of popular songs, showing how, through publication, they became part of the literati culture and how they contributed to people’s everyday lives.

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  • Picken, Laurence, ed. Music from the Tang Court 1. London: Oxford University Press, 1981.

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    First of a series that reconstructs musical notations and practices of East Asia courts from over one thousand years ago. This volume features a three-movement dance suite, “The Emperor Destroys the Military Formations,” thought to have been first performed in the 8th century.

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  • Zhao, Weiping 赵维平. Zhongguo yu Dongya yinyue de lishi yanjiu (中国与东亚音乐的历史研究). Shanghai: Shanghai yinyue xueyuan chubanshe, 2012.

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    Comparative historical study of the impact of Chinese music on Japan, Korea, and Vietnam during the imperial period.

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Republic and Present Day, Post-1911

Numerous transformations of music making have occurred since the start of the 20th century, among them the rise of recording, broadcasting, and the Internet; the emergence of new institutions (conservatoires and music exam boards, concert halls, state music ensembles, and a commercial music industry); and changing social attitudes toward professional musicians. Kraus 1989 and Stock 1996 trace examples of these transformations, looking at conservatory-trained musicians’ adoption of Western classical music and of Chinese traditional music respectively. New musical genres emerged, such as Western-influenced art music (Liu 2009, which is also available in English translation) and pop (Jones 2001). Detailed research has revealed a level of nuance not seen in the headline assumptions about Chinese history in this period. For example, Zheng 1997 assesses the conflicting range of female imagery portrayed in new Chinese art songs in the first decades of the 20th century. Wong 1984 traces the rise of massed revolutionary singing to a process begun by missionaries and then continued by educational reformers in the 19th century. Mittler 2003 provides a case study of one of the so-called model works approved for wide-scale performance during the Cultural Revolution (1966–1976), showing the strongly systematic approach to every artistic variable and the continuities with musical flows from earlier in the 20th century. In fact, much music reform occurred under the Nationalist Party (in government from 1912 to 1949) and throughout the century as a whole. Instigators of change include not only Communist ideologues but also middle-class educators, folklore activists, business people, and administrators attempting to form state-run organizations. There has been considerable recent interest in the idea of cultural heritage, and this has led to further efforts at revival and renewal of historical practices (see Crosscutting Issues and Approaches in Chinese Music Research). Rees 2000 offers a rich case study of musical reconstruction among the Naxi minority of Yunnan Province, where ideas about heritage, tourism, and regional and ethnic identity have become fused in the performance of traditional ensemble music. Likewise, there have been a series of disputes over intellectual property. Several of these have had an intercultural or international dimension. Guy 2002 reports on one such sampling of a Taiwanese aboriginal song recording by a Western world music producer. Finally, Law and Ho 2004 evaluates the changing music education system in Hong Kong after its return to Chinese administration.

  • Guy, Nancy. “Trafficking in Taiwanese Aboriginal Voices.” In Handle with Care: Ownership and Control of Ethnographic Materials. Edited by Sjoerd R. Jaarsma, 195–209. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2002.

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    Account of a legal case following Enigma’s issue of “Return to Innocence,” which included a lengthy extract from an Amis folk song recording.

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  • Jones, Andrew F. Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822380436Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Studying the emergence of Chinese-language popular song in the 1930s, Jones traces the detailed workings and meanings of its ascribed international and racial associations.

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  • Law, Wing-Wah, and Wai-Chung Ho. “Values Education in Hong Kong School Music Education: A Sociological Critique.” British Journal of Educational Studies 52.1 (2004): 65–82.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8527.2004.00255.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assesses how Hong Kong teachers responded to a more China-centric music curriculum following the return to mainland governance in 1997.

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  • Liu, Qingzhi 刘靖之. Zhongguo xin yinyue shi lun (中国新音乐史论). Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2009.

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    Study of new music in China from the 1880s onward. Compiles and presents many examples with a focus on concert music for Western instruments.

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  • Kraus, Richard Curt. Pianos and Politics in China: Middle-Class Ambitions and the Struggle over Western Music. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.

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    Assessment of the adoption of the piano and its music in 20th-century China, revealing wider political, artistic, and social trends. Presents comparative biographies of the representative musicians Xian Xinghai, Fou Ts’ong, Yin Chengzong, and Liu Shikun.

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  • Mittler, Barbara. “Cultural Revolution Model Works and the Politics of Modernization in China: An Analysis of Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy.” World of Music 45.2 (2003): 53–81.

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    Takes a long historical view on musical hybridity to look at the careful manipulation of sonic and visual elements employed in one of the so-called model works of the Cultural Revolution. Mittler develops these ideas further in her book on the Cultural Revolution as examined via the five senses: A Continuous Revolution: Making Sense of Cultural Revolution Culture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Asia Center, 2012).

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  • Rees, Helen. Echoes of History: Naxi Music in Modern China. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

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    Analyzes the music of the Naxi ethnic minority, who reside in Yunnan, Southwest China, as revived and transformed under the stimulus of national and international tourism.

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  • Stock, Jonathan P. J. Musical Creativity in Twentieth-Century China: Abing, His Music, and Its Changing Meanings. Eastman Studies in Music. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1996.

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    Using the musician Abing as a case study, the book studies the transformation of traditional music in new educational and social contexts in modern China. Gives attention to music for the two-stringed fiddle erhu and four-stringed lute pipa.

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  • Wong, Isabel K. F. “Geming Gequ: Songs for the Education of the Masses.” In Popular Chinese Literature and Performing Arts in the People’s Republic of China, 1949–1979. Edited by Bonnie S. McDougall, 112–143. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

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    History of mass songs in early- and mid-20th-century China, with examples in notation and analytical remarks on song structure and content.

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  • Zheng, Su. “Female Heroes and Moonish Lovers: Women’s Paradoxical Identities in Modern Chinese Songs.” Journal of Women’s History 8.4 (1997): 91–125.

    DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2010.0146Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Applies feminist perspectives to new Chinese songs from c. 1900 to the 1930s, arguing that songs are a highly important and influential repository for women’s images and identities in contemporary China.

