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Chinese Culture & Arts-I

2003-11-18 16:18

China's literary tradition extends back to ancient times. The Book of Songs, a collection of 305 folk ballads of the Western Zhou Dynasty and the Spring and Autumn Period compiled in the sixth century B.C., is China's earliest anthology of poetry. Qu Yuan, China's first great poet born in 339 B.C. during the Warring States Period, wrote Li Sao (The Lament), an extended lyric poem. The Book of Songs and Li Sao are regarded as the two peaks of the earliest Chinese literary history. In the Han Dynasty (206 B.C.- A.D. 220) Sima Qian wrote Records of the Historian, respected as a model of biographical literature, and the magnificent yuefu (ballads), best represented by "The Peacock Flies to the Southeast," were written. The Wei and Jin dynasties (220-420) were a great period for the production of poetry, with end uring works produced by Cao Cao, Cao Pi, Cao Zhi, Yuan Ji, Ji Kang and Tao Yuanming. Tao Yuanming excelled at the description of natural scenery and rural life. Literature in the Southern and Northern Dynasties (420-589) is noted for folk ballads. Those from the south tend toward lyricism while those from the north sing of the boldly robust spirit of the nomads. "The Ballad of Mulan" is an outstanding example, telling the story of the young girl Hua Mulan, who armed herself as a soldier to go to war in her father's place. The Tang Dynasty gave birth to a great number of men of letters. The Complete Tang Poetry anthologizes more than 50,000 poems composed by more than 2,200 poets. Representative poets include Li Bai, Du Fu and Bai Juyi. The greatness of Li Bai ( 701-762), known as the "poet immortal," ranks with that of Qu Yuan. His poetic voice was fantastical and boldly unrestrained, drawing inspiration from folk songs, myths and legends. Du Fu's (712-770) pithy poems are profoundly solemn and deeply moving. As many of his poems reflect the complete historic course of the Tang from prosperity to decline, they are known as the "poetic history." Han Yu and Liu Zongyuan led the reform of Tang prose style in both tone and language. They advocated the abandonment of the parallel prose style characteristic of Wei, Jin and the periods after with their regulated tones, antithesis and repeated allusions, in favour of a much looser form, developing a style that was simple, lucid and vigorous. The Song Dynasty is well known for its ci (lyric). The ci is a style of poetry written in lines of unequal length and set to music. Song Dynasty lyricists may be divided into two groups. The first, best represented by Liu Yong and Li Qingzhao, is known as the "gentle school." These poets most often speak of love affairs and sorrow at parting. The second, the "bold and unconstrained school," is best represented by Su Shi and Xin Qiji, who describe mountains and rivers and reflect on past events in an untrammeled style written in sweeping strokes. The Song Dynasty also witnessed the appearance of huaben (the recorded texts of folk storytellers), which later exerted a great influence on literary development. The most notable achievement of Yuan literature was the zaju, poetic drama set to music. This comprehensive dramatic form was jointly created by actors, musicians and playwrights - a single story unfolds through arias, dialogue, stage action and dance, all performed to musical accompaniment. The celebrated playwright Guan Hanqing (c. 1213-1297) wrote 63 zaju in his life, including his masterpieces Snow in Midsummer (also known as The Wrongs of Dou E). Wang Shifu, another master of the zaju, is well remembered for Romance of the Western Bower. The Ming and Qing dynasties saw the development of the novel. Four masterpieces produced in this form during this period are Three Kingdoms by Luo Guanzhong, Outlaws of the Marsh by Shi Nai'an, Journey to the West by Wu Cheng'en, and A Dream of Red Mansions by Cao Xueqin. A Dream of Red Mansions depicts the corruption of the feudal system and its inevitable collapse through the tragic love stories of Jia Baoyu and his beautiful cousins Lin Daiyu and Xue Baochai and the changing fortunes of the aristocratic Jia family. Richly vital, deeply profound, minutely drawn, A Dream of Red Mansions stands at the apex of the traditional Chinese novel. Other famous literary works of the Ming and Qing dynasties include Golden Lotus (Jin Ping Mei) by the pseudonymous "Laughing Scholar of Lanling," Strange Tales from Make-Do Studio by Pu Songling (1640_1715), and The Scholars by Wu Jingzi (1701-1754). The May 4th Movement that broke out in 1919 was an anti-imperialist and anti-feudal movement as well as a new culture movement, which inspired a group of progressive intellectuals to use literature as a weapon to challenge the decayed evil forces, thereby giving birth to modern Chinese literature. The most outstanding representatives of this era are Lu Xun, Guo Moruo, Mao Dun and Ba Jin. Lu Xun, the pioneer standard-bearer of modern Chinese literature, created a vast body of novels, essays and prose works. He moreover translated in excess of 200 works by more than 90 writers from 14 countries, providing their first introduction to Chinese readers. His The True Story of AH Q is a world-renowned masterpiece and has been translated into 40 languages. The poetry anthology The Goddesses and the play Qu Yuan, both by Guo Moruo, had an enormous influence on the history of modern Chinese literature. Mao Dun wrote 6 novels, 6 novelettes, 50-odd short stories and a dozen collections of prose. Written in the l930s, his novel Midnight is among his most outstanding works. Other celebrated works include the "Torrent" trilogy (Family, Spring and Autumn) by Ba Jin, Camel Xiangzi and Teahouse by Lao She and Thunderstorm and Sunrise by Cao Yu.
