The story of jazz in China spans a century, encompassing the introduction of jazz in the early 1920s, its interruption under Mao in 1949, and its rejuvenation in the early 1980s with China’s opening to the world under Deng Xiaoping.
As a highly democratic form of music characterized by improvisation and individual freedom of expression, in the 1920s jazz embodied the antithesis of thousands of years of Chinese cultural history. A hundred years later, Chinese jazz is engaged in a balancing act between consumerism, political ideology, and censorship.
This according to Jazz in China: From dance hall music to individual freedom of expression by Eugene Marlow (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2018; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature 2018-7991).
Above and below, Li Gaoyang, one of the musicians discussed in the book.
Beethoven has long been considered a cultural hero in the West, but to become such a figure in China his persona had to be made to fit into Chinese cultural categories.
The Chinese transformation of Beethoven’s character—first into that of a Confucian intellectual, then a Romantic poet, and finally a universal and national cultural hero—took place from the 1920s through the 1940s. This development involved the reception not of Beethoven’s music per se, but of his moral image: He had to be seen as having suffered to achieve both the goal of individual perfection and the larger goal of serving humanity.
This according to “Beethoven and Confucius: A case study in transmission of cultural values” by Yang Chien-Chang, an essay included in Musicology and globalization (Tōkyō: Tōkyō Geijutsu Daigaku, 2004, pp. 379–383; RILM Abstracts of Music Literature, 2004-6751). The book comprises papers presented at the 2002 conference of the Nihon Ongaku Gakkai/Musicological Society of Japan.
Nearly every Kam person sings in a choir at some time in their life. From a community singing group of the Yandong township, the Yandong Grand Singers have gradually made their name known internationally through their album Everyone listen close—Wanp-wanp jangl kap and international tours. In 2019 they toured five cities in the United States to give concerts and workshops, which turned out to be a special experience of cultural exchange for both the musicians and audiences.
In December 2015, on the Zhongguo zhi Xing (China Star) television program, a reality-show competition among professional pop singers, the singer Tan Weiwei presented a song collaboration with masters of Huayin laoqiang (a xiqu genre originating from Shuangquan village in Huayin), telling her audience that it represented “the earliest Chinese rock music.”
This broadcast, and a second one at the 2016 CCTV Chunjie Wanhui (Spring Festival Gala), led to considerable controversy regarding the three-way negotiation among Chinese rock music, the “Intangible Cultural Heritage’” represented by traditional Hauyin laoqiang, and the political ideology of the Chinese Communist Party.
The reception of these performances among various groups of viewers–general audience members, rock music fans, musicians, and government officials–illustrates how different interpretations reflect audience members’ differing social ideologies. The process of combining rock music and traditional culture is given different meanings based on the identity and stance of different viewers.
Created between 1960 and 1961, Escorting Lady Jing a thousand li (千里送京娘) is a kunqu masterpiece that continuously entertains audiences and stimulates discussions on Chinese opera, gender, and politics.
A mid-twentieth century dramatization of a traditional story, the opera narrates a journey in which the young Zhao Kuangyin, the future founder of the Northern Song empire, escorts the beautiful Lady Jing home, falls in love with her along the way, leaves her to realize his heroic dreams, and vows to return to marry her in the future. Theatrically, the opera makes Chinese men and women ask how they should choose between desire and duty, realizing their personally, socially, and politically enforced gendered roles and values.
Having been performed over five decades, the opera and its performance practices and meanings have evolved, generating changing discussions and interpretations. Its recent performances, for example, underscore sustainability issues of kunqu as a genre of Intangible Cultural Heritage, thereby opening audiences’ ears, eyes, and minds to their Chinese cultures, identities, and politics.
This according to “Escorting Lady Jing home: A journey of Chinese opera, gender, and politics” by Joseph Sui Ching Lam (Yearbook for traditional music XLVI  pp. 114–39). Above the original 1961 production; below, an excerpt from a more recent televised version.