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Representative Traditional Musical Genres and Instruments

Listings here introduce research on primary musical genres that have their origins in China and significant ensembles and musical instruments. The account starts with genres strongly associated with the voice (Opera, Narrative Traditions, and Folk Song) and then progresses to those led by instrumental performance (Traditional Ensemble Genres and then a series of prominent stringed instruments).

Opera

Until the rise of television, opera was a primary form of entertainment in Chinese society. China’s operatic traditions have roots in the ancient past, and we have detailed data on opera performances since c. 1200 CE, with performances occurring for rituals (to entertain the gods), at markets, and for family or clan occasions, as well as at the imperial court. Regional styles rose and disappeared over this lengthy period, and while most opera traditions involve actors, some feature puppets and shadow puppetry (Ruizendaal 2006). Textbooks talk of over 300 distinct genres, although that figure may far exceed actual surviving practice. Western-language research has concentrated on only a few of these, principally jingju (Beijing opera), yueju (Cantonese opera), and kunqu. Jingju is regarded as a national-level art form in China while yueju is prominent among diasporic Chinese communities worldwide. Kunqu is a highly important and elite historical genre which is still performed today. Chinese-language research embraces many more genres, among them chuanju (Sichuan opera); Zhejiang and Shanghai’s yueju (pronounced the same as the Cantonese style but written differently in Chinese), known for its presentation of women who take male roles; and Anhui Province’s lyrical huangmeixi tradition. Certain research sources on Chinese opera look primarily at scripts or at contextual records. Ng 2015 is representative, treating such organizational matters as the forming of guilds of actors and the economics of yueju (Cantonese opera) performance in the 1910s–1930s. This is a book that can be coupled with Ward 1985, which provides anthropological insights into the role of yueju performance as a means of ritual in Hong Kong; with Riddle 1983, which offers a historical perspective on Chinese opera performance in California in the 19th century; and with Rao 2017, which gives a holistic social history of Chinese opera culture in North America. Sources with a more specifically musical focus include Liu 1989, which analyzes the xipi and erhuang tune families that provide foundational musical material for numerous traditional operatic genres, including jingju; Yung 1989, which deals with the creation of music in yueju performance, whether by extemporizing on set tunes or through forming a melody from the hints offered by speech tone; Wichmann 1991, which gives a systematic overview of jingju performance; and Stock 2003, which assesses Shanghai’s huju, a genre celebrated for its portrayal of everyday and contemporaneous people.

  • Liu, Guojie 刘国杰. Xipi erhuang yinyue gailun (西皮二黄音乐概论). Shanghai: Shanghai yinyue chubanshe, 1989.

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    Detailed study of two major families of tunes that are used in jingju and other opera genres. Liu provides many examples, discussing origins of this material and illustrating usage by different role types and in contrasting dramatic situations.

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  • Ng, Wing Chun. The Rise of Cantonese Opera. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015.

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    Rich archival study of Cantonese opera in South China, Southeast Asia, and North America in the first decades of the 20th century. Emphasizes the strongly transnational nature of this genre and reveals the challenging characteristics of employment as an opera performer.

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  • Rao, Nancy Yunhwa. Chinatown Opera Theater in North America. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2017.

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    In-depth study of Chinese opera in North America exploring the impact of immigration policies and racism, the material culture that surrounded and evoked the onstage world, and how Chinese opera became part of American culture more widely.

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  • Riddle, Ronald. Flying Dragons, Flowing Streams: Music in the Life of San Francisco’s Chinese. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1983.

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    Fascinating “hidden” history of Chinese opera in California, detailing venues, performers, and audiences in the mid-19th and 20th centuries. The author notes that Chinese opera was established in California well ahead of European opera.

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  • Ruizendaal, Robin. The Marionette Theatre of Quanzhou. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2006.

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    Fieldwork-based study of puppet theater in southern Fujian Province, a form that remains highly popular on Taiwanese TV as well. The author analyzes the organization of companies; the training of performers; scripts, music, and puppets; and the social and religious contexts of early-21st-century performance.

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  • Schönfelder, Gerd. Die Musik der Peking-Oper. 2 vols. Leipzig: Deutscher Verlag für Musik, 1972.

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    Musicological study of melodic and rhythmic ingredients of jingju music.

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  • Stock, Jonathan P. J. Huju: Traditional Opera in Modern Shanghai. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197262733.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Fieldwork-based study of the history and contemporary practice of huju, including its musical features, gender roles, politics, and the relationship between music and place.

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  • Ward, Barbara E. “Regional Operas and Their Audiences: Evidence from Hong Kong.” In Popular Culture in Late Imperial China. Edited by David Johnson, Andrew James Nathan, and Evelyn Sakakida Rawski, 161–187. Studies on China 4. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

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    Examination of the social settings for yueju in Hong Kong forming a wide-ranging analysis that treats, among other issues, questions of tradition versus modernity, urban-rural interaction, and the social class of audiences.

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  • Wichmann, Elizabeth. Listening to Theatre: The Aural Dimension of Beijing Opera. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1991.

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    Writes about jingju with insights from a performer’s perspective. Topics covered include the use of language, including such features as rhyme and onstage speech; musical dimensions, including melody and ornamentation; use of the voice; and instrumental accompaniment.

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  • Yung, Bell. Cantonese Opera: Performance as Creative Process. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

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    Uses an empirical approach to analyze the interplay of speech tone, set tunes, and improvisation across different song and speech forms in yueju. Useful also to those interested in the topic of speech tone.

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Narrative Traditions

Chinese narrative traditions cover a gamut from extracts of historical stories performed to folk song melodies and to ensemble genres with a mix of professional vocalists and instrumentalists. Among the latter, some traditions are primarily spoken, with occasional songs or instrumental segments; others are performed primarily as song with instrumental accompaniment. Many are a fluid combination of speech and song in which one or two vocalists take turns to narrate as well as singing the words of the characters in the story in question. Rural genres have received less attention from those writing in European languages, though Jones 2009 contains considerable information on rural bards who wander the villages of Shaanxi performing narrative song. Urban-based narrative traditions with a strong musical component best known outside China are Suzhou tanci, especially popular in the cities of Suzhou and Shanghai. Studies on tanci include Tsao 1988, which focuses on analyzing musical structure; Bender 2003, which takes a perspective from performance studies; and Benson 1995, which follows the historical impact of the music as it became part of the domestic radio culture of Shanghai during the 1930s. Meanwhile, there is a growing amount of writing on northern genres, such as Tianjin shidiao (popular tunes) and Beijing’s jingyun dagu (Beijing drum singing). Pian 1983–1984 translates the autobiography of the eminent Beijing drum singer Zhang Cuifeng, and Lawson 2011 provides a comparative study of four northern genres as occurring in the city of Tianjin. If much writing by Western-based researchers has focused on describing specific narrative traditions, some recent work has used material from these narrative traditions as a case study in exploring the connections (and disconnections) between music and wider social issues, an instance being Lawson 2011, which relates female singing to issues of gender, embodiment, and female liminality.

