Ming Dynasty Music

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Development of Chinese music during Ming Dynasty.

General information

Author Wiki Users
English title Ming Dynasty Music
Publication Music-China.org
Date of publication

Entities mentioned

In this article, especially the following entities (bands, artists, cities, articles, etc.) are being called out:

Keywords & Genre

The following keywords / genres apply for this article:

Traditional, Music

Geographical span of this epoch



Zheng He bell, Ming (1368 -1644), Height 83 cm, Diameter at mouth 49 cm, Thickness 2 cm, photo (c) National Museum of China

The Ming Dynasty lasted from 1368 to 1644.

The Ming-Qing period represents a highly cultivated time and a growing literate society. Among the class of literati officials, the arts of prose-poetry writing, qin zither playing, calligraphy, and chess playing became the highest goals. Regrettably, by the 19th century, creativity was replaced by cliche, imitation and conservatism; the arts of this time are generaly criticized as becoming lifeless and stagnant. However , a great scholarly contribution of this period was the printing of large collections, anthologies and encyclopedic works, many of which have been preserved until our time. An example of a comprehensive publication for the qin zither is the Yongle qinshu jicheng (" A Collection of Qin Essays") printed in twenty volumes. Itscontents embody the history, music, theory, tuing methods and poetry on the qin. One of the most significant qin manuscript-notation collections in existenxe is the Shenqi mipu ("Mysterious and Secret Notations") published in 1425 by Zhu Quan (the sixteenth son of the first Ming emperor). Subsequently, there were over a hundred more qin manuscript-notational handbooks printed in the Ming-Qing period. Another substanrial notational collection is the 1746 publication of 81 volumes, the Jiugong dacheng nanbeici gongpu ("Nations of Northern and Southern Songs in Nine musical Keys"), that was complied by Zhou Xiangyu under imperial auspices.[1]

In addition to the practice of music and literature, a samll group of literati-gentry scholars were also preoccupied with the acoustical principles of music especially related to their investigations in mathematics and numerology. Among these was a distinguished prince, Zhu Zaiyu(1536-ca.1610), who was an eminent musicologist, mathematican and astronomer in Chinese history, perhaps better known in the later two fields than in music. Prince Zhu is credited with the development of the equal-tempered scale of twelve pitches, even though the same was not implemented into music practices in China.[1]

Besides the prodigious publications and dissemination of qin music and practices, signficant musical developments of this period occurred in the area of urban centers such as Peking and Suyang (Suzhou and Yangzhou ) were entertainment in nature. The source of this entertainment music was usually folk dervied, that is, from the farms and villages, but which was polished for city/urban consumption.[1]

In Peking the important forms of urban music included the narrative genres such as

These were performed outdoors in the open areas of the marketplaces usually by travelling performing troupes. Their earnings were donations from by-standers. These performances of musical instruments. Loud instrumentation, such as the shifan ten varieties of gong and drum ensemble of the fengyang flower drum dance, was not popular in the open air. In many instances these presentations were not for purely musical reasons, but to gain the attention of passers-by for the sale of herbal medication or other products.[1]

The outdoor performances catered to the commoners, meanwhile the indoor performances catered to an audience made up of genry-officials and wealthy merchants. The performing hall would be set up with tables and chairs to allow the audience to partake of tea and delicacies while enjoing the production. The presentation was usually operatic: Kun opera and other regional operas.[1]

Development of music in Ming Dynasty

Matteo Ricci dressed in traditional Chinese robes, on the left his instrument a harpsichord

In 1425, Zhu Quan (the sixteenth son of the first Ming emperor) published a qin manuscript-notation collection called Shenqi mipu ("Mysterious and Secret Notations").[2]

In 1511 / 1515, Xie Lin and Huang Shida, compiled the Taigu Yiyin (太古遺音), literally Music Bequeathed from Antiquity, a qin handbook with 36-38 melodies, partially with lyrics.[3]

In 1525, 汪芝 Wang Zhi (of 歙縣 She county in Anhui province) compiled Xilutang Qintong (西麓堂琴統), literally Qin Anthology of the Hall in the Western Foothills, a compilation of qin melodies and songs with a focus on a theorem called "Qintong" placed at the front of the book. However, little effort seems to have been made to connect the actual melodies in the handbook with this theoretical system.[4]

