Posted in For Project 5 Examples

Example 2 Research, Part 1: Mythical Ancient Chinese Music

The earliest part of Chinese history before the Xia Dynasty, documented as the first Chinese dynasty, is shrouded in legend, known as the Mythical Period. The problem with this period, as Girardot (1976:294–95) points out, is that there was an extreme paucity and fragmentation of mythological accounts. Regardless, I will give some of the versions of the myths and legends I’ve found.

pangu1

Fig.1. PanGu sculpture with horns and yin-yang axe

The origins of the universe are described in the myth known as PanGu KaiTian. According to one version, SanWu LiJi, the universe was in the condition of an egg-like primordial chaos and indistinctness, called hundun. Pangu (Fig.1), the first living person, was born its middle where and after 800.000 years, he had grown into a giant. As he woke up, he stretched, breaking the hundun, with its lighter, purer parts – yang, becoming the sky, and the darker, impure parts – yin, becoming the earth. Fearing the yin and yang merging again, he stood between them. For 18,000 years, he had been pushing them apart, as he grew 10 feet a day, increasing the distance. As the gap was fixed at 30.000 miles, Pangu fell into an exhausted sleep from which he never awoke. WuYun LiNian Ji describes the alteration of Pangu’s body after his death. His breath became the clouds, the mist and the wind. His voice became the thunder, his right eye the moon and his left eye the sun. His hair became the stars and the Milky way, while his muscles became the fertile land. Pangu’s head became the mountains and his blood the rivers. The parasites on his body became living creatures.

Now we arrive at the period of the mythological ancient rulers whose stories pervaded the ancient musical history. Ancient China, c. 30th to 21st century, was first ruled by Three Sovereigns, and after that by the Five Emperors. Of course, like Marie Charles (2010) points out, scholars argue about the authenticity of these rulers, who were associated with archeological artifacts and folk tales, first documented in the Zhou dynasty. Throughout Chinese history, because the tales were reinterpreted to suit the needs of new-coming emperors, each of legendary rulers were credited with inventions that led to the introduction of music and musical instruments.

fuxi.jpg

Fig. 2. NuWa (left) and Fuxi unearthed in XinJiang

The Three Sovereigns were half-animal god-kings – Fuxi, Nuwa and ShenNong. In some of the legends, FuXi and NuWa (Fig. 2) created the human race by molding clay into figures and used their special powers to bring them to life. There is much debate as to whether they were sibling, husband and wife, or both. According to a historian writing in the Han dynasty, NuWa invented the first musical instrument, a set of reed mouth organ in the shape of bamboo pipes, called the sheng or shenghuang (Fig. 3). She was also said to have given instructions to a historical/mythological figure, Lady O Lin (Liang, 1985: 36), who made an ancient transverse flute called guan. (Fig. 4)

sheng

Fig. 3. Sheng mouth-organ

chi093.jpg

Fig. 4. Guan flute

In most accounts, however, Fu Xi taught people how to produce music, so that “the people might be charmed with music, and thus be enabled to bear more cheerfully the burdens of life.” Through different myths, he seems to be responsible for the invention of string instruments, the long zithers – qin (Fig. 5) and se (Fig. 6), and the vessel flute xun (Fig. 7).

guqin

Fig. 5. Qin zither

se.jpg

Fig. 6. Se zither

$_1.jpg

Fig. 7. Xun vessel flute

His connections to qin, described by Eastern Han scholar Cai yong 133-92 BC (Lewis, 207), Er-ya, and Yang Xiong, were probably because of his skillful correlation of natural systems. In one of the myths, qin was patterned from nature, from tong tree, known as the phoenix’s only perch, and was copied by Fu Xi from the body of the phoenix. As a great hunter, Fuxi was also attributed to have taught the people how to hunt and prepare food. This preparation included his hunting/dance song, jiabian, to evoke the hunting spirit.

shennong.jpg

Fig.8. Divine farmer ShenNong

ShenNong (Fig. 8) was the next successor – the god of agriculture. Some tales say that he taught the mankind the dance-songs of agriculture, including one by the name of Fengnian. Among the instruments legends say Shennong invented a vertical aerophone, reed instrument called yue and a clay drum called tugu. Unfortunately, I can’t find any pictures or drawings of these instruments.

There are many texts including the Huainanzi, the etymological dictionary Explaining the Graphs and Explicating Their Combinations, Penetrating Popular Ways, and some extant variants of the Book of Documents, that attribute invention of the previously mentioned qin to ShenNong, perhaps because of his association with silk-making. Indeed, it is the availability of silk fiber that made it possible to fabricate long, tension-bearing strings for the zither.