Folk Song

There are numerous subgenres of folk song in China and much linguistic and regional variation. Many songs are sung by a single person or a pair in alternation, but some require groups of singers, instrumental accompaniment, dance, or even small amounts of acting. Researchers have commonly found songs used for courting and those that alleviate toil; some take both roles simultaneously. Songs that tell stories are also common in many parts of China. Nevertheless, there has been considerable argument about the concept of the folk song and whether this imported term fits the Chinese situation. Tuohy 1999 analyzes categorization systems in use in and around the notion of the folk song in China, showing how these affect expectations about words, music, behavior, and social context. Many folk song traditions are under threat from the mechanization of labor and the accompanying social change, and for several decades in the mid- to late 20th century, romantic or scurrilous songs were discouraged as unsuitable for the new nation. Yang 1994 discusses these and other constraints facing Chinese folk song scholars in their fieldwork, noting how they result in the exclusion of certain kinds of songs from research publications. Taking the selective development of folk song in the 20th century as his topic, the author of Holm 1991 analyzes the Communist-led reform of the northern yangge dance and song tradition that allowed it to serve as a vehicle for roving propaganda troupes in the decades of struggle against Nationalist forces. Watson 1996 looks at the tradition of bridal laments, formerly widely performed in southern China as the bride leaves home during the marriage ceremony. An in-depth ethnographic study of folk singing in Jiangsu Province is Schimmelpenninck 1997, which notes also how singers reused melodies for multiple sets of lyrics, a crucial skill when improvised performance was the norm. The folk songs of ethnic minority populations have also attracted scholarly interest: Thrasher 1990 examines a dance song tradition of the Yi people from Yunnan Province and Ingram 2011 reflects on the big song genre among the Kam (Dong) of Guizhou Province.

  • Holm, David. Art and Ideology in Revolutionary China. Oxford: Clarendon, 1991.

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    Political and historical assessment of the transformation of the yangge tradition in mid-20th-century Yan’an, revealing how it placed traditional and modern or Western artistic conventions side by side in search of a new revolutionary expressivity.

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  • Ingram, Catherine. “Echoing the Environment in Kam Big Song.” Asian Studies Review 35.4 (2011): 439–455.

    DOI: 10.1080/10357823.2011.628008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Assesses how, after a period of decline as youths migrated to urban centers, Kam big song has been sustained in the new context of staged performances as a form of intangible cultural heritage.

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  • Schimmelpenninck, Antoinet. Chinese Folk Songs and Folk Singers: Shan’ge Traditions in Southern Jiangsu. Leiden, The Netherlands: Chime Foundation, 1997.

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    Thorough ethnographic account of Jiangsu folk song, including rich linguistic, social, and musical analysis. Provides accounts of singers’ lives and attitudes, as well as translations of song texts. Argues that many songs share a common tune at their fundamental level. Includes CD.

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  • Thrasher, Alan Robert. La-Li-Luo Dance-Songs of the Chuxiong Yi, Yunnan Province, China. Danbury, CT: World Music, 1990.

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    Study of instruments, dance, and texts of this Yi ethnic minority folk song tradition, in their cultural and performance contexts. Refers to changes since 1949 and prospects for preservation.

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  • Tuohy, Sue. “The Social Life of Genre: The Dynamics of Folksong in China.” Asian Music 30.2 (1999): 39–86.

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    Reflections on competing and contrasting systems for classifying Chinese folk song. The commonly used, but historically recent, term min’ge is discussed and compared to other terms, both in localities and nationally.

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  • Watson, Rubie Sharon. “Chinese Bridal Laments: The Claims of a Dutiful Daughter.” In Harmony and Counterpoint: Ritual Music in Chinese Context. Edited by Bell Yung, Evelyn Sakakida Rawski, and Rubie Sharon Watson, 107–129. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996.

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    Case study looking at musical performance as a daughter leaves home upon marriage in pre-1960s Hong Kong New Territories villages. Such singing allowed daughters to articulate emotions otherwise left unspoken and to place themselves temporarily at the center of the marriage ritual.

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  • Yang Mu. “Academic Ignorance or Political Taboo? Some Issues in China’s Study of Its Folk Song Culture.” In Special Issue: Music and Politics. Ethnomusicology 38.2 (1994): 303–320.

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    Referring particularly to work in the 1970s–1980s, Yang describes challenges facing folk song collectors in a highly politicized arena, the resulting distortions among the materials collected, and the ways these materials can be accounted for by researchers.

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Ritual Music

Music remains a common part of social and religious rites, such as the celebration of births and marriages or the sending off of a relative at a funeral. Some such ensembles perform primarily outdoors, for instance in the processions that accompany weddings and funerals, and so tend to feature louder instruments, such as massed double reeds and percussion. Religious organizations, such as Buddhist temples, often feature grouped singing and chanting as part of the liturgy, and may also sponsor instrumental ensembles. Researchers have noted how the soundscapes of such settings extend beyond singing and instrumental sounds to embrace a very wide spectrum of sonorities, aural effects, and timbres, from the “musicalized speech” of chant and rhythmicized utterances to signals such as bells or firecrackers. Studies in Yung, et al. 1996 attend to this wider soundscape across numerous social settings, and a similar holistic breadth is found in Tarocco 2007. Jones 2009 provides an in-depth case study exploring ritual music in a single region around Yulin, Shaanxi Province; Szczepanski 2012 examines the music of the prominent Wutaishan Buddhist temple; and Tsao and Shi 1992 provides an overview of research on Daoist musical traditions. Practitioners of each of these faiths faced challenges to their religious practices throughout much of the 20th century, whether social, economic, political, or some combination of these factors. This is even more the case for followers of less established religions or those associated with certain ethnic minorities, such as the Uyghur or the Tibetans. Harris 2014 provides a richly observed discussion of sonic practices among the Uyghur, and Cupchik 2015 a study of music in Tibetan liturgy.

