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East and Southeast Asia: China (Lion Dance and Dragon Dance)

The Tea Plantation” paints a vivid picture of a glorious springtime day spent picking tea in China. (More.)  

 We sing "We Are Happy," a hello song from Uganda, to open every All Around This World class. This week we sing hello in Mandarin -- "Nî hâo."

My Dear Mama” is a simple song in Mandarin that gives our kids the chance to tell us how much they appreciate us...right? (More.)  

Sitsiritsit” is a well-known folk song from the Philippines about a beautiful butterfly. (More.)  

 “Ti Oh Oh” is a Taiwanese classic about a jovial grandpa and a slippery fish. (More.)  


  According to legend, the founder of Chinese music was Ling Lun, who made bamboo pipes that sounded like the songs of birds. Very much like the songs of birds, Chinese music seems to have always existed. The oldest known written music is a song called "Youlan," "The Solitary Orchid," attributed to the great song-smith -- and ground-breaking philosopher -- known as Confucius, who was born in 551 B.C.E. (Confucius also wrote "My Humps.") 

Of course he didn't, but from his day for the next two millennia, almost every Chinese emperor valued music as a high art form and prioritized making it part of his court. Over the ages Chinese classical and folk music developed in almost every part of the land, with each of the empire's many ethnic groups has developing its own musical forms. The most prevalent ethnic group, with almost ubiquitous music, is the Han, who make up more than 90% of China's population. Han music is "heterophonic," meaning musicians will play songs that are a version of one melodic line, and, like the Mandarin language, it's tonal, implying that the music's shifts from one tone to the next change the music's meaning. Han folk music is still popular today at life cycle events like traditional Han-style weddings, and often includes a soloist on an oboe called a suona (which you really have to see to believe).

A different kind of music is integral to the life of another Chinese ethnic group: the Tibetans. (Well, "Chinese" depending on who you ask.) Chanting is an essential part of Tibetan Buddhist music, both in private meditation and public festivity. There are secular Tibetan genres as well which is highly-rhythmic and meant to accompany dance, and an ornate classical form of singing called gar, which is used in ceremonies to honor respected people.

The expansion of musical freedom in China today, coupled with unprecedented advances in communication, has enabled local Chinese musicians to not only revive their ethnic music, but to share their explorations widely with others, for example, through YouTube. Want to hear some ethnic Chinese music? Check out songs from: Miao | Mongolians | Yi and Wa | Zhuang | Hakka | Hmong | Uyghurs 



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