In 1539, 朱厚爝 Zhu Houjiao compiled the qin handbook Fengxuan Xuanpin (風宣玄品), literally Profound Airs Spread Like the Wind, with 101 melodies, 34 with lyrics and 67 without.[5]

In 1583 Matteo Ricci[6] (an Italian Jesuit priest and one of the founding figures of the Jesuit China Mission) brought with him to China a keyboard instrument that was either a type of harpsichord (i.e., an Italian spinet), or a clavichord. Although not himself a musician, Ricci certainly had musical training in Rome. In addition, several of the other Jesuits in China at that time are known to have been musicians. Ricci himself is often said to have written eight moral and religious texts that he used for eight songs he composed under the title Songs for Western Keyboard (Xiqin Quyi). This in fact may have been a cooperative effort; in any case, although the texts survive, nothing is known about the original music for those songs.[7]

In 1590, Jiang Keqian compiled the Qinshu Daquan (琴書大全, Great Collection of Qin Writings), a guqin handbook, that is perhaps the largest surviving qin handbook. It has 22 folios, but only the last two have qin tablature (62 melodies, 8 with lyrics). The rest of the book consists of writings connected to the qin.[8]

In 1592, Zhang Dexin2 of Xin'an (New Peace) compiled the Sanjiao Tongsheng (三教同聲, Accompanying Sounds of the Three Religions), a guqin handbook including a prelude and three melodies, one for each of China's main religions.[9]

Towards the end of the 16th century, it is said that the musical instrument Yang Qin made its way into the South-Eastern Provinces (i.e. Guangdong), whereas it had originated in Persia and Arabia.[10]

In 1601, Matteo Ricci reached Beijing and presented a Harpsichord to the Ming imperial court, and trained four eunuchs to play it.[11] The Emperor never met Ricci personally: the acquaintance between the Son of Heaven and this “intellectual barbarian” was intermediated by four eunuchs. The Emperor was curious to know what kind of sounds and songs could be composed and played on that instrument. So Ricci composed eight songs in Chinese language, which in his intention would summarize the Christian values and could therefore be transmitted to the Emperor and the imperial court. According to the Confucian values, this would mean a transmission to the entire Chinese nation, in a musical form which therefore would be more effective.[12]

In 1614, the guqin handbook Songxianguan Qinpu (松絃館琴譜, Qin Handbook of Pine String Hall) was published. This handbook is said to document the playing style of the founder of the Yushan school, Yan Cheng (1547-1625). The Yushan school is often said to have been the most important qin school during the Qing dynasty, and this is the earliest surviving handbook of that school.[13]

Further information

General information


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 unknown (camil.music.uiuc.edu). "The History of Chinese Music". Retrieved on 2013-02-24.
  2. Pavel Zarukin. "The History of Chinese Music". Retrieved on 2013-10-20.
  3. Research by John Thompson, see: http://www.silkqin.com/02qnpu/10tgyy.htm
  4. Research by John Thompson, see: http://www.silkqin.com/02qnpu/16xltq.htm
  5. Research by John Thompson, see: http://www.silkqin.com/02qnpu/13fxxp.htm
  6. Matteo Ricci. (2013, October 16). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 13:32, October 20, 2013, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Matteo_Ricci&oldid=577394264
  7. Research by John Thompson, see: http://www.silkqin.com/01mywk/themes/matteo.htm
  8. Research by John Thompson, see: http://www.silkqin.com/02qnpu/26qsdq.htm
  9. Research by John Thompson, see: http://www.silkqin.com/02qnpu/27sjts.htm
  10. As mentioned by Summer Thunder Asian Music Club: http://www.summerthundermusic.com/index_files/chninstruments.htm
  11. Jones. Andrew F. [2001] (2001). Yellow Music — CL: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age. Duke University Press. ISBN 0822326949.
  12. Paolo Sabbatini (2010-06-07). "Matteo Ricci and the introduction of Italian music". Retrieved on 2013-10-20.
  13. Research by John Thompson, see: http://www.silkqin.com/02qnpu/36sxgq.htm

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