The founding of New China in 1949 serves as a signpost for the beginning of contemporary Chinese literature. The literary experiences distilled in the years following the May 4th Movement, the direction (that literature and art should serve the people) pointed out by Mao Zedong in Talks at the Yan 'an Forum on Literature and Art in 1942, and the basic principle of "letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend" formulated in 1956 created favorable conditions for the establishment and development of contemporary literature. In the 17 years from 1949 to 1965, the most outstanding novels produced were Defend Yan'an by Du Pengcheng, Sanliwan village by Zhao Shuli, Builders of a New Life by Liu Qing, Great Changes in a Mountain Village by Zhou Libo, Keep the Red Flag Flying by Liang Bin, Red Crag by Luo Guangbin and Yang Yiyan, The Song of Youth by Yang Mo, Tracks in the Snowy Forest by Qu Bo and Three Family Lane by Ouyang Shan. In the 10-year "cultural revolution" (1966-1976), literature was deliberately severely hamstrung, leaving a desolate literary wasteland. In the years since the "cultural revolution," however, literature has been rejuvenated and a large number of literary works have appeared. The works of the early period in the new era's literature mainly described the emotional wounds the people suffered during the "cultural revolution" and their struggle against the Gang of Four (a counter-revolutionary group consisting of Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan and Wang Hongwen during the "cultural revolution"). Mid-length novels are noticeable in this period : The Blood-stained Magnolia by Cong Weixi, Mimosa by Zhang Xianliang, A Tale of Tianyun Mountain by Lu Yanzhou, and The Snowstorm Tonight by Liang Xiaosheng, etc. are full of artistic appeal and deeply emotional. Later, a diversifying tendency appeared in mid-length novels as far as aesthetic style is concerned. Major works include Red Sorghum by Mo Yan, The Black Steed by Zhang Chengzhi, Na Wu by Deng Youmei, At Middle Age by Chen Rong, King of Chess by Ah Cheng, The Butterfly' by Wang Meng, Life by Lu Yao, Scenery by Fang Fang, Besieged by Liu Heng, Troubled Life by Chi Li, The Sesame Oil Mill by the Pond by Zhou Daxin and Phoenix Guitar - the Story of Some Rural Teachers by Liu Xinglong. The short story form in the new era started from The Wound by Lu Xinhua and The Form Master by Liu Xinwu. Influential works in this genre include Flowing Colored Scarf by Chen Jiangong, The Log Cabin Overgrown with Creepers by Gu Hua, Love Must Not Be Forgotten by Zhang Jie, A Land of Wonder and Mystery by Liang Xiaosheng, My Distant Qingpingwan by Shi Tieshgng, A Soul in Bondage by Zhaxi Dawa, Eight Hundred Meters Below by Sun Shaoshan, Grain by Liu Heng and Pagoda Depot by Liu Zhenyun. A large number of full-length novels also appeared in the new era, including A Town Called Hibiscus by Gu Hua, Xu Mao and His Daughters by Zhou Keqin, Mobile Figures by Wang Meng, Black Snow by Liu Heng, Muslim Funeral by Huo Da, Old Ship by Zhang Wei, Heavy Wings by Zhang Jie and The Common People by Hao Ran. Accomplished novels with historical themes include Li Zicheng by Yao Xueyin, The Earth's Red Ribbon by Wei Wei, Ten-thousand-Ii Pictures of the Great Wall by Zhou Erfu, The Young Son of Heaven and The Evening Drum and the Morning Bell by Lin Li, Zeng Guofan by Tang Haomin and Emperor Yongzheng by Eryue He. In addition, many high-quality poems, essays, features and reportages have been produced


Chinese theater is a comprehensive performing art, with singing, speech, dancing, acrobatics and martial arts as basic performance techniques. It synthesizes songs, music, visual arts and performance, combining all within a unified rhythm. China boasts more than 300 forms of traditional opera, most of which are local operas. National operas include Peking opera, Pingju (found mainly in north China), Yueju (Shaoxing opera in Zhejiang), Yuju (Henan spera) Yueju (Guangdong opera) and Chuanju (Sichuan opera). Peking opera is the best-known of these. It assumed its present form about two hundred years ago in Beijing, then the capital of the Qing Dynasty, hence its name. It is a unique art combining drama, singing, music, dancing and martial arts into