  • Cupchik, Jeffrey W. “Buddhism as Performing Art: Visualizing Music in the Tibetan Sacred Ritual Music Liturgies.” Yale Journal of Music and Religion 1.1 (2015): 31–62.

    DOI: 10.17132/2377-231X.1010Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Wide-ranging commentary on Tibetan liturgical music, with a focus on the Chöd ritual.

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  • Harris, Rachel. “The Changing Uyghur Religious Soundscape.” Performing Islam 3.1–2 (2014): 93–114.

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    Examines the circulation of various VCDs and live religious performance among the Uyghur, particularly rural women, in the context of intensified state suppression of Muslim religious practices.

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  • Jones, Stephen. Ritual and Music of North China. Vol. 2, Shaanbei. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2009.

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    Study of numerous ritual uses of music in the rural northern Shaanxi Province. Gives detail on itinerant, blind bards and on traditional wind ensembles. Comes with accompanying DVD.

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  • Szczepanski, Beth. The Instrumental Music of Wutaishan’s Buddhist Monasteries: Social and Ritual Contexts. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

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    Study of chant and shengguan (mouth organ and reedpipe-led wind and percussion) ensemble music at one of China’s leading Buddhist temples. Considers historical and notated scores as well as contemporary practices, including touristic and TV performances.

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  • Tarocco, Francesca. The Cultural Practices of Modern Chinese Buddhism: Attuning the Dharma. London: Routledge, 2007.

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    Innovative look at modernity across the full range of the senses, from taste to vision and to sound, discussing how these have found new shapes over the 20th century.

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  • Tsao Penyeh and Shi Xinming. “Current Research of Taoist Ritual Music in Mainland China and Hong Kong.” Yearbook for Traditional Music 24 (1992): 118–125.

    DOI: 10.2307/768473Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Bibliography and commentary on the state of research in Chinese Daoist music, which had recently begun a revival after three decades of official discouragement. Identifies research on: Daoist musical systems; Daoist music as a historical resource; how far the music reflects or embodies Daoist concepts; and transnational connections.

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  • Yung, Bell, Evelyn Sakakida Rawski, and Rubie Sharon Watson, eds. Harmony and Counterpoint: Ritual Music in Chinese Context. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1996.

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    Essays on a wide range of rites and accompanying musical practices. Examples given include: court rites in China and as transmitted to Korea and taken up by the Naxi minority; music in rites of passage in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Beijing; and rites of propitiation in Daoism and in ritual opera.

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Traditional Ensemble Genres

Chinese music is rich in ensemble-based traditions. Many of these ensembles today are primarily amateur in orientation, featuring music performed for self-entertainment, although some had roots in professional entertainment genres in previous generations, and a very few have become professionalized once again in recent decades following further social and educational change. A representative study is Witzleben 1995, which assesses the Jiangnan sizhu music clubs in and around Shanghai. Sizhu has also come under close scrutiny for its musical structure, for example in Thrasher 1985. Meanwhile, rural ensemble traditions are explored in Jones 2004. Some of these music ensembles add a vocalist to the group for certain subrepertories (see Narrative Traditions for genres that are more typically led by a singer throughout). A case in point occurs in the genre known as nanyin (南音) in the People’s Republic of China and as nanguan (南管) in Taiwan. Among the research on this genre are perspectives on the musical structure (Wang 1992) and on how musicians come to learn the music in question (Chou 2002).

Solo Instrumental Traditions

Chinese musicians have developed solo repertories for several distinctive instruments, most of which have also been taken up (and often further modified) in neighboring nations. Historically, the most prominent are substantial solo repertories for the seven-stringed zither named qin; the bridged zither zheng (which can have as many as twenty-six strings); and the four-stringed, pear-shaped lute pipa. Meanwhile, the two-stringed fiddle most usually known as erhu was (and remains) extensively used in begging contexts; in such a situation, musical material might include solo versions of ensemble pieces as well as folk tunes. The bamboo flute dizi had a prominent role as the lead accompaniment instrument in kunqu opera, music that could be played (or sung) alone for leisure. Remarks on research on these five prominent instruments is divided into two subsections below. The very characteristic Chinese mouth organ sheng would repay new research as an emerging solo instrument, as would the double reed with a flaring metal bell typically called suona. There are, of course, also solo repertories created by Chinese composers for Western instruments, notably the piano and violin (see Art Music).

Qin and Zheng

Both the qin (or guqin) and zheng (or guzheng) have illustrious historical lineages. The qin was the instrument of the elite literati who administered China throughout much of its imperial history. It is particularly well represented in research, not least because there is a rich history of notations, handbooks on how to play the instrument, and poems and essays praising its expressive impact on the refined listener. The classic (Western-language) account of this definitive instrument of the imperial literati is van Gulik 2011 (originally published in 1940), which includes much information on its history, classical symbolism, and performance technique. Kouwenhoven 2001 provides a shorter discussion that also works well as an origination point for the reader new to this instrument. Wang 1983 offers a translation of an entire qin tutor book into English and Western music notation. Yung 1985 explores the creative process through which musicians turn a tablature into a finished performance. (A tablature is a form of shorthand outlining which fingering techniques to apply for each note but not directly showing every melodic or rhythmic detail.) Recent research has turned toward more in-depth evaluations of activity in particular historical phases, such as Tsai 2016, and to scientific analysis of its acoustic properties, as in Waltham, et al. 2017. The zheng’s early history is less richly documented, and researchers have only relatively recently taken up an interest in the instrument, whether in its various regional schools of performance in China, its large solo repertory mostly based on conservatoire-style arrangements of these regional repertories, or in its extensive use in contemporary experimental music. Rault-Leyrat 1987 places the zheng in its historical context, while Sun 2016 looks in particular depth at the instrument in performance.

