Tag Archives: China

Xue Shan Chun Xiao (musical performance)

Analysis/Observation: The song is played on a traditional Chinese instrument called a “zither”. It is a Chinese folk instrument that is plucked as a harp. Like most Chinese instruments, it is either played in D or G major, and usually consists of five notes: Do, Re, Mi, So, La. There are 21 strings, and the sounds get lower as strings get thicker. The green strings symbolize the note “So”. It is made of wood, and usually has traditional art carvings along the side of the instrument, and is hollow inside.

The song is called “Xue Shan Chun Xiao”. Translated roughly, it means “Spring on the Mountain.”

The song started out very slow and sweet. The informant performed it with slow, exaggerated motions in her arms. She seemed very peaceful. In the middle, the song suddenly picked up pace and there was a very intense section where her fingers are moving very fast. She has an intense expression on her face, although it also looks like she’s concentrating very hard on plucking the right notes. The song ends with a “bang” like effect.

Informant (translated) : “The song is a minority dance song that is supposed to mimic the flow of water when it is spring. When the snow melts from a mountain, it starts slow, then suddenly goes faster and faster as more ice melts.”

Me: “When is this song normally performed?”

Informant: “It’s a more modern song that comes from the Dai minority. However it’s not a dance song. In traditional fol music, you have dance songs, and then you have solo songs. It’s actually used a lot in music exams because of the technique you need.”

Analysis: The Dai people reside in the province of Yunnan, where there is a mountain called the Jade Dragon Snow mountain. The mountain is approximately half the height of Mount Everest. The piece of music is most likely referring to this mountain and the flow of water into the river come spring. The Dai minority is commonly known for their festive dances that they do at the spring festival, so the song is not commonly played during the festival as it is not a dance piece. It is more often played during concerts or as a prelude to a show.

Annotation: Due to the large file of the original recording, it could not be uploaded. A link to the same piece (played by someone other than the informant) has been attached.

Xue Shan Chun Xiao

A variation of the GuZheng appeared the popular film “Gong Fu” or “Kung Fu Hustle”, which opened in 2004.

Recently, using Chinese traditional folk instruments to play pop music has become a trend. A girl playing Adele’s Rolling in the Deep on the zither went viral in Chinese forums.

Chinese Architectural Superstition

“A house that has a staircase that leads directly to the front door is a cursed house.”

 

My informant first heard about this superstition from her friend Mrs. Jin.  Mrs. Jin had been boasting about how she had been able to rent a beautiful house in Irvine for the cheap price of $1100 when it should have been $1700.  She told my informant that the owner of the house who rented it to her was a Chinese man.  He was aware of the old Chinese superstition that a house with a staircase that runs into the front door is cursed, leading to inevitable death.  Mrs. Jin and my informant laughed about that notion because they were at church function at the time, so as Christians they found the superstition preposterous.  Eerily, Mrs. Jin that same week went in for a bypass surgery that should have been simple enough, but she died from complications.  Now she is uneasy about the superstition.

Mrs. Jin’s death and her renting the “cursed” house could have been a mere coincidence.  A front door that connects directly to the staircase can cause uneasiness because good fortune can fly out the door easily, or perhaps death can easily find you since the stairs are a direct pathway to your room.  I am a Christian, so I should not pay attention to such superstitions about death, but to be on the safe side, I myself would never live in a house like that, especially after hearing about what happened to Mrs. Jin.

In with the Old, Out with the New

In with the Old, Out with the New

I’ve lived in Riverside, CA for most of my life. However, I have a lot of family still in China. My father’s side of the family lives in Hefei in the Anhui region of China. My family is pretty traditional and was poor until the recent advancements in China’s economy. Hefei is now industrial, but when my dad was our age, the town was more of a village. The main family house is still located in the former rural area on a hill with the closest house a good distance away because it is not in the heart of the capital with a lot of people and newer homes. After my grandfather (head of the family) passed away in the summer of 2002, my uncle who was left the will of the house, decided to renovate the family home by adding two more floors below the house. The house already was two stories, but the uncle made arrangements for another floor for guests/ other family members and a game/leisure room at the very basement of the house. My dad was opposed to the change and told my uncle to just buy a new home rather than change the one they grew up in.

The renovations took 4-5 years and everything was good…or so everyone thought. My dad went back home every two years for the anniversary of grandfather’s death and he always comes back with crazy stories that I never really believed. Ever since the renovations, weird things happen in game/leisure room or the fourth floor of the house. Last time, my uncle brought a new arcade machine for the room, but randomly it would turn off and on or the controls would be going backward. The pool table has a big dark stain on it that suddenly appeared and does not wash out. Dad always joked that it was grandpa mad at uncle for changing things. However, uncle told me that the weird things stopped last winter when my dad passed away.