one. The roles in Peking opera are strictly differentiated into fixed character types: sheng (male characters), dan (female characters), jing (painted faces), and chou male clowns). Different singing and acting techniques gave birth to various schools. Each type of character has its own set of performance conventions, drawn from life. Exaggeration and symbolism based on illusion are adopted to express actions such as opening a door, going upstairs, rowing a boat and climbing a hill, all created in the audience's imagination without the use of stage properties. The performers'' body movements are aesthetically pleasing. The main instruments of accompaniment are huqin (two-stringed bow instrument), gongs and drums, giving the musical performance an Oriental flavour. Resonant singing, occasionally humorous dialogue and energetic acrobtics produce a lively and engaging show. Well-known modern actors include Mei Lanfang, Cheng Yanqiu, Xun Huisheng, Shang Xiaoyun, Zhou Xinfang, Ma Lianliang, Tan Fuying, Gai Jiaotian, Xiao Changhua, Zhang Junqiu, Qiu Shengrong, Yuan Shihai, Li Shaochun, Li Duogui and Jiang Miaoxiang. At the Crossroads, The Autumn River, Uproar in Heaven, etc. are the Peking opera selections ,best loved by foreign audience.
Modern spoken drama is a relatively new theatrical form in China. The earliest drama troupe was founded in the early l900s. Between the l930s and l940s such dramas as Thunderstorm, Sunrise, Qu Yuan and Twin Flowers had a great impact on the society. Beginning in the l950s, drama developed very quickly. Many excellent plays were produced including Dragon Beard Ditch, Cai Wenji, and Guan Hanging, Lao She's Teahouse has been well received both in China and abroad. Spoken drama is also flourishing in the new era. The first big hit was Loyal Hearts describing the people's yearning for he late Premier Zhou Enlai and their struggle against the Gang of Four. Dramas with similar themes include When All Sounds Are Hushed, There is A Yard Like This One and Neighbors. At the same time, many excellent foreign works were performed on the stage, for example, The Death of a Salesman and Galileo. In the middle and late l980s spoken drama further developed in new studies and reform of content and form; Absolute Sign, The Nirvana of Uncle Gou 'er, Red Skirts Are Popular in the Street and A Living Man Interviews the Dead succeeded in these aspects. In addition, descriptions of important historical events in The Xi'an Incident, the strong local color in The Number One Restaurant Under Heaven and Birdmen, and Gala Hutong and Baising Tomorrow's Sun performed in recent years all showed the profound understanding of art of China's dramatists and the bright prospects for China's drama.


Cinema was introduced to China in 1896. In 1905 Dingjun Mountain, the filming of a Peking opera routine, was shot in China. The Tested Couple, written and directed by Zheng Zhengqic in 1913, is usually regarded as China's first feature film. Between the l930s and l940s, a number of films of ideological value and psychological import were produced, such as Crossroads, Angels of the Street, The Spring River Flows East, and Eight Thousand Li of Cloud and Moon. Bridge. a feature film produced in 1949 by the Northeast Film Studio (later changed to the Changchun Film Studio), laid the foundations for the cinema in New China. The White-Haired Girl, The Lin Family 's Shop, On the Threshold of Spring, Sisters on Stage, and A Bed Detachment of Women, all produced in the l950s and the l960s, unroll like a painted scroll illuminating the broad passage of the recent past realistically and in a distinctly Chinese way, while still allowing expression of the artist's individuality. This technique and flavour have been very well received by popular audiences in China. Excellent films produced after 1977 include Happiness Knocks on the Door, A Tale of Tianyun Mountain, The Birth of New China, Everything is Clear at Forty, The Great Decisive Campaign, and Grandpa Shangang the Accused. Winners of various international awards include such feature films as My Memories of Old Beijing, Red Sorghum, The Year of Bad Luck, Celebrating the Spring Festival, Yellow Earth, Qiuju Goes to Court and Phoenix Guitar-The Story of Some Rural Teachers.