  • Kouwenhoven, Frank. “Meaning and Structure: The Case of Chinese Qin (Zither) Music.” British Journal of Ethnomusicology 10.1 (2001): 39–62.

    DOI: 10.1080/09681220108567309Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Overview of the qin tradition that focuses on how its music is often programmatic (i.e., depicts a scene or story) and yet there can be many contrasting interpretations of the same piece.

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  • Rault-Leyrat, Lucie. La cithare chinoise zheng: Un vol d’oies sauvages sur les cordes de soie. Paris: Le Léopard d’Or, 1987.

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    Study of the bridged-zither zheng, its origins, and its historical development. Rault-Leyrat than considers the construction and tuning of the instrument, its performance technique and notation, and further associated matters.

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  • Sun Zhuo. The Chinese Zheng Zither: Contemporary Transformations. Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2016.

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    Provides an expert performer’s perspective on music for zheng, with insight into recent and contemporaneous repertories and performance techniques.

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  • Tsai, Tsan-Huang. “From Confucianist Meditative Tool to Maoist Revolutionary Weapon: The Seven-Stringed Zither (Qin) in the Cultural Revolution.” In Listening to China’s Cultural Revolution: Music, Politics, and Cultural Continuities. Edited by Paul Clark, Laikwan Pang, and Tsan-Huang Tsai, 37–64. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. 2016.

    DOI: 10.1057/9781137463579_3Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Interesting account of how players of this very soft-toned, elite musical instrument were able to stake a claim to revolutionary standing in the musically fraught years of the Cultural Revolution. Steps included redesign of the structure of the instrument as well as of the music performed on it.

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  • van Gulik, Robert Hans. The Lore of the Chinese Lute: An Essay on the Ideology of the Ch’in. 3d ed. Bangkok: Orchid, 2011.

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    Classic historical analysis of a culturally rich stringed instrument (strictly a zither rather than a lute). Contents include symbolism of the instrument and of its music, and its various cultural and literary associations. Originally published in 1940 (Tokyo: Sophia University).

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  • Waltham, Chris, Kimi Coaldrake, Evert Coster, and Yang Lan. “Acoustics of the Qin.” In Studies in Musical Acoustics and Psychoacoustics. Edited by Albrecht Schneider, 49–74. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, 2017.

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    The research team summarizes the history and performance of the instrument and then measures its various acoustical properties, with the aim of gathering understanding to inform the making of future instruments.

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  • Wang, Binlu. A Chinese Zither Tutor: The Mei-An Ch’in-p’u. Translated with commentary by Fredric Lieberman. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 1983.

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    Translation of entire study book on how to play the qin. Content includes chapters on the parts of the instrument; tuning, scale, and mode; tablature and performance technique; fifteen sample compositions; and notes on repertory and form.

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  • Yung, Bell. “Da Pu: The Recreative Process for the Music of the Seven-String Zither.” In Music and Context: Essays for John M. Ward. Edited by Anne Dhu Shapiro, 370–384. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985.

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    Qin tablatures present the techniques that should be used to sound a tone, but not the exact rhythmic or dynamic interpretation of each such sound. This allows experienced and imaginative musicians to build new versions of well-known pieces without departing from the model.

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Pipa, Erhu, and Dizi

These three important instruments remain under-researched in Western languages. Among them, the pipa has the most substantial history as a court entertainment instrument in Chinese culture (although it is believed to have been derived from a Central or West Asian model) and is increasingly seen as a solo and ensemble instrument internationally. Myers 1992 takes an analytic approach to its classic repertory, also tracing the instrument’s history, whereas Wong 2003 considers the viewpoints of musicians facing the technically challenging contemporary solos. For an account of the rise of erhu solos as modern concert and broadcast music over the past century (see also National Music), refer to Stock 1996, which looks at the pieces of the prominent 20th-century folk musician Abing, a repertory Wang 2010 reassesses with regard to a theory of musical equanimity. For a valuable overview of the dizi’s traditional uses, see Thrasher 1978, and read in tandem with Lau 1996, which looks at the dizi music created since the Communist victory in 1949.

  • Lau, Frederick. “Forever Red: The Invention of Solo Dizi Music in Post-1949 China.” British Journal of Ethnomusicology 5.1 (1996): 113–131.

    DOI: 10.1080/09681229608567250Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Analysis of the professionalization of the dizi in the People’s Republic of China and the processes through which a new repertory for concert performance arose after 1949.

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  • Myers, John E. The Way of the Pipa: Structure and Imagery in Chinese Lute Music. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1992.

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    Overview of the pipa and an analytic study of its musical repertory. Looks in particular at pipa scores from the early 19th century (which show the principal tones of a piece but not its full ornamentation) and their musical implications.

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  • Stock, Jonathan P. J. Musical Creativity in Twentieth-Century China: Abing, His Music, and Its Changing Meanings. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 1996.

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    Discusses an archetypal folk erhu player whose repertory is reinvented in music conservatories. Provides biography of Abing in the context of Chinese music history and analyzes his music for erhu and pipa to uncover the improvisatory principles from which it may have emerged. Includes CD.

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  • Thrasher, Alan Robert. “The Transverse Flute in Traditional Chinese Music.” Asian Music 10.1 (1978): 92–114.

    DOI: 10.2307/834126Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    History of the dizi and discussion of its roles in traditional repertories. Provides measurements of traditional instruments to talk about qualities of intonation. Summarizes approaches to ornamentation, including in kunqu opera contexts, and systems of notation.

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  • Wang, Yuhwen. “Expressiveness in the Premodern Performance Style of Chinese Music: ‘Equanimity’ in Abing.” Asian Music 41.1 (2010): 127–165.

    DOI: 10.1353/amu.0.0047Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Locates aesthetic sensibilities that may apply widely in premodern Chinese music. Refers to factors like rhythm, dynamics, and pacing to argue for performance features that would later be swept away by Western-trained reformist musicians.

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  • Wong, Samuel Shengmiao. Impressions of a Pipa Player: Profiles of the World’s Most Premier. Edited by Desmond Kon. Singapore: Ngee Ann Polytechnic, 2003.

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    Experiential and well-illustrated account of contemporaneous performance style and interviews with twenty-one leading pipa players or composers.

