Location Home > Project on the History of R.O.C.> Literature and Artistic Development> Articles> Traditional Music in the Changes of World (Tung Shen)
Table of ContentsArticles
  Literature and Artistic Development

Traditional Music in the Changes of World (Tung Shen)


            The first significant change for Chinese music culture occurred during the period from the Wei and Jin dynasties to the Sui and Tang dynasties (the 3rd - 6th century). During that time, several ethnic groups on the border regions invaded China and fought violently with each other for imperial power, which resulted in frequent regime changes, large-scale population migration, and the decline of imperial court music. Concurrently, foreign music and instruments such as the lute were introduced to China, and thus arose the prosperous musical era of Sui and Tang Dynasty. These historical facts are a perfect demonstration of the impact of war and political incidents on music culture, and also illustrates that the study of music cannot be complete without taking the changes associated with historical events and incidents into account. Hence, the author of this article chooses to observe the Chinese traditional music from the perspective of changes in association with the movements of history.

At the turn of the 19th century, Chinese intellectuals, having faced military threats and culture shock from the west since the Opium War, tried to define the music from ancient China and named it “old music,” emphasizing the bond with the past. Instead of a specific kind of music, “old music” refers to all kinds of Chinese music from ancient China. Furthermore, the “old music” that survived and stayed on the scene was considered as the “traditional music.” According to the categorization by Chinese scholars Du Ya-xiong and Wang Yao-hua, “traditional music” includes songs, dance music, opera, and instrumental music; while, in the studies of Taiwanese scholars Hsu Chang-hui and Lu Chui-kuan, it also covers Taiwanese aboriginal music, Nanguan, Beiguan, and opera music.

Before 1949, traditional music, in the wake of the pursuit of new culture and thinking, strived to infuse modernity into itself in order to be connected with western music. Then, in contrast, after the Republic of China relocated to Taiwan in 1949, while there was a significant growth in the attention given to traditional instrumental music from China in line with the government policy of encouraging nostalgia about China, Taiwanese traditional music was gradually forced to the outskirts. It was only in the 1970’s that society, following the diplomatic dilemma and the process of democratization, began to wake up from the long neglect of local culture, and its attention was finally drawn to the reality of the situation and attempts were made to preserve and promote traditional Taiwanese music in its original form. Further after the 1980’s, while much effort was devoted to the preservation of tradition, globalization and international development also came into the spotlight. 

The development of traditional music in the past hundred years is described in line with the reforms and transitions, which occurred in response to the changes associated with historical events and incidents. In addition, the transformations during this period have been the fastest and the most dramatic and extensive ever in history. Given such understanding, this article focuses on the development of three types of traditional music, the first is that of the works composed for the lyre, the musical instrument that best illustrates the tradition of music as practiced by literati in ancient China; the second is classical Chinese music, the traditional music in its new form; and the third is Nanguan and Beiguan, the classical Taiwanese music. In facing the changes in history, the challenges with which they were confronted were different, and thus the strategies they took to survive varied.

Due to limitations of space, this article omits an analysis and discussion of details of the developments in musical practice. It only gives readers a framework and perspectives for the interpretation of the changes and transformations in traditional music over the past one hundred years. In other words, what is presented is how traditional music strives to find ways to be a part of modern life and to achieve a recognized status in society. Also, it should be noted that opera music and aboriginal music are not discussed in this article. They will be described in separate studies in this book.




‧TEL: (02)2939-3091#80611 ‧FAX: (02)2938-7803 E-Mail:sthv@nccu.edu.tw 地址:11605台北市指南路2段64號政治大學社資中心二樓
NO.64,Sec.2,ZhiNan Rd.,Wenshan District,Taipei City 11605,Taiwan (R.O.C)