Documentaries, science and education films and animated cartoons made in China are all distinctive in their own way. Chinese animated films thematically and stylistically displayed an energetic vivacity, and are made in a variety of distinctively Chinese styles. The puppet film The Magic Paintbrush, the papercut film Ginseng Girl, he animated ink-wash film The Tadpole Looks for His Mother, and the cartoons Uproar in Heaven and When the Snipe and the Clam grapple have won many awards at international film festivals.
In 1995, China had 30 feature film studios approved by the State :council which produced 146 feature films and distributed 204 new, full-length films.


As far back as the first century B.C., more than 80 kinds of musical instruments are known to have been played in China. In the long course of development, the five categories of traditional music have come to be recognized : songs, dance music, ballads, operas and instrumental pieces. In 1978, the excavation of an early Warring States tomb in Hubei's Suixian County from more than 2,400 years ago uncovered a large musical instrument consisting of 64 bells arrayed on a rack. Tests have shown that each bell can produce two different high-pitched notes (a major third and a minor third) depending on where they are struck. The instrument has a range of five octaves. The beautiful pitch produced can be modulated, giving some idea of the musical complexity available even at this early day. During the feudal society's long history musical culture flourished as it passed through many different periods. Treasured musical pieces from former times include Eighteen Airs for the Fife and Guangling Verse (for the qin, a Chinese zither), Ambush on AII Sides (for the pipa, a plucked stringed instrument), and Evening by a River in Spring (for instrumental ensemble). China has also made great contributions to music theory. In 1584, Zhu Zaiyu was the first in the world to systematically calculate the equal temperament of the music scale. His book, New Rule of Equal Temperament, explains a system using 12 equal intervals that is identical with that used around the world today.
In the wake of the May 4th Movement in 1919, Chinese composers began to adopt the expressive forms of European music. During he l930s and l940s, many progressive musicians enthusiastically joined the ranks of the masses and created many outstanding works fresh in style and profound in content. These have been loved by the broad masses of the people. One example, March of the volunteers, with music by Nie Er and words by Tian Han, is now the national anthem of the People's Republic of China. The birth of the modern opera White-haired Girl opened a new stage for the development of Chinese opera.
Progress in music performance is closely related to the establishment of various professional music organizations and the popularization of their performances. After the founding of New China, cultural departments at all levels from the central government to the local authorities organized song and dance ensembles, opera theaters, and orchestras with both Western and traditional instrumentation, and many famous composers, conductors, singers and instrumental musicians have emerged. The Central Philharmonic holds regular concerts of both Chinese and foreign music ranging from classical and romantic to modern. The Chinese people very much enjoy European classical music. At one point, the Central Philharmonic delivered a series of performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with crowded houses at every performance. Many Chinese also enjoy Western operas such as Camille, Carmen, Madame butterfly, Figaro's Wedding and Onegin. Large-scale music festivals are regularly held throughout China. Regular annual festivals include "Shanghai Spring," "Guangzhou Music and Flower Party," "Beijing Chorus Festival," "Northeast China Music Week," "North China Music Week," "Northwest China Music Week," "Spring City Concert," "Harbin Summer," and "Jinan Autumn." Performances by amateurs are also very popular. Beijing's "May Flowers," Shanghai's "October Song Festival," Fujian's "School Concert" and Guangzhou's "Student Choral Festival" are held every year.
As China increases its international cultural exchanges, more and more Chinese musicians are participating in a wide variety of international musical contests with gratifying results. Individual Chinese musicians and Chinese music troupes have visited many countries and regions in the world and many famous foreign musicians and musical organizations have performed in China, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and the British Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra and violinist Yehudi Menuhin, famous singers Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Julio Iglesias.