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New Musical Expressions

Western contacts, particularly since the 1840s, have inspired a wide range of new musical expressions in China, in several important cases filtered by Japanese experience: Japan set out on a Western-style modernization program before China, it was a significant center for the training of Chinese students, and it was also the primary colonial power encroaching on Chinese territory from the 1890s to 1945. In more recent times, there were periods of strong Soviet bloc influence and those where Western art and commercial musical genres became widely prevalent, the latter often via Hong Kong and Taiwan, which established strong film and popular music industries in the mid-20th century and regularly produced material in Mandarin Chinese. If many Chinese musicians have been interested in imported artistic models, they have also become expert practitioners in these genres over time. Performers and composers as distinct as Fu Ts’ong, Tan Dun, Faye Wong, and Lang Lang exemplify the international attention leading Chinese artists have gained in turn. Yang and Saffle 2017 assesses numerous examples spanning various genres and locations. The following sections explore representative instances of these new musical expressions in more depth.

  • Yang, Hon-Lun, and Michael Saffle, eds. China and the West: Music, Representation, and Reception. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2017.

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    Set of essays covering many varied aspects of the musical encounter of China and the West, including that which occurred in Western locales, and with emphases on art music and musical theater.

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National Music

National music (guoyue) is the name given to a range of genres that emerged in the 20th century from earlier folk traditions. While some of this music was newly composed, other items were folk music that had been rearranged by urban musicians with a training in Western music. It might be played on instruments redesigned to be more resonant and to cover a wider set of pitches in (Western-style) equal temperament. Harmonic accompaniments were sometimes added, and some ensemble pieces combined Western instruments with Chinese ones. The music might be played by professionals who had been trained in a music conservatory, or by students aspiring to gain entrance to one. The genres in question cover a range from solo instrumental music for Chinese instruments (see Pipa, Erhu, and Dizi) to midsize ensembles, and to pieces for an orchestra of Chinese instruments. Some Western critics have tended to reject this music as a poor substitute for fully indigenous styles, leading to heated debate with Chinese peers over the nature of tradition: orientation to the issues is provided in Fang 1981. While large-scale music ensembles had been part of the Chinese tradition for at least two thousand years, in the 1920s musicians began to develop a Chinese orchestra deliberately modeled on the Western symphony orchestra, which they perceived as holding high international status. Some of them were also inspired by touring Soviet balalaika ensembles, which they saw as a successful instance of an ensemble that was both modern and yet also full of national flavor and appeal. Han 1979 describes the history and instrumental balance of Chinese orchestras during their first half century. The resulting Chinese orchestra has since then established itself overseas in turn, and new musical fusions are occurring in each major location. Chen 2013 is one recent study of such orchestras in Taiwan: we remain in need of publications focusing on national music, including its smaller-scale pieces.

  • Chen Ching-Yi 陳靜儀. “文化匯流:以臺灣二個公部門國樂團的音樂現象為例.” 臺灣音樂研究 17 (2013): 39–66.

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    Comparative analysis of two guoyue orchestras in Taiwan from the perspective of theories of transculturation between Chinese, Taiwanese, European, and other cultural resources, asking how musicians have reshaped their practices toward a new kind of crossover music.

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  • Fang Kun. “A Discussion on Chinese National Musical Traditions.” Translated by Keith Pratt. Asian Music 12.2 (1981): 1–16.

    DOI: 10.2307/834054Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Reports contrasting views on success of new Chinese ensembles and their music. Introduction by Robert C. Provine and responses by Provine and Alan Robert Thrasher.

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  • Han Kuo-Huang. “The Modern Chinese Orchestra.” Asian Music 11.1 (1979): 1–43.

    DOI: 10.2307/833965Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Tracks large Chinese ensembles through history, from the bell and drum sets of antiquity onward. There are then notes on the rise of the Chinese orchestra in the 20th century, and description of its instrumentation, repertory, and layout. Additional report by Judith Gray on US-based Chinese orchestras.

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Art Music

Western art music is very firmly established in East Asia generally, and China is no exception. Bickers 2001 analyzes the setting up of an orchestra in the foreign concessions, an event that brought regular performances of large-scale Western works to Chinese audiences. Utz 2004 is a biography of the German Jewish musician Wolfgang Fraenkel, one of several migrants whose expertise was critical in allowing Chinese musicians to train in the skills of Western art music. This work can be read alongside Tang 2004 for a richer picture of the musical life of Jewish refugees that proved so influential in the first half of the 20th century. Cheung 2010 assesses the vocal music of Chinese composer Huang Zi, who was also active and influential during the same period. There have been numerous studies of contemporary Chinese composers, and Mittler 1997 offers a comprehensive starting point with interview materials and musical scores analyzed together. Kouwenhoven 1992 contributes a series of critical commentaries based on extended interviews with key musicians, and Yang 2007 looks directly at characteristics of the formation of a public culture for Western classical music in China. Rao 2002 compares three Chinese composers’ turn to the resource of twelve-tone composition. This article reminds us also that some of the most outstanding Chinese composers of Western art music now reside outside China and work as part of a globalized art music network.

  • Bickers, Robert A. “‘The Greatest Cultural Asset East of Suez’: The History and Politics of the Shanghai Municipal Orchestra and Public Band, 1881–1946.” In China and the World in the Twentieth Century: Selected Essays. Vol. 2. Edited by Chi-hsiung Chang, 835–875. Nankan, Taiwan: Academia Sinica, 2001.

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    Wide-ranging study of the politics and logistics of establishing a professional orchestra in Shanghai.

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  • Cheung, Joys H. Y. “Singing Ancient Piety and Modernity in ‘Song of Familial Bliss’ (1935): Musical Translation of Huang Zi (1904–1938) in Interwar China.” Asian Music 41.2 (2010): 4–58.

    DOI: 10.1353/amu.0.0069Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Looks at the emergence of modernity in Chinese concert music in the 1930s and its associated composing, performing, and listening practices.

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  • Kouwenhoven, Frank. “Mainland China’s New Music (3): The Age of Pluralism.” Chime 5 (1992): 76–134.

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    One of several articles by Kouwenhoven critically engaging with the music of the 1980s and 1990s. This one argues for a music-focused discussion, as opposed to reducing discussion to political issues, and includes information on serial music composition in China, the impact of Bartók, the turn by Chinese composers to ancient music-theoretical inspirations as different styles of composition arose. Illustrates music by many composers, including Tan Dun, Chen Yi, Chen Xiaoyong, and Chen Qigang.

