Music & China

“Music produces a kind of pleasure which human nature cannot do without.”
- Confucius
Confucius and music.
"It is not until he finally realized and showed the inner spirit of the melody that Confucius stopped practicing.... Even today, Confucius's edification of "Being insatiable in learning" is still regarded as a motto by most people."
Confucian virtue and music

Chinese calligraphy

Some examples of Chinese decorative art.
The Theater in the Fobidden City

"The elements of the Chinese tea ceremony include the harmony of nature and self cultivation.... When tea is more than a drink and the tea ceremony is understood and practiced to foster harmony in humanity, promote harmony with nature, discipline the mind, quiet the heart, and attain the purity of enlightenment."

Chinese Martial Arts or kung fu.

Ling Lun - The legendary founder of music in China, said to have invented bamboo flutes and to have invented the pentatonic scale: "he invented the five notes of the ancient Chinese five-tone scale (gong, shang, jiao, zhi, and yu, equivalent to 1, 2, 3, 5, and 6 in numbered musical notation or do, re, mi, so, and la in western solfeggio)"

Early 20th century traditional composer Liu Tianhua and His Ten Representative Works - He composed music for the Erhu or Chinese Fiddle

Two versions of "Beautiful Evening" (1928):

Ehru player Lei Qiang (born 1960) -- see also here.

The Chinese Bamboo flute or dizi - a piece called the Desert (composed and performed by Ma Di)
Here is a set of folk tunes played on the bamboo flute

Music for Chinese New Year via Naxos

The Pentatonic (five-note) scale in Chinese Music

“gong, shang, jiao, zhi, yu”
A Broad Discussion on Ancient Chinese Culture
"morals, music, and even the human body all correspond to the Five Elements.... In music there were five pitches, “gong, shang, jiao, zhi, yu”. Among them, “gong” belongs to earth, “shang” to metal, “jiao” to wood, “zhi” to fire, and “yu” to water."

"Modality in early Ming qin tablature"
Modality in early Ming qin tablature

Ancient flutes discovered in Jiahu China
See articles here, here and here.

Information and links from pianist Clara Zhang:

Here is the sheet music for the piece "Music at Sunset" or "Flute & Drum at the sunset" by Li, YingHai (the composer) (this version is slightly different from the one I'm performing, but basically the same).

Here is the piano performance by Pianist Yin, ChengZhong, he was considered the best interpreter of this piece when I was growing up, in fact, I have this very CD that's on this YouTube video.

Here is the video for Pipa (, which the instrument the music was originally composed for-

Here is the music for "Colorful (Silver) clouds chasing the moon" by Wang, JianZhong (the composer).

Here is the originally Chinese orchestra version of the music recording-

Here is the same piece, but Cantonese song version-

Here is Pianist LangLang's version on the piano-

Here's a video of Clara Zhang playing "Silver Clouds Chasing the Moon" arranged by JianZhong Wang
(she speaks at the beginning which the video doesn't pick up very well, but the playing is clear and starts at 1:47)

Pianist Lang Lang, who was inspired to become a virtuoso by a Tom & Jerry cartoon!

From pianist Clara Zhang: "Here are some video clips of the Cartoon's Lady and Tramp in Mandarin Chinese. I think cartoon was probably where most Chinese musicians first came across Western music at their ages, since classical music was still not very common when we were growing up. Western music was banned for 10 years during cultural revolution (from 1966-1976), so early 80's, some of the young parents probably wouldn't even know what classical music really was. I started playing piano when I was 3, but never been to a real concert until I was 10."

"Also, the year (1982) when Lang Lang was born, is the year most Chinese pianists were produced, I am included. LangLang is only a few months older than me, so is another very famous Chinese pianist, Yundi Li (who won the Chopin International at age of 19). It was a known fact even back then, suddenly all the kids were playing piano. When I auditioned in the TianJin conservatory at age 11, the rumor was that there were about 8,000 children that applied to this conservatory (2nd best in China, central and shanghai were considered to be the best). By this time (80's), even though most parents weren't clear what western music was, but they knew it could make people stand out. They were all able to work with a chosen profession and made a little extra money (compare to the cultural revolution time), and since they are only allowed to have 1 child, they all wanted their only child to one day turn into a superstar. Langlang's father was an amateur "erhu" player turned into a police man, he loved music very much, but wasn't going to be able to make a career for himself, so he quit his job and took LangLang with him moved to BeiJing to study with the best teachers and went through some really crazy time, and then LangLang became famous. :) But, most other young piano players had to quit eventually when they couldn't win a competition, or get into an conservatory, or couldn't become famous like LangLang... But the rest kept on competing with each other, and that's why Lang Lang and Yundi Li became the two most famous pianist in China and the world for a while, and they happened to be born on the same year, but It's not a coincidence."

"Here's the part that inspired LangLang to play the piano (he talks about it in all of his interviews). :)"

"Now here is something totally aside from music, here is a Chinese comedy, "XiangSheng"(self singing talk show), but it is based on a part of Tom and Jerry, but the comedians basically made a funny story between a boy and his uncle and talked in my city TianJin's dialect, it is hilarious, if you listen closely, everything rhymes at the end of each phrase which is something that is related to the 4 different tones in the Chinese language."

Abing -- a very famous blind erhu player in China
his most famous composition is Er Quan Ying Yue (1950, Moon Reflected on Second Spring) on youtube here.
Here is a documentary about him:
Here's another of his pieces, "Great waves washing the sand":

Here is the Siamese Cat Song in Chinese (Mandarin)!

Western Music related to China

Pentatonic scale in Debussy's "Pagodas" from Estampes (prints/impressions).
The piece is named after the tiered temples of east asia.

Debussy's The Girl with the Flaxen Hair; here's the original piano version.

Pentatonic scale in Ravel's "Laideronnette, Impératrice des Pagodes", (Empress of the Pagodas) from the Mother Goose Suite; another performance here.
Pentatonic scale in Ravel's "Passacaille", the third movement of his Piano Trio.

Other Far East Cultures

Siam or Thailand
The Siamese Cat Song from Disney's Lady & the Tramp.

Throat Singing (or Overtone Singing) - Mongolia, Tibet & nearby areas

Tibetan Throat Singing by Buddhist Monks - examples here, here and here.
More information here.
A "How To" here.

About Tuvan Throat Singing
Example of Tuvan Throat Singing.
More information and samples.:

Javanese Gamelon
Examples here, here and here.
In Chinese, pitch inflection of the sounds of the language affect the meaning. Here's some information about the four tones of Mandarin.
Information about Chinese musical notation here and here.

Information for presentation by student Matthew C. about Chinese (Mandarin) Language:

Also see handouts:
Mandarin presentation.
Mandarin presentation tables.

Here are some videos teaching the four tones of Mandarin Chinese:

Chinese Traditional Opera (especially Beijing or Peking Opera)

Overview History of Chinese Music

Presentation by Justen

Chinese Music

Chinese Pentatonic Scaler


Man playing Xiao


Yellow Emperor