I found it interesting that common themes we discussed in class were demonstrated in a story that I happened to collect from a friend such as the emphasis on ancestral spirits in Asia cultures, the number 4, and the idea of disturbing the peace. In Asian cultures, the presence of ancestral ghosts is more common like China. Anhui is a recently developed industrial city; therefore, the old values and the new are at play in the modern society. Amy’s family home is located in a fairly older area of town in a rapidly developing capital; therefore, the Anhui province is in liminal state.  However, the classic idea of “let sleeping dogs lie” by not making changes that will upset anyone stands true (and on the fourth floor as well). Firstly, the number four is avoided as Western cultures avoid the number 13 because the direct translation is very similar to the English word “death.” It is still not proven that the weird occurrences were caused by the grandfather’s spirit, but how the Gong family considers that to be a valid reason demonstrates not only the beliefs of the Gong family, but can represent the beliefs of a larger people in China who believe in this “other world.” It serves as a justification that even today with all our technology and electronic toys, we have yet to discover an answer to this mystery. What I find more interesting is that it does not matter if we have the answer or not, but once we make a connection between a story and our personal lives, then the story becomes just as valid as any chemical process or theorem.

This is a personal story that Amy shared with me about something she encountered as a “ghostly” experience with her family. At first, she was telling me how this experience is not “technically” a ghost tale, but Amy is fairly superstitious and believed things were happening for a reason. Amy has never visited the room itself and the fact that she lives in California may have created a thought that this story was not too “close to home.” However, after her father’s passing, this story held a whole new meaning for her. The idea that the disturbances ended with her father’s passing or better yet the joining of father and son brought peace to the household serves as a comfort for the living such as Amy who still thinks of her father and holds him dear to her heart during this period of healing. Ghost stories serve a multitude of functions, but this specific form of storytelling has the effect of personalizing an event, unlike any historical fact or scientific explanation.

Information on Anhui, China:

http://www.chinachineseinfo.com/regions/anhui.htm

Chinese Religious Folk Belief on Life after Death and Spirits

This folk belief was collected from my Father. My father was born as a farmer’s son into a veteran’s family in Taipei, Taiwan. His father and mother ran away from China to Taipei during the Chinese Civil War. Many of his cultural practices and beliefs are taken from mainland Chinese culture. Because of his background, he is considered a “mainlander” in Taiwan (Chinese in Taiwan are divided into Mainland Chinese, Taiwanese or indigenous). My father graduated from Iowa University with an MBA. His B.A was obtained in Taiwan.

When we were having our regular telephone session, he told me the the following recollection on the phone (in Chinese):

(This is not a direct transcription or translation. It’s based off what I remember him saying)

“I was at your grandmother’s house the other day and during the course of our conversations she remarked how Grandpa’s spirit hadn’t visited the family at all after his death. Because of this, she began wondering if Grandpa was doing okay in the spirit world. I chatted with her a bit more and she then told this story:

‘Your great grandmother used lived in a province called Fujien in China. She was married into the Lian family at around 8 or 9 and stayed at the Lian household to be raised into an ideal wife. At the Lian’s household, your great grandmother was one your great great grandmother’s favorites (your great grandmother’s mother-in-law). They were so close, they even slept in the same bed together–like mother and daughter. So in your great great grandmother’s old age, when she felt death looming, she told your great grandmother that after her death, she would come back as a spirit and protect your great grandmother. Thus, she told your great grandmother not to be afraid if she heard or saw things at night when her spirit came to visit. Now, when the time came and your great great grandmother passed away, supernatural occurrences actually began to happen in the Lian household. Late at night the drawers would rattle, floorboards would creak and places your great great grandmother frequented would shake–your great great grandmother’s spirit had, as she promised, come back as a spirit to visit the house she was so used to and to say her final goodbyes before moving on. Naturally, all this supernatural activity scared the wits out of your great grandmother’s aunt. She would be so scared she wouldn’t go to the bathroom at night and resort to peeing on the bed! But, knowing that it was only your great great grandmother’s spirit coming to visit, your great grandmother continued her late night activities with indifference and she was happy to know that her great great grandmother was doing well in the afterlife.’

Later, I asked her why Grandpa’s spirit hasn’t visited, to which she replied that it was probably because a) in a modern cityscape, it’s not dark enough. There are too many lights, which scare the ghosts away. And b) they had moved too much and Grandpa couldn’t find their new homes.”

When I asked my father what the significance of this family legend was, my father said that he said the pre-dominant belief (even to this day) in Chinese culture was that the spirit or the soul of a person stays on earth for a week before it moves on to heaven. And during this week, the spirit often visits loved ones and goes to places he or she was used to going when they were living.

While my father said the significance of this legend was the folk belief that “a spirit stays on earth for a week after death”, I want to point out a few other folk beliefs and practices revealed in his story. First of all, we can see a sexist or patriarchal society structure in China about four generations ago. My great great grandmother was married around the age of 8 to be raised as an ideal wife. From this tidbit, it would seem that the only role a woman had in life was to be a wife. Second, we see a firm belief in the supernatural. My great grandmother and my grandmother never questioned the supernatural occurrences in this family legend–to them it was normal and commonly accepted that there were spirits living around them. Adding to that, the recollection implies that this belief in the supernatural is passed from generation to generation through word of mouth. Because of this, my father believes in the supernatural and even I, being an atheist, believe in these folk beliefs about the supernatural as well. Also, similar to other folk beliefs, this family legend reinforces the idea that ghosts only come out at night (in this case, the reason provided is that ghosts fear the light).

Most importantly, in this legend, a great significance is given to the family. Where in the folklore of other cultures, ghosts and spirits may come out to scare or devour humans, in this legend, the spirit returns to give condolences to its family–giving spirits a much more homely feeling than other folk legends and superstitions do. This emphasis on family reinforces the importance placed on the values of family and community that so many of our contemporary scholars have found in Chinese culture.