folksongs (Han Chinese)


folksongs (Han Chinese)
Over 93 per cent of the people in China belong to the Han nationality. Consequently, the Chinese culture generally referred to is the Han Chinese culture. The folksongs discussed here are also of the Han Chinese culture. The Han Chinese culture is broadly divided into two large geographic areas identified by the two major rivers, the Huanghe (Yellow River) in the north, and the Changjiang (Long River, or Yangzi River) in the south. Both rivers run from west to east and their basins are considered to be the cradles of Chinese civilization. The geography and environment along these rivers affect crop production, national habitat, living conditions, customs, language and music. The rugged Yellow River basin is cold, dry and windy. The main agricultural produce is wheat. Life is harsh. The melodies of northern folksongs are usually disjunctive, the vocal timbre tense, and the pitch range high. On the other hand, the Yangzi River basin has mild weather and plentiful rain. The main product is rice. Life is easier. The melodies of southern folksong in general tend to be conjunct and smooth. The vocal timbre is relaxed and the pitch range is lower.
Scholars follow a three-fold classification system for Han Chinese folksongs, namely: haozi (work songs), shange (mountain songs) and xiaodiao (lyric songs):
Haozi (work songs): Haozi literally means ‘shouting’ or ‘calling’ songs, an indication of its labour origin. The function of this type of songs is to relieve hardship during long hours of working or to coordinate a group of people who are working together. Most of these songs have a strong rhythm, limited melodic material, and frequent repetition of the same phrase (an ostinato pattern). Texts are rather limited. When singing as a group, a leader sings solo while the group answers in the same phrases again and again (call and response pattern).
Shange (mountain songs): The term shange (mountain songs) should be understood to mean songs sung in an open field, but not exclusively in a mountainous area. Some work songs with limited physical requirements are included in this category (i.e. herding songs). Mountain songs are freer in rhythm and high in pitch. Texts are improvised and nonsense syllables are abundant. Many mountain songs begin and end with a high and long call that has developed from outdoor shouting and calling. The favourite alternative singing style between two persons is a reflection of its use as a love duet between a man and a woman in the open field.
Xiaodiao (lyric songs): Literally ‘little tunes’, xiaodiao are folksongs in the most common sense. They are most numerous in numbers, and for the most part are for entertainment. Lyric songs’ melodies are lyrical, rhythmically static, contain balanced phrases and have a clear form. Their texts are not improvised, and nonsense syllables, if present, are integrated. The most typical formal structure of this type of song is a four equal phrase construction labelled as qi (beginning), cheng (inheriting), zhuan (turning) and he (conclusion), terms and ideas borrowed from classical writing. Famous examples of lyric songs in this type of structures are ‘Siji Ge’ (Song of Four Seasons) and ‘Meng Jiang Nu’ (The Elder Daughter of the Meng Family), both from Jiangsu, and ‘Liuyue Moli’ (Jasmine Flowers in the Sixth Moon) from Taiwan. This form can also be clearly demonstrated in Stephen Foster’s song: ‘Old Folks at Home’.
Han, Kuo-Huang (1989). ‘Folk Songs of the Han Chinese: Characteristics and Classification’. Asian Music 20.2:107–28.
Miao, Jing and Qiao, Jianzhong (1987). Lun Hanzu minge jinshi secaique de huafen [A Study of Similar Colour Area Division in Han Nationality Folk Songs]. Beijing: Wenhua Yishu.
Schimmelpenninck, Antoinet (1997). Chinese Folk Songs and Folk Singers: Shang’ge Traditions in Southern Jiangsu. Leiden: Chime Foundation.
Tuohy, Sue (1999). ‘The Social Life of Genre: The Dynamics of Folksong in China’. Asian Music 30.2:39–86.
Yang, Mu (1994). ‘Academic Ignorance or Political Taboo? Some Issues in China’s Study of its Folksong Culture’. Ethnomusicology 38.2:303–20.
HAN KUO-HUANG

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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