Tag Archives: China

Lady Jing and cultural heritage

 

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 [2014] pp. 114–39). Above the original 1961 production; below, an excerpt from a more recent televised version.

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RILM Editor wins Outstanding Dissertation Award

Former RILM Editor Woo Shingkwan (胡成筠) has just won the International Musicological Society’s 2018 Outstanding Dissertation Award for The ceremonial music of Zhu Zaiyu.

Zhu Zaiyu (1536–1611) was a mathematician, physicist, music theorist, choreographer, and composer; he is particularly remembered today for creating the theory of 12-tone equal temperament.

Congratulations to our former colleague! Above, a page from the dissertation.

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Filed under Asia, RILM, RILM news, Theory

RILM’s one millionth record

RILM’s one millionth record is now online!

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 [2017] 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.

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RILM broadens indexing of Chinese dramatic genres

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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Drunken dotard refrain

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 [2016] pp. 85–105). Above, an 18th-century manuscript; below, a 21st-century performance.

#dotard

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Filed under Asia, Curiosities, Middle Ages, Theory

A recovered text of Bai traditional songs

bai-edition

In 2015 Cambria issued Chinese ethnic minority oral traditions: A recovered text of Bai folk songs in a sinoxenic script, a new edition of a rice-paper manuscript from the early 20th century.

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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Turandot in China

 

Chinese presenters have made their bid for grand opera’s international ranks with the very piece that marks the end of that tradition—Puccini’s Turandot.

The irony reaches further. In the country where Chinese singers have the greatest advantage, these productions have primarily featured Western performers; a piece that had been conspicuously absent from the country where it purports to take place has wound up essentially becoming China’s national opera; and the original story was never about China in the first place—it came from a French translation of a Persian folk tale that was adapted by an Italian playwright and later reinvented by a German writer whose version inspired Puccini.

This according to “A princess comes home” by Ken Smith (Opera LXIII/12 [December 2012] pp. 1473–1479). Below, excerpts from Turandot at the Forbidden City, directed by Zhang Yimou.

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Filed under Curiosities, Opera, Reception

Taking Chinese music by strategy

Taking Tiger Mountain by strategy-1969

The so-called model works (yangbanxi)—ten operas, four ballets, two symphonies, and two piano pieces—monopolized China’s theatrical and musical stages for a decade.

Repercussions of these works can be traced in recent Chinese rock, pop, and art music. Contrary to the popular assumption that the model works were characteristic products of Cultural Revolution ideology, they are manifestations of a hybrid taste that calls for the transformation of Chinese tradition according to foreign standards, a taste which has for more than a century determined compositional practice in China.

One of the earliest and best-known works, the collectively written jingju Zhi qu Weihu Shan (Taking Tiger Mountain by strategy), is an example; its traditional Chinese and European musical and dramatic elements illustrate how the particular forms taken by musical modernization during the Cultural Revolution were—except in their degree of semantic overdetermination—typical of compositional practice in today’s China.

This according to “Cultural Revolution model works and the politics of modernization in China: An analysis of Taking Tiger Mountain by strategy by Barbara Mittler (The world of music XLV/2 [2003] pp. 53–81).

Above, a still from the 1970 film; below, an excerpt.

BONUS: CCTV host Bi Fujian entertaining friends at the dinner table with a rendition of a scene using chopsticks for percussion.

BONUS BONUS: An updated version from a 2013 variety show (Star Wars Opera Night/Quanneng Xingzhang Xiqu zhi Ye) with the renowned singer Sun Nan.

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Či Bulag and the morin huur

Či Bulag

Či Bulag (b.1944) has had a significant influence on the development of the Mongolian morin huur in the post-Mao era.

Bulag adapted the morin huur and its repertoire to the concert stage in the 1970s and 1980s to widespread acclaim. An analysis of his well-known and frequently played composition Wan ma benteng (Ten thousand galloping horses) and his efforts to adapt the morin huur to the concert stage shows how he reworked stereotypes of Mongols as simplistic nomads to represent them as both powerful descendants of Genghis Khan and participants in the modern world.

While many Mongols appreciate Wan ma benteng for its evocation of a Mongol spirit, Bulag’s morin huur model has received harsh criticism from the musical community in independent Mongolia as being too Chinese.

Mongol musicians in China have increasingly used the morin huur to balance their longing for a Western-style modernity, a project undertaken by Bulag, with recent desires to seek out a pan-Mongol (and non-Chinese) past through exchanges with the nation of Mongolia. Still, Mongol musicians continue to orient themselves around the work of Či Bulag as they debate the appropriate direction for the morin huur and Mongol music in the 21st century.

This according to “Driving change, sparking debate: Chi Bulag and the morin huur in Inner Mongolia, China” by Charlotte D’Evelyn (Yearbook for traditional music XLVI [2014] pp. 89–113).

Below, Wan ma benteng in a performance by Bulag and ten thousand galloping students.

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Marquis Yi’s instrumentarium

bronze-bells-marquis-yi-tomb

Dating from the 5th century B.C.E., the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng in Suizhou, Hubei, furnished some of China’s oldest musical instruments and earliest reliable musicological writings.

The instruments, found in two separate rooms, appear to represent two separate musical genres. Those in the large central chamber—65 bronze bells in graduated sizes ranging over more than five octaves, a large pole-drum and two smaller drums, seven large 25-string se (zithers), four sheng (mouth organs), two paixiao (panpipes), and two chi (transverse flutes)—match the description of a courtly ensemble described in the Shijing (551–479 B.C.);

The instruments in the smaller chamber containing the Marquis’s coffin—two mouth organs, one small frame drum, three se, and one five-stringed and one ten-stringed instrument—suggest a more intimate chamber genre such as that depicted in a 5th-century tomb in Shaoxing, Zhejiang. These two genres may correspond to the “old” music of the Zhou court (ca. 1050–256 B.C.) that Confucius preferred, and the “new” music of the surrounding states that he felt had a corrupting influence.

This according to “Different tunes, different strings: Court and chamber music in ancient China” by Jenny F. So (Orientations XXI/5 [May 2000] pp. 26–34). Above, replicas of the bells; below, a performance on the bell replicas and those of other instruments from the tomb.

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