Chinese Folk Music

The Chinese traditionally believe that sound influences the harmony in the universe.  Until very recently, music was not to be appreciated or used as entertainment, and Chinese musicians were faced with a very low status in the world. For several thousands of years Chinese Culture was dominated by the teachings of the philosopher Confucius, who conceived of music in the highest sense as a means of calming the passions and of dispelling unrest and lust, rather than as a form of amusement. The ancient Chinese belief is that music is meant not to amuse but to purify one’s thoughts.

Melody and tone are of great importance in Chinese music, and there is always great care taken to ensure that each note has the proper tone. Musical instruments in China are classified by their composition: metal, stone, silk, bamboo, gourd, clay, skin and wood. The older instruments include long zithers, flutes, panpipes, the sheng, or mouth organ and percussion instruments, such as clappers, drums and gongs. Later instruments include various lutes and fiddles introduced to China from Central Asia.

The earliest known true Folk music of China is from the 12th century, when Chinese Folk Flute Solos were written to tell the traditions and the tales of various communities and regions in China. These Folk flute solos began in the 12th century on wooden flutes, and have survived to the present day. They were not written on a pentatonic scale, unlike most Chinese music, but in a style which is more Middle Eastern. This is known due to the ornamentation of the flutes. They were designed and decorated in a manner very similar to the bagpipes, which were invented in India, and the penny whistle as well as other Celtic instruments, which truly proves the style came from the west rather than the east of China.

A more modern appreciated form of Chinese Folk music is Guangdong music, from the region of Guangzhou, is also known as Cantonese music. However, the name is inaccurate as Guangdong music is not played in the Chinese region of Guangdong. The name and appreciation for the music began in the 1920s to 1930s, in Shanghai ballrooms, as most of the performers of the style were from Guangdong. Today, many pieces of Guangdong music have been influenced by western styles of music such as jazz.

China has a very unique take on the meaning of music, not seeing it as an art form designed for entertainment until very recent times for a country with such an enormous history. However, its forms of traditional Folk music still exist and while they have been influenced by western music, Chinese Folk music still retains much of its former classical style. Not being very popular in the west, Chinese Folk music must ensure its roots are kept alive in its native land, which may become easier given the tendency to use music as entertainment in recent times.