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The Sound of the Century──The History of the Development of Modern Ballads (Yu-Chiou Chen)


In general, ballads are divided into two major categories, one is that of the “natural ballad,” of which the name of the original creator can hardly be traced, the other is that of the “creative song,” of which the names of the composer and lyricist are available. The discussion in this article concentrates on the latter and reviews the development of the ballad in the past one hundred years by the historical context of the different time periods. Each period lasted from ten to twenty years, and in each of which, the social environment and historical incidents that nurtured the development of the songs representative of the spirit and value of the time are introduced. The scene before 1949 is set in China and shifts to Taiwan after 1949. In addition, a few paragraphs are dedicated to the development of the Taiwanese ballad during the Japanese occupation between 1911 and 1945, because it had a substantial influence on the development of ballads in Taiwan after 1949.

In response to the demands of society, government policy, historical incidents and/or thinking of the period, every period appears with its own distinctive character, unique development and songs. The periods discussed in the article are as follows:

1.                 The beginning years in the 20th century in China – Including  (1) the “classroom songs” of the late Ching Dynasty, (2) the ballad movement at Peking University, (3) the patriotic songs inspired by the May Fourth Movement, (4) anti-Japan songs, left-wing musicians and anti-war songs, and (5) the sprouting of popular music in Shanghai.

2.                 The development of the Taiwanese ballad during the Japanese occupation – Including (1) the close association of the Taiwanese musical heritage with people’s lives, (2) the nationalism movement and the Taiwanese Cultural Association – “The Song of Taiwanese Autonomy,” (3) the golden era of the Taiwanese popular song (1932-1937), and (4) cultural suppression and the impact of the war in the 1940’s.

3.                 The two historical incidents after the Second World War – Including Taiwan’s return to the rule of the ROC and the 228 Incident and their impact on the development of the Taiwanese ballad.

4.                 The 1950’s, the era of repression under white terror – Including (1) the imposition of martial law; (2) the Korean War and US Aid; (3) Selected New Songs, the first monthly journal for creative songs in Taiwan; and (4) the Taiwanese and Chinese pop songs during this period.

5.                 The 1960’s, during which the open economic policy nourished the influence of western music – Including (1) the language policy and forbidden songs; (2) the All Stars Club, the first singing program on television, and (3) the rise of the “Huangmei Diao.”

6.                 The 1970’s is characterized by (1) patriotic and military songs; (2) The movement of Chinese modern folk songs and the rise of the school campus songs; (3) the outset of the Chinese urban songs; (4) songs for Chun-hsiung Huang’s hand puppet show; (5) Formosa Incident and its impact.

7.                 The 1980’s with the take-off of the economy and abolition of martial law – Including the songs for TV dramas, creative songs with political themes, and the flourishing of Chinese popular music.

8.                 The 1990’s till the present as an era embracing diversity - Including aboriginal music, new Taiwanese songs, new Hakka songs, and the independent bands, etc.     

In considering the development of ballads in the past hundred years, from the “classroom songs” of the late Ching Dynasty, the anti-war and patriotic songs during the war against Japan, the pop songs of Shanghai in the 1930’s, the Taiwanese ballad during the Japanese occupation, school campus songs and the associated movement in the 1970’s, the lifting of martial law in the 1980’s to the diversity and prosperity after 1990 till today. It can be said that these songs reflect the political and social phenomenon of their times, and furthermore, convey aspects of people’s daily lives, emotions and thoughts. In doing so, they are no doubt the most honest testament of people’s lives and sentiments and a precious heritage that shall be passed on from generation to generation.









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