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  • Mittler, Barbara. Dangerous Tunes: The Politics of Chinese Music in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the People’s Republic of China since 1949. Opera Sinologica 3. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrassowitz, 1997.

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    Large-scale compendium on Chinese art music comparing the situation in the PRC, Hong Kong, and Taiwan and relating this to political factors as well as to contrasting approaches to indigenous traditions. Numerous music examples.

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  • Rao, Nancy Yunwha. “Hearing Pentatonicism through Serialism: Integrating Different Traditions in Chinese Contemporary Music.” Perspectives of New Music 40.2 (2002): 190–231.

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    Compares approaches by three composers (Luo Zhongrong, Chen Qigang, and the Taiwanese musician Lu Yen). Each variously integrates pentatonic material with twelve-tone compositional techniques.

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  • Tang Yating. “Reconstructing the Vanished Musical Life of the Shanghai Jewish Diaspora: A Report.” In Special Issue: Silk, Spice and Shirah: Musical Outcomes of Jewish Migration into Asia c. 1780–c. 1950. Edited by Margaret Kartomi and Key Dreyfus. Ethnomusicology Forum 13.1 (2004): 101–118.

    DOI: 10.1080/1741191042000215291Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Rich archival study exploring the rise of a heterogeneous Jewish music culture in the century leading up to 1949 as members of various Asian and European Jewish communities migrated to Shanghai.

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  • Utz, Christian. “Cultural Accommodation and Exchange in the Refugee Experience: A German-Jewish Musician in Shanghai.” In Special Issue: Silk, Spice and Shirah: Musical Outcomes of Jewish Migration into Asia c. 1780–c. 1950. Edited by Margaret Kartomi and Key Dreyfus. Ethnomusicology Forum 13.1 (2004): 119–151.

    DOI: 10.1080/1741191042000215309Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Account of the impact of the composer and educator Wolfgang Fraenkel on Chinese composers in the mid-20th century, and of Chinese culture into Fraenkel’s music making.

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  • Yang, Hon-Lun. “Power, Politics, and Musical Commemoration: Western Musical Figures in the People’s Republic of China 1949–1964.” Music & Politics 1.2 (2007).

    DOI: 10.3998/mp.9460447.0001.205Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Examines the rise and fall of Western composers as political symbols in the People’s Republic of China through the lens of commemorations of their anniversaries. Examples include Glinka, Dvořák, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, and Paul Robeson.

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Film, TV, and Popular Music

Recording technologies reached China just before 1900, and broadcasting stations were first established in the 1920s. Since the 1980s there has been a steady rise in what is now a very large-scale set of film, TV, and popular music industries in China. However, governmental policy in the People’s Republic of China meant that for some decades in the second half of the 20th century the major new developments in these fields occurred in Taiwan and Hong Kong and were only later introduced to mainland China, which results in a music history quite distinct from that of any other large nation. There is relatively little in-depth research in Western languages on music in Chinese films, although Gil Curiel 2016, on the music of the 2002 film Hero, offers an approach with wide potential application. Music in Chinese TV also remains mostly overlooked, although Taylor 2008 offers valuable historical perspectives on its role in Hokkien-language popular culture television, and de Kloet and Landsberger 2012 assesses the production in China of televised music talent contests. Popular song has been more extensively researched than film or TV music, although—in common with popular-music studies outside China—there is still far less written on the music of the songs than on their lyrics or social entanglements. Jones 2001 presents the history of the emergence of popular song in China in the 1930s, and Farrer and Field 2015 compares Shanghai’s nightlife of the 1930s with that of recent decades. Baranovitch 2003 looks in more detail at its reemergence in the mainland from 1978 onward and is best read in conjunction with de Kloet 2010 and Moskowitz 2010. Together these several books provide a firm basis for understanding the complex currents of modern Chinese popular music and its numerous subgenres and usages. Popular music in China includes that by ethnic minority groups and a strong vein of participatory action in karaoke settings. Morcom 2008 focuses on the emergence of a popular music market in Tibet, and Lum 1996 uncovers the varied roles of karaoke performance among US-based Chinese. This last item hints at the growing international impact of Chinese popular music, which is now beginning to reach beyond established markets in East and Southeast Asia and among the diasporic Chinese in other continents.

  • Baranovitch, Nimrod. China’s New Voices: Popular Music, Ethnicity, Gender, and Politics, 1978–1997. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

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    Examines identity, gender, and politics in Chinese popular music over its two-decade-long emergence after the Cultural Revolution. Gives many examples of songs and of singers from across the range of Chinese popular music during this period.

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  • de Kloet, Jeroen. China with a Cut: Globalisation, Urban Youth, and Popular Music. International Institute for Asian Studies Publication Series, Monograph 3. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010.

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    Incisive account of China’s popular-music scenes, genres, and tastes since the mid-1990s. Deals with the complexities of censorship as experienced by numerous musicians and bands.

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  • de Kloet, Jeroen, and Stefan Landsberger. “Fandom, Politics and the Super Girl Contest in a Globalized China.” In Adapting Idols: Authenticity, Identity and Performance in a Global Television Format. Edited by Kwoos Zwaan and Joost de Bruin, 135–147. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

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    Study of the Super Girl TV contest that evaluates the workings of globalization in a Chinese setting according to themes of technology, economics, authenticity, morality, and democracy.

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  • Farrer, James, and Andrew David Field. Shanghai Nightscapes: A Nocturnal Biography of a Global City. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226262918.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Historical and ethnographic study of a wide range of venues for live or amplified playback music in Shanghai, comparing the situation pre–World War 2 with the present day. Includes rich portraits of jazz clubs, dance halls, and several kinds of clubbing, as well as information on the cultural organization of alcohol and sex.

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  • Gil Curiel, Germán. “Chinese Identity: Poetics of Cinema and Music in Hero.” In Film Music in “Minor” National Cinemas. Edited by Germán Gil Curiel, 71–89. New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.

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    Study of Tan Dun’s music for Zhang Yimou’s martial arts film Hero. Argues for an experimental sense of agency, rather than postcolonial lack of confidence or originality, in the film’s musical hybridity.