Yellow_Emperor.jpg

Fig. 9. Yellow Emperor, Huangdi

The Five Emperors period starts with the Yellow Emperor, Huangdi (Fig. 9), the descendant of the god-kings. Beginning with Huang Di, music assumes more of a characteristic form. Understanding the importance and influence of music and the need to regularize it, Huangdi ordered his official Ling Lun (Fig. 10) to create standard and basic rules for musical practice at the court.

linglun.jpg

Fig. 10. Ling Lun

According to the Chun Qiu text, Ling Lun:

“…traveled westwards from the Ta Xia to the north side of the Kun Lun range and gathered bamboo from the valleys. He selected hollow tubes of uniform bore and cut a length of three chun (1/3 decimeter) and nine fen (1/3 centimeter) between the two joints to make a pitch pipe for the tone of the Yellow Bell, or huangzhong. Then he cut twelve other tubes and fixed their pitches according to the singing of the Feng Huang bird. [phoenix]”

Yellow bell here is the reference pitch of the kingdom. It was also used as the reference for volume and weight and other measures. Each dynasty had its own measurement for the Yellow Bell, and its continuous recalculation provided reasons as to why the previous dynasties failed. In this origin of the twelve temperaments, known as Lülü – twelve pitches within an octave based on the fundamental Yellow bell pitch, used to measure musical tones. LingLun divided them into the 6 sounds of male phoenix – yang and 6 sounds of the female phoenix – yin. Huangdi is said to have also ordered the casting of bells in tune with those flutes.

Five Sounds of the Pentatonic scale and their names, under the influence of cosmologic concepts, are believed to have been derived in the time of Huangdi. Only later was the way made in which the five tones were placed within the structure of the twelve absolute pitches to create more modes. I wrote separately about that here.

kui.jpg

Fig. 11. One-legged beast, Kui

In other legends, the standardization of music, which distinguished Huangdi’s empire, was very helpful in his establishment of military music called Duzhang. In one of these, Kui (Fig. 11), one-legged mythical monster was killed by Huang Di and its skin was used to make a drum for defeating Chiyou. When struck with the bone of the Thunder God, the drum made a great sound to show his power to the whole world. In order to exude strength through his music, Huangdi also have made modifications to the drums and zithers in such a way that they produced more sound. There might have been Yunmen or Xianchi dance music.

 

Fig. 12. Emperor Yao (left) and Emperor Shun (right)

The two Emperors, Yao and Shun (Fig. 12), were the ones who had musical impact on the Mythical period after Huangdi. DaZhang, a ritual dance, is believed to be composed by Yao specifically for the heaven and earth ceremony, while Shun played the qin and was said to be the first composer for solos on this instrument, with the famous Nanfeng (Southern Airs). The Book of Music in the established canon even says that “In ancient times Shun invented the five-string qin, in order to sing ‘Southern Airs’.” Legend also tells that he was the originator of the music called DaShao, a symphony of nine Chinese musical instruments.

With them, the Mythical period ends. I hope I have given enough information about this interesting, myth-driven part of history. In the next post I will write about the actual historical data of Chinese music. Take a look at it here.


List of illustrations:

Fig.1. PanGu sculpture with horns and yin-yang axe

slideplayer.com

Fig. 2. NuWa (left) and Fuxi unearthed in XinJiang

http://www.absolutechinatours.com/china-travel/legends-of-fuxi-and-nuwa.html

Fig. 3. Sheng mouth-organ

Fig. 4. Guan flute

Chinese Guan Zi, in D major

Fig. 5. Qin zither

https://omeka1.grinnell.edu/MusicalInstruments/items/show/26

Fig. 6. Se zither

gandharvaloka.ie

Fig. 7. Xun vessel flute

calgarychinesemusic.org

Fig.8. Divine farmer ShenNong

Shen Yun Performing Arts

Fig. 9. Yellow Emperor, Huangdi

https://allroadstraveled.com/huangshan-yellow-mountains-most-beautiful-in-china.html

Fig. 10. Ling Lun

mdgriffin63

Fig. 11. One-legged beast, Kui

http://www.theworldofchinese.com/2016/12/fantastic-chinese-beasts-where-to-find-them/

Fig. 12. Emperor Yao (left) and Emperor Shun (right)

alchetron.com

References:

Girardot, N. J. (1976) ‘The Problem of Creation Mythology in the Study of Chinese Religion’ In The Journal of Modern History 15 no. 4 pp. 289 – 318 At: https://doi.org/10.1086/462748 (Accessed on)

Charles, Nicole Marie (2010) ‘A Supplementary Book of Chinese Music for the Suzuki Flute Students’ D.M.A. document, Presented in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for The Degree Doctor of Musical Arts in the Graduate School of Ohio State University

Ming-Yueh Liang, David Mingyue Liang (2009) Music of the Billion: An Introduction to Chinese Musical Culture Volume 8 of Paperbacks on musicology Indiana University Heinrichshofen Edition, 1985

Lewis, Mark Edward (1999) Writing and Authority in Early China. Albany: SUNY Press

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s