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The History of Modern Chinese Music Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 29th, 2020

The history of modern Chinese music dates back to the 11th century when music was among the fundamental functions of the society including politics and morals. Music has been so important in China making it one of the few countries across the world that has had official music organizations and bureau in each and every dynasty that has passed.

The Zhouperiod music is regarded as the foundation of the modern Chinese music. This kind of music was used in ritual ceremonies and education systems for purposes of education and entertainment (Hsia 394). The Zhouperiod music was characterized by a variety of music styles and a type of instrumentation that has been preserved until now. The Han Dynasty that was in existence from (206 B.C – 220 A.D) witnessed a cross-cultural influence from all the Chinese empires and other economic associates that were affiliated to the Chinese Empire.

The original Zhouperiod music was played using the native court musical instruments before the cross-cultural influence came in place. As the music embraced external influences, new musical instruments such as panpipes, vessel flutes, zithers, bells and stick membranophones were introduced. The Zither and the Zheng were the only instruments that came from the region but the rest were adopted from foreign empires (Hsia 394). The Zheng later become very popular after the unification of the Chinese sub-empires to form the Qin dynasty.

The end-blown di flute and the plucked pipa lute were among the most notable foreign instruments introduced in China during the Qin dynasty. The Chinese empire later split and was no longer unified due to the emergence of other kingdoms and states that were fighting for power. These political developments were experienced from (260 A.D-265 A.D) with this period being characterized by kingdoms overthrowing one another. Non-indigenous music was majorly introduced to China during this period of political instability. A variety of musical aspects such tonal system, survival notation ad solo performances were adopted for the first time during this period (Hsia 394).

Major developments in Chinese music were also experienced during the Sui dynasty that was in place from (581-960). After being divided for almost five centuries, China was once again united under the Sui dynasty. Foreign musicians were introduced in China to perform for the first time during this period. The foreign musician helped a great deal in improving the local music industry because they not only performed, but were also involved in training and teaching local musicians on how to become professional musicians (Jie 125).

The music bureau was established and for the first time music became a source of livelihood as many young musicians and dancers became professional and were being paid for their performances. The continued growth of the music industry led to the establishment of the first music academy known as Liyuan to specifically train prospective musicians. Many popular Chinese poems were transformed into songs that were well received across the country (Jie 125). Since the reconstruction of the ancient Chinese music during the Han dynasty, particular musical performances such as the Yanyue performance were performed regularly during state functions.

The local musicians later developed the famous banquet music that was a blend of the native Chinese music and foreign elements. Different categories of performances were adopted in order to make performances more entertaining. The standard repertory performed became the most popular since it included a variety of dancers and musicians were involved (Jie 125). This type of performance involved almost a maximum of two-hundred musicians and dancers and its prominence spread to the neighboring Japan.

The period between 960 and 1378 saw the emergence of industrialization and this as expected was to affect music and the general music industry. The increased growth in iron and textile industries meant that commerce was going to thrive and expand. Expansion of commerce meant that that many people became mobile as they conducted their trading activities.

Literacy also increased because education became accessible to many people. Knowledge become very accessible since books were being printed during this industrial age and everybody was eager to learn and discover new things (Jie 125). These developments meant that changes were to be experienced in music and other forms of visual and performing arts. New styles in music had to be created because the musical audience was no longer local but international. It was during this period that local musicians in China refined their productions in terms of instrumentation and wording to suit the expanded international audience.

The Chinese music became popular in Asia and other parts of the world because new elements such as vocal genres had been developed. The solo repertory that was the most popular form of performance was also transformed into a grand style in order to go hand in hand with the major changes that had been experienced in all forms of performing arts (Jie 125). Examples of vocal genres developed during the industrial age included the Zaju musical drama, the narrative music and the art song.

The Ming-Quin dynasty that followed the industrial age was also pivotal in the development of the modern Chinese music. This period saw the emergence of the literate society where scholarly research and findings were used a great deal in improving the content of the modern Chinese music (May 45). Acoustical principles of music were formed which led to the development of new scales such as the equal- tempered scale. The majority of songs were folk songs but musician were forced to re-package the songs in order to appeal to the urban population.

New musical genres had to be developed from the beginning of the 20th century. The Western classical music was introduced in China by a Russian orchestra and other orchestras from the expatriate community that had settled in China. A Chinese musician known as Zheng Zhisheng was the first local musician to adopt the western classical music and blended the local style with classical elements to completely revoultionalize the Chinese music (May 45).

Other styles of music such as pop music, rap and hip hop were introduced in China to form the modern Chinese music. Most Chinese musicians have been willing to adopt any new style of music as long as it is well received by both local and the international audience. Musician who adopted foreign styles were branded unpatriotic but this kind of attitude has been changing with time.

In conclusion, the modern Chinese music has a long history that has seen it develop into what it is today. Foreign influences together with civilization are the two factors that contributed to the kind of transformation that modern Chinese music has been experiencing. Despite the many changes, Chinese music still maintains some of its original elements.

Works Cited

Hsia, Chih-tsing. A History of Modern Chinese Fiction. New York: Indiana University Press, 1999. Print.

Jie, Jin. Chinese Music. New York: University of California Press, 2011. Print.

May, Elizabeth. Musics of many Cultures: Part 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Print.

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