The Tradition of Chinese Music

China is a country with a very early civilization and a long and rich history. For hundreds of centuries, its vast territories have been populated by different ethnic groups who gave birth to unique and rich music traditions.

Several Chinese myths tell the origins of music and instruments and describe the unequaled music skills of the saviors of the remote past. A passage from the Hanshu (II AD), for example, tell the story Ling Lun, servant of the Yellow Emperor, who tuned the first flute listening to the call of the phoenixes.

In 1973, in the small village of Hemudu in Zhejiang province, more than one hundred and fifty music instruments have been unearthed by Chinese archeologists. This collection, which includes bone-made flutes dating back to the 5000 BC, witnesses a musical history of over seven thousand years. Another amazing discovering has been made at the end of the 1970s, when a grandiose 65-bells set called Bianzhong was excavated from the Tomb of Marquis Zeng (V-III BC). Beautiful religious paintings of the Tang Dynasty (VII-X AD), like those found in the caves of Dunhuang, and exquisite secular paintings of the Song Dynasty (X-XIII AD), like the famous Night Revels of Han Xizai, depict a Chinese society where music occupies a place of paramount importance.

Traditionally, Chinese instruments were divided into eight categories called “bayin”: silk, bamboo, wood, stone, metal, clay, gourd and hide. It is estimated that nowadays more than a thousand different Chinese music instruments exist. They are usually divided into four groups: bowed strings, plucked strings, winds, and percussions instruments. The group of the percussions includes over a hundred different instruments alone.

Thanks to the ethnic and regional diversity of the country, a great variety of styles and performance forms exists: Jiangnan Sizhu music from Southern China, Guangdong music, Chaozhou music, Xi’an Wind and Percussion music, Mongolian music, and many others.

Today, Chinese traditional music is an important part of the World’s Cultural Heritage. During the past decades, Chinese music has spread all over the world, enchanting vast audiences and broadening their horizons, continuously enriching the world’s music culture and reaching out for new inspirations.