A History of Musical Borrowing in Chinese Music
The influence of Western music in modern Chinese music can be traced to the late 19th century. This time is also regarded as the period of the ‘germinating’ of Modern Chinese music. The traditional Ching’s examination and education system were abolished. The establishment of ‘learning centers’ and addition of the subject music in the lesson had the effect of introducing Western music into Chinese society. European Brass instruments and music were used in the military bands. The school songs and military music were popular for troops and students. This ‘new’ music, later, became the foundation for the development of modern Chinese music.
The years1919-1937, from the May-Fourth Movement to the Sino-Japanese War, was a foundation period for Chinese modern music. Many Chinese music composers came back to China after having studied overseas. Huang Tzu and Shio Yiu Mei are two examples. In addition, many music educational institutions and organizations were set up during this period, such as, the Gor Li Yin Yue Zhuan Ke Xue Xiao [Stadt Hochschule fur Musik] (1927) in Shanghai and Beijing Yin Yue Yan Xi Suo [Beijing University Music Studying Center] (1922-1927). Under these favorable conditions, many new compositions that used Western compositional techniques were created, although many of the works were only art songs and solo instrumental music. However, some of these compositions already show certain nationalistic elements that are unique when compared to their European counterpart. Apart from the use of pentatonic or modal scales to signify the Chinese character, some of the compositions employed borrowed materials; for example, the chorus for males, Fo Qu, Mu Lian Jiu Mu, by Wang Zhi, re-arranged from Quin Xu, Sze Fan, and the art song, Jiao Wo Ru He Bu Xiang Ta, by Zhao Yuan Ren, borrowed from the vocal style and melodic gesture of traditional Beijing operatic tune. Another composer, Lai Kam Fai used many regional folk tunes, narrative songs and regional operatic tunes in his own art songs.
The Sino-Japanese war, 1937 to 1945, was a difficult period for Chinese music development. During this period, many Chinese compositions were based on anti-Japanese themes. Many songs and choruses were written. The Yellow River Cantata, by Xia Xing Hei, is one of the most important musical works of this period. The borrowing of Xian Xi folk tunes in this music is obvious. This borrowing reflects the patriotism of the composer and the promotion of such thoughts in listeners.
The 1950’s were a new era, during which Socialism was established in China and the development of musical culture was unprecedented in its scope. Musical talent was gathered together from the entire country. A steady stream of musical performing companies and theatres arose. There was an ever-growing interest in establishing institutions for music education and the development of community musical life flourished. Composers were motivated towards cultivating a wider territory in musical composition. Many of the new compositions were in Western musical genres, but, at the same time, achievements were made in the rediscovery, collation, and adaptation of folk and ancient music. However, the adaptation of folk elements in new compositions and the exploration of the ways to integrate both theWestern and Chinese musical language was not a new thing. Chinese composers, from the early 20th century onward, put their greatest efforts in this direction. Ding Shande’s Variation on Chinese Folk-themes for piano solo (1945) can be regarded as the first variation, using Western compositional technique, to deal with Chinese traditional music. This example showed that a combination of different musical languages and cultures, Western and the Eastern were possible. As time passed, in order to fulfill the ever increasing academic and educative needs related to musical activities, Chinese composers developed a unique national idiom of their own through the adaptation of Western musical language within a Chinese musical context. Borrowing music from folk and traditional sources to compose a new piece because a common and feasible composing practice in this period of ‘regeneration’.
In July 1956, the first National Music Festival was presented. This major event was meant to encourage new composition and new Chinese music. However, not all musical materials in the composition were new, since some of the major works performed in this festival used national and folk elements. From short piano solos to large symphonic works, the re-arrangement of folk songs seemed favored by composers. Chen Peixun’s solo piano work, Thunder in Time of Drought, Yao Mu’s Mongolian Suite and Deboxifu’s Asi’er for orchestra were typical examples. To other composers, re-working the existing (folk) materials and incorporating these borrowed materials in one’s own musical language to form a new piece was another way of composing music. Other examples are Li weicai’s Chinese folksong suite and Wang Shu’s Four Folksongs from Eastern Mongolia for orchestra. Of course, we cannot forget the well-known violin concerto, the Butterfly Lovers, by He Zhanhao and Chen Gang. The remarkable lyrical theme in this work is derived from the traditional tune of a regional opera,Yue Ju, the Liang Shan Bo Yu Zhu Ying Tai.