The record documents 音乐考古学与古代音乐遗迹研究 (Archaeomusicology and research on music relics) by 方建军 (Fang Jianjun) (Zhongguo yinyue/Chinese music 3:147  pp. 75–82, 106).
Fang’s article discusses the relationships between archaeological environments and musical functions, between ancient workshops and the building of instruments, and between soundscapes and music performance, with reference to archaeomusicological sites in Europe and Africa as well as China. China has many such sites, among them Xiaoshuangqiao of the early Shang dynasty (16th–11th century B.C.E.) in Henan province, Sanxingdui in Sichuan province, and the Neolithic tomb sites at Jiahu village, also in Henan province.
Above, flutes excavated at the Jiahu site; below, reproductions of bronze bells from a tomb dated around 433 B.C.E.
When RILM started out in the mid-1960s, our indexing naturally mirrored the publications that we were working with.
For example, relatively little was available in the West about non-Western dramatic genres, while far more publications discussed Western dramatic genres like opera. Accordingly, we developed several indexing headings for those Western genres—opera seria, oratorio, zarzuela, and so on—while only one headword, dramatic arts, served for all non-Western genres (as well as for publications about more than one or two Western genres).
In early 2000 RILM started to expand its collection to include a large amount of East Asian-language publications, especially those from China. Since then the need for more refined indexing terms for non-Western dramatic genres has grown.
In spring 2017 RILM editors approved 13 new headwords for theatrical genres. Three of these new headwords, xiqu—general, xiqu—by genre, and xiqu—by place, are for those genres commonly known in the West as Chinese opera. Another three new headwords, quyi—general, quyi—by genre, and quyi—by place, are for traditional Chinese dramatic genres that are less known in the West.
For both xiqu—by genre and quyi—by genre, lists of second-level terms specifying individual xiqu or quyi genres have also been developed, and are continuously growing. Many of the genres covered by these two new headwords are unknown to most Western scholars, but have been extensively discussed in the Chinese publications that we now index. Updated in early February 2018, our list of xiqu genres is here, and our list of quyi genres is here. By the time you read this, more terms will have been added!
Above, an example of ganju (Jiangxi opera); below, another example of ganju from Jiangxi province, followed by an example of sixianxi from Hebei province. These genres are indexed under the headword quyi—by genre.
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Tablatures of ancient Chinese vocal music usually provide very little concrete information on rhythm, and few ancient Chinese writings on rhythms and time values in musical performance survive. One fortunate exception is the perceptive scholarly work of the 11th-century Buddhist monk Master Yihai, who was the only known person from early China ever to explain musical rhythm using a concrete example from guqin music.
Yihai analyzed a famous musical setting of Su Dongpo’s poem Zui weng yin (醉翁吟, Drunken dotard refrain). The earliest surviving musical notation of Zui weng yin dates from several centuries later; whether a tablature of 1539 actually preserves the music discussed by Yihai cannot be determined with full certainty, but there is indirect evidence to support an early date for the music.
This according to “The Drunken dotard refrain” by Marnix Wells (CHIME: Journal of the European Foundation for Chinese Music Research XX  pp. 85–105). Above, an 18th-century manuscript; below, a 21st-century performance.
The MS was discovered in Yunnan by Xu Lin (1921–2005) when she was working there as a field linguist in 1958; dating probably from the early 1930s or somewhat earlier, it contains the texts of 208 traditional songs of the Bai people, written in Old Bai script (Hanzi Baiwen/汉字白文).
The task of transcribing and translating these texts was carried forward by Xu under very difficult circumstances through the vicissitudes of Chinese history until her death, and then completed by the other authors. This edition presents them in the original script with International Phonetic Alphabet transliterations and word-by-word glosses in Chinese and English, in English translations, and in a facsimile reproduction from the MS.
Below, scenes from a Bai spring festival.
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