Week 7 – East Asia: China

Welcome to East Asia, home to such places as China, The Koreas and Japan, just to name a few.

East Asia is a vast area with different cultures within itself.  There are so many different areas to observe explore. While the area as a whole is known as East Asia, I’m going to be looking specifically at Chine. However, in western culture, people tend to generalize the term Chinese.

“The term Chinese, broadly speaking, can be applied to cultural activity found not only

in the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China (Taiwan) but also in the self-governing city of Hong Kong and in other places where “Overseas Chinese” comprise important segments of the population.” (Miller, Shahriari pg 182)

Not only is East Asia generalized as “Chinese” but it also contains a fourth of the worlds population. East Asia’s population break down is as follows:

China = 1.38 billion

Koreas = 71 Million

Taiwan  = 23 Million

Japan = 127 Million

Total = 1.56 Billion

“The majority of the Chinese population lives in eastern China.” (Miller, Shahriari pg 182/189)

Art (in all forms: Music, Painting, Theater ect.) has had the ability throughout humanity to influence people decisions or even manipulate peoples emotions. Sometimes that’s the job of the artist, to make their audience feel a certain way. China is no different, however sometimes this power can be corrupted and used for evil, and has been in the past.

“The arts have long been elements of the political process in China. Seeing the arts as far more than mere entertainment, the government has often harnessed music and theater for their ability to influence the thinking and behavior of the general population. Underlying this is a belief that music can have an influence on a person’s ethical character.” (Miller, Shahriari pg 187)

In general, each location in the world, whether it’s America, Australian Aboriginals or China, there is a distinguishable sound of that area, this is defined by the timbre of the instruments, the scales or processes of the culture and even the character of the instruments and the people of the culture. The beauty of music is that there are specific traits that hold all these different cultures together.

Looking at China

In China, there is so much new music coming out that falls under the category of popular and within this concept the potential for traditional Chinese music making it out into the world could be lost.

“Western recording companies have preferred to release instrumental music, giving a skewed impression of the reality in China.” (Miller, Shahriari pg 190)

“In China most “traditional” music struggles to survive as best it can, while newly arranged and orchestrated music, considered “improved” and “modernized” by many Chinese officials, is commonly used to represent Chinese music to the outside world.” (Miller, Shahriari pg 189)

Much like the Sachs-Hornbostel Instrument Classification System in which different instruments are defined by the way they are played (Chordophone (Strings)), There is a system that the Chinese use to classify their musical instruments, In order to break down different ensembles accurately and efficiently:

“Traditionally, the Chinese classified musical instruments into eight categories, known collectively as the bayin (or “eight materials”)

1. wood

2. bamboo

3. metal

4. stone

5. clay

6. skin

7. silk

8. gourd.

For the Chinese, the number “8” had a philosophical and aesthetic significance, and a philosophically complete ensemble would necessarily include instruments from all eight categories. Many ensemble types have names that refer to these material categories,…”silk and bamboo” ensemble (sizhu).” (Miller, Shahriari pg 190)


Below I have included a few instruments that I thought were very interesting and common in this culture.

The jinghu                                                                                                                           (京胡; pinyin: jīnghú) is a Chinese bowed string instrument in the huqin family, used primarily in Beijing opera. It is the smallest and highest pitched instrument in the huqin family.

The Erhu                                                                                                                                     (èrhú, [êɻxǔ]) is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument, It is used as a solo instrument as well as in small ensembles and large orchestras. It is the most popular of the huqin family of traditional bowed string instruments used by various ethnic groups of China. A very versatile instrument, the erhu is used in both traditional and contemporary music arrangements, such as in pop, rock, jazz

And finally, this is my favorite…

The Chinese sheng                                                                                                          (Chinese: ; Pinyin shēng) is a mouth-blown free reed instrument consisting of vertical pipes.

Why is this my favorite? Well, it looks like classic Mario sound might as well have been made using this instrument. Take a listen!

Overall, this section of the world is so huge that it would be an incredibly long blog if I tried to highlight all of the areas in detail…that’s what books are for. However, if you really want to discover more about China, check out EarthPops blog she is a yearning Ethnomusicologist and has a comprehensive knowledge of different cultures and their instruments.


Works Cited
“Erhu.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 24 Feb. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
“Jinghu (instrument).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 15 Feb. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.
Miller, Terry E., and Andrew C. . Shahriari. World Music: A Global Journey. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.
“Sheng (instrument).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

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