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  • Jones, Andrew F. Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822380436Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Historical account of the emergence of Chinese-language popular song and associated media in the 1930s. Reflects on the interface between music, race, politics, and technology. Includes biographies of musicians Buck Clayton, Li Jinhui, and Nie Er.

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  • Lum, Casey Man Kong. In Search of a Voice: Karaoke and the Construction of Identity in Chinese America. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1996.

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    With reference to differently positioned Chinese Americans, Lum compares their uses of karaoke for cultural connection, projection of status, a means of escape, and the construction of identity in diasporic settings.

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  • Morcom, Anna. “Getting Heard in Tibet: Music, Media and Markets.” Consumption Markets & Culture 11.4 (2008): 259–285.

    DOI: 10.1080/10253860802391284Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Ethnographic reflections on popular music culture in Tibet, asking how cultural expression operates in a new market economy constrained by regular violations of intellectual property rights, on the one hand, and repression of Tibetan identity on the other.

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  • Moskowitz, Marc L. Cries of Joy, Songs of Sorrow: Chinese Pop Music and Its Cultural Connotations. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2010.

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    Study of the aesthetic values of Taiwan’s Mandarin-language music industry, which is hugely influential in mainland China and overseas. Reflects on how ordinary listeners engage in the dream worlds set up in romantic song.

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  • Taylor, Jeremy E. “From Transnationalism to Nativism? The Rise, Decline and Reinvention of a Regional Hokkien Entertainment Industry.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 9.1 (2008): 62–81.

    DOI: 10.1080/14649370701789658Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Explores the production of Hokkien film, music, and television and its transformations over the years since the end of World War 2. Reflects on how a lively international network has been replaced by a much more specifically Taiwan-based industry.

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Crosscutting Issues and Approaches in Chinese Music Research

Many issues in Chinese music research reference more than a single historical period, genre, or tradition. This final section thus provides an alternate series of entrance points to the comparative study of Chinese musical culture, as derived from recent research. One such research theme directly takes up questions of gender, seeking to uncover the musical worlds of a diverse range of Chinese women and the construction through musical means of gendered positions and identities more widely, as exemplified by the chapters in Harris, et al. 2013. This book might be combined with the biographies of Chinese musicians presented in Rees 2009 to form a broad basis for an understanding of contemporary Chinese music culture. A second significant theme in recent research engages with the issue of musical diaspora through studying music making in the large, globally dispersed Chinese overseas population not simply as a set of peripheral arenas of activity but as spaces where musical practices generate new meanings through contact with alternate cultural models and systems. Key examples include Tan and Rao 2016, which combines instances from Burma, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, Australia, and North America, and Wang 2015, on Asian America. A third body of new research deals with music as cultural property and includes significant writing on the rise of intangible cultural heritage (ICH) programs in China, as, for example, in several of the essays in Howard 2012, and extends to analyses of the workings of music copyright in China, as in Dong and Jayakar 2013. Finally, new research has continued to delve into theoretical aspects of Chinese music, work which remains essential if we are to understand music as structures of sound as well as fields of human activity, and work that provides data for comparative analysis on a more international scale. Salient examples that suggest the breadth of the field include Wee 2007, which brings new light to the interface of speech tone and melody, and the essays in Thrasher 2016, each of which assesses traditional melodies from the perspective of fixidity versus variation over time.

  • Dong, Xue “Snow,” and Krishna Jayakar. “The Baidu Music Settlement: A Turning Point for Copyright Reform in China?” Journal of Information Policy 3 (2013): 77–103.

    DOI: 10.5325/jinfopoli.3.2013.0077Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Describes the rise of a national copyright system in China and associated legal systems. Discusses the online music-streaming service Baidu and its response to a legal challenge brought by Western music companies.

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  • Harris, Rachel, Rowan Pease, and Shzr Ee Tan, eds. Gender in Chinese Music. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester Press, 2013.

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    Collection of thirteen chapters and seven interviews ranging widely across Chinese music genres. Includes historical and ethnic minority case studies.

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  • Howard, Keith, ed. Music as Intangible Cultural Heritage: Policy, Ideology, and Practice in the Preservation of East Asian Traditions. Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

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    Chapters most relevant to ICH in China are those by Rees (on ICH policy and practice), Ingram and Kraef (on Kam and Nuo-Yi ethnic minority musical genres), Gorfinkel (on music on TV), and Wang (on ICH in Taiwan).

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  • Rees, Helen, ed. Lives in Chinese Music. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

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    Collection of seven musical life stories, including minority and overseas Chinese voices. Examples include singers of folk song and of local opera, a qin player and a musicologist, and ethnic minority and diasporic musicians covering further genres.

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  • Tan, Sooi Beng, and Nancy Yunhwa Rao, eds. Special Issue: Emergent Sino-Soundscapes: Musical Pasts, Transnationalism and Multiple Identities. Ethnomusicology Forum 25.1 (2016).

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    Six articles providing a history of Chinese music outside China over the 20th century. Themes include memory, cultural transformation, cosmopolitanism, and cultural homogeneity.

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  • Thrasher, Alan Robert, ed. Qupai in Chinese Music: Melodic Models in Form and Practice. New York: Routledge, 2016.

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    Qupai are “labeled melodies,” short, musical models that offer the building blocks for much Han Chinese traditional music. The ten essays in this book analyze prominent examples from instrumental and vocal forms widely representative of Chinese music.

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  • Wang, Grace. Soundtracks of Asian America: Navigating Race through Musical Performance. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015.

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    Assesses the positioning of Asian Americans as a minority in the United States, showing how stereotypes still abound. Ranges widely across art and popular music genres and explores how Asian American musicians turn to the opportunities and challenges offered by markets in China and Taiwan.

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  • Wee, Lian-Hee. “Unraveling the Relation between Mandarin Tones and Musical Melody.” Journal of Chinese Linguistics 35.1 (2007): 128–144.

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    Seeks to explain why Chinese songs can remain intelligible even when the melody departs from the pattern of speech tones implied by the lyrics. Argues that listeners resolve tension between speech tone and musical pitch by attending to details of melodic movement that reinforce a sense of linguistic tone.

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