New Chinese Music and Tradition (中國新音樂和傳統)
According to Maria Chow, modern
China was zealously looking for a “new national musical style that, on the one hand could be dissociated from ’s imperial past and, on the other, would not be seen as western in spite of its being ‘modern’”. A new, modern national music, powered by the advocacy of Xiao Youmei (蕭友梅 1884-1940) and his fellows such as Huang Zi from the National Conservatory of Music (NCM) in the first few decades of the twentieth-century, was exactly such music. It could be used not only to represent modern China but also to establish a new Chinese music tradition. China
When discussing this new form of national music, Xiao provides a definition: “What is Guoyue (national music 國樂)? The music that expresses the spirit, thoughts and sentiment of Chinese people of a particular era can be regarded as Guoyue. Thus, the essences of Guoyue are Chinese spirit, thoughts and sentiment. The way to express such essences in music must be in accord with the trend of that particular era, as well as a composer’s personal predilection. There is no need to be confined to any particular instrument [western or ethnic instrument], or musical manner 樂曲形式.” Xiao’s term ‘musical manner’ refers to the analysis of the three main factors of music: content, manner, and instrument. The essence of music lies in its “content – the expressive idea, emotion and mood of music. The manner of music, including melody, rhythm, harmony, and musical design, is its outer body. The musical instrument is only the tool to perform music.”
In fact, Xiao’s idea of ‘western manner-Chinese content’ had already been germinating from his earlier days while he was pursuing the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the
University of Leipzig in . The meanings of Chinese spirit and sentiment are elucidated in his thesis when he wrote, “The Chinese are a nation bestowed with rich musicality…..There will be a day that a unified notation and harmony system will finally be imparted and instituted. By then, the melodious Chinese traditional music will have a rebirth and turn into a new chapter, marching into a new era of brilliance and splendor. Under the premise of retaining its national sentiment and spirit, traditional music has been and will ever be a heritage among the Chinese people.” Xiao believed that traditional music would be a valuable treasure for new Chinese music. And the national style (民族風格) lies in the “framework of a musical work”. Chinese people would be able to preserve their own national character in musical content, even when the manner was western. Regarding this western ‘musical manner’, especially the theory of harmony, he further claimed that “the harmonic practice is not music itself. It is just the proper way of harmonizing a tune. We have to make use of this progressive theory of harmony to create our new music”. Thus for Xiao, if the Chinese traditional music were reformed and renewed by applying the western compositional techniques, it would become the foundation of the new music for modern Germany . China
From Xiao’s explanation, the relationship between music and nationality is similar to that of a bottle and its wine. While western technique is the bottle, the Chinese content is the wine. Since the overall trend of
’s modernization was in the spirit of wholesale westernization, it was natural for many composers to employ western techniques (the bottle) when they thought of new music. However, the problem lies in ‘Chinese content’ (the wine). What constitutes Chinese spirit, thought, and sentiment? How can they be expressed musically in a work? Ironically, to many local listeners, some Xiao’s compositional works sound more western than Chinese. China
During an interview for Music Monthly (音樂月) under the title “On Our New Music Movement”, Xiao
apparently had in mind the value of old traditional music when he said of the national quality of music: “…if
we desire to reform our traditional music or create our own Nationalistic School of Music, then we cannot
completely throw away our old traditional music.” Xiao encouraged the collecting, rearranging and
harmonizing of the folk tunes, reaffirming the value of Chinese traditional folk music. These, he believed,
were the keys in distinguishing the style of Chinese music from that of other countries.
待續..... To Be Continued.....…
David Leung (theorydavid)
 Maria M. Chow, “Representing China Musically: A Chinese Conservatory and
’s Musical Modernity 1900 China -1937” (PhD Dissertation, The University of Chicago, The Faculty of the Division of the Humanities, 2005), 27.
 Xiao Youmei, “復興國樂之我見 (Restoration of Our National Music) 1939,” in Xiao Youmei yinyuewenji蕭友梅音樂文集 (Collection of Musical Essays of Xiao Youmei), Chen Lingqun et al. ed. (Shanghai: Shanghai Yinyuechubanshe, 1990), 540.
 Ibid., 539.
 This citation is quoted from Xiao Youmei’s doctorial thesis, “中國音樂考 (A Research of Chinese Ancient Musical Instruments)”, written in the University of Leipzig, Germany in 1916. See Xiao Youmei, Xiao Youmei yinyuewenji蕭友梅音樂文集 (Collection of Musical Essays of Xiao Youmei), Chen Lingqun et al. ed. (Shanghai: Shanghai Yinyuechubanshe, 1990), 8.
 Xiao Youmei, “音樂家的新生活 (The New Life of Composers) 1934,” in Xiao Youmei yinyuewenji蕭友梅音樂文集 (Collection of Musical Essays of Xiao Youmei), Chen Lingqun et al. ed. (Shanghai: Shanghai Yinyuechubanshe, 1990), 381.
 Ibid., 381.
 Xiao Youmei, “On Our New Music Movement,” Music Monthly, vol. 1, 4 (1938). The article has been collected in Collection of Musical Essays of Xiao Youmei . See Xiao Youmei yinyuewenji蕭友梅音樂文集 (Collection of Musical Essays of Xiao Youmei), Chen Lingqun et al. ed. (Shanghai: Shanghai Yinyuechubanshe, 1990), 466.
 Ibid., 466.