This period of time, from the year 1950-1965, before the Cultural Revolution, was an important period in the development of modern Chinese music. The prodigious output of Chinese compositions in this period and the successful integration of Western musical culture with Chinese musical culture brought about a new level of development in Chinese Music.
From 1966 to1976, all Chinese artists, including composers experienced the extraordinary ‘Ten Years’ Catastrophe’. Because of the attitude of the ‘Gang of Four’ towards music and culture, musical composition in China stopped. Although this was a terrible nightmare for all creative activities, thousands of revolutionary songs and the so-called ‘stereo-typed’ opera of this period, such as the Hong Se Niang Zi Jun (Two girls of the red army), often borrowed folk and national elements in order to exaggerate the political purpose of ‘serving the people’ of the communist state. Musical borrowing used in this period became a tool of the state, similar to the ideas of the ancient Chinese ruling classes.
After the fall of the ‘Gang of Four’ in 1976, compositional activity was liberated and began to flourish. With the re-opening of the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing, more and more young talented composers participated in the new wave of musical compositions contributing to the development of modern Chinese music. To further encourage musical creativity, two ‘Best songs’ awards were launched in 1980. The winning compositions were of great variety in theme, style and form. Although the composers were mostly middle-aged, even younger writers of music and lyrics were included. Re-arrangement of folksongs for solo voice, choir and other instrumental ensembles was common. The use of traditional or folk elements in a new piece in a similar tonal idiom showing the Chinese or national style was still favored by composers. This kind of composition affirmed the merits of combining nationalistic music and modern Chinese music, jointing a modern viewpoint with re-creation according to current aesthetic concepts. As Li huanzhi stated, ‘we regard the enormous quantity of national music treasures as a very valuable cultural legacy,…………..On one hand, we are concerned with preserving
the original format of traditional format of traditional music……………On the other hand, traditional musical compositions, as rearranged or revived by composers, offer us a wide artistic spectrum in which to carry out large-scale creative experiments, transcribing and composing a great variety of musical works. Therefore, one of the characteristics of ‘modern’ or the ‘new’ Chinese music is that Chinese new compositions are inspired and by national folk and traditional elements. This results in a new style of music that is distinguished from traditional Chinese music and European music.
new challenge for modern Chinese composers has arisen; that is, to integrate borrowed Chinese
musical materials within a contemporary Western musical idiom and still develop a personal musical
language and style without a loss of national character. As a result, from 1976 onward, many new
compositions used extended borrowing techniques. This trend brought with it a new way of using
borrowing, one that suited the needs of the composers with regard to personal artistic purpose and
aesthetic. Thus, the history of Chinese musical borrowing began a new chapter. In addition, some
Mainland Chinese composers, such as Tan Dun and Chen Yi began their overseas study in the late 80s
and 90s, especially in the United States. Under this multi-cultural impact, their use of musical
quotation is somewhat different from other composers from Mainland China. To some extent, it is
very similar to the situation of Hong Kong Chinese composers. But this discussion will be another
topic that I want to share with my readers in the other article.
 It is known as Ke Ju.
 Professor Liu Ching Chih stated that the ‘New’ Chinese music is new because this music has no direct relationship with the traditional Chinese Music. It is not inherited from the past and cannot be found in the history of Chinese music. The composers, who are mainly trained by European musical tradition, compose all these new music though there may be some traditional or national elements borrowed in the compositions.
 Liu, Ching-Chih, Zhong Gor shen yin yu zi luen gou, [The History of the Chinese New Music], vol. 1 (Taipei: All Music Magazine, 1999), 26-38.
 Gor Li Yin Yue Zhuan Ke Xue Xiao becomes the National Shanghai Conservatory of Music later and the first principal was Shio Yau mei. The Beijing Yin Yue Yan Xi Suo was not established as an official department but only treated as an extra-curricular group in the University.
 Lian Ping, “On the Interlock Coordinate of Chinese and West Culture,” in Journal of Xinghai Conservatory of Music 3 (1997), 31.
 The main theme is based on a Cantonese traditional tune. The suite is based on the folksongs from Eastern Mongolia.
 The work is based on an Inner Mongolian Folksong.
 The composers and their works in this period are listed in the New Music in the Orient by Ryker Harrison in pages 189-198.
 The composers and their works from the period of 1976 to 1980 are listed in the New Music in the Orient, by Ryker Harrison, pp. 199-204.
 Li, huanzhi, “People’s Republic of China” in Music in the Orient, p 205.
 The major compositions which have been arranged from traditional music are listed in the New Music in the Orient by Ryker Harrison for reference, pp. 205-208.
David Leung (theorydavid)