Dance also has a long history in China. On 5,000-year-old colored pottery vessels unearthed in Qinghai's Datong County are painted three drawings of people dancing. The entrancing poses of the Han Dynasty dancers depicted in murals and elsewhere give mute testimony to the further development of dance by that era. During the Tang Dynasty dance reached new heights as Prince Qin Storming the Enemy Line and other still extant works testify to.
The Han and China's 55 other ethnic groups each have their own rich and distinctive dance tradition. Nearly 1,000 folk dances are performed throughout the nation. Among the most common are the Han people's much beloved Yangge Dance, Dragon Dance and Lion Dance, the Colorful Lantern Dance wherein the dancers perform with colorful lanterns in hands and the Flower-Drum Dance, with the performers accompanying themselves with drums while they dance; the vigorous Mongolian Andai Dance; the Xianzi Dance, a Tibetan dance where the dancers wave their long sleeves; the Sainaimu Dance, an enthusiastic Uygur dance with a characteristic neck movement; the Yi people's Courting Dance, where the dancers dance while clapping their hands; the Dai people's graceful Peacock Dance, marked by the undulations of the waist; the Korean people's Fan Dance; the Miao people's Reedpipe Dance; the Yao people's Long Drum Dance; the Li people's Straw Hat Dance; the Zhuang people's Shoulder Pole Dance; and the Tujia people's Hand-Waving Dance.
Dance-drama is an art form new to China. In the early l950s and mid l960s, Chinese choreographers created a number of dance-dramas drawing on techniques used in traditional operas and folk dances. Productions of this type include Stealing Magic Herbs, Master Dongguo, The Small Sword Society, Luo Shgngjiao, Liu Hulan, Five Red Clouds, and To the Tune of Die Lian Hua. The l980s witnessed a great flowering of dance-dramas, with over 100 new creations. One particularly outstanding work, Along the Silk Road, expressed the friendship between Chinese and foreigners, while telling the story of how Chinese silk was transported to the Western Regions along the Silk Road during the Tang Dynasty. Two works on Chinese legends, Flight to the Moon and Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai, were also greeted with popular acclaim. In recent years, artists and performers from all over the country met to compare notes and enjoy one another's performances. Many excellent dance-dramas emerged from this meeting, including Ashima, Whisper of a Flute over the Sea, Chu Music, The Rustic Poor, Vast Land, Border City, and Snowflakes.
Ballet was first introduced to China in the l950s as traditional Russian and European ballets began to be performed along with some Western modern dance. Since 1979, Chinese ballet artists have been developing their own style. Such great Chinese works of literature as Lu Xun's New Year's Sacrifices, Ba Jin's Family, Cao Yu's Thunderstorm and Guo Moruo's The peacock's Courage as well as internationally famous works such as The Little Match Girl have been made into ballets. Today, Chinese ballet dancers can be said to have reached their maturity, as their artistry continues to soar to new heights, as is evidenced by the many prizes they have won in international ballet competitions.


Acrobatics in ancient China were a product of the people and as such were interwoven with the people's productive labor, daily life and religious ceremonies. For instance, "Pole-Climbing" is based on the movements of climbing trees and bamboo poles; and "Balancing a Bamboo Pole," "Shuttlecocks" and "Diabolos" are elaborations of folk games and sports. Over the long course of their development, Chinese acrobatics have always been imbued with an exuberant vitality thanks to their deep roots in the soil of the people's life.
In 1950, the first state acrobatic troupe, the China Acrobatic Troupe, was organized. Soon afterward many local acrobatic troupes were set up at all levels. Well-known professional acrobatic troupes include the China Acrobatic Troupe, Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe, Chongqing Acrobatic Troupe, Guangzhou Soldiers' Acrobatic Troupe, Shenyang Acrobatic Troupe, and Wuhan Acrobatic Troupe. They often travel far from their bases to visit factories, mines and the countryside to perform for the people and have been sent abroad to perform in over 100 countries and regions. Many acrobatic performances have won prizes at international acrobatic performances and contests, such as "A Pagoda of Bowls," "Plate Spinning," "Cup Rolling," "Kicking Feats," "Jumping Through Hoops," "Conjuring," "Diabolos," "Lion Dance," "Trick Cycling," "Juggling with the Flower Jar," "Magic," "Hard Qigong" and "Drawing Five Bows."

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