The dilemma of classifying Chinese music

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Talking about music and Chinese music in general, there are a number of obstacles to overcome and to clarify in order to fully understand the content that is being provided here. The following dilemma have been identified:

  • Adaptions of traditional tunes in modern ways
  • The Western view of music versus Chinese reality
  • What is a song, what is an arrangement?
  • What is Chinese?

Adaptions of traditional tunes in modern ways

The Western view of music versus Chinese reality

In this wiki, both traditional and classical music are being discussed as well as modern music. These English terms are heavily used to define very specific time periods and music genres in common language usage. Some however understand different things under these terms E.g. classical can mean either the classical period of music from West Europe or it can mean music made by classical instruments (such as violin, etc.). For a standard definition please see the Common Practice Period as indicated on Wikipedia:

The common practice period, in the history of European art music (broadly called classical music), spanning the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods, lasted from c. 1600 to c. 1900.[1]

For this wiki, please note that we understand the following:

  • Western classical music made its appearance in China since the beginning of the 20th century and has firmly established itself in the musical education system of China. It is characterized by the use of Western instruments (such as piano or violin) or the use of Western song and orchestra structures. You can find more of this music here:
  • Chinese traditional music originated in China and is characterized by the use of either Chinese instruments (such as guqin or pipa) or Chinese song structures and notations. Dating back to the early dynasties (Xia, Shang), Chinese music developed nearly without Western influences until the beginning of the 20th century, yet received its own share of influences in the Asian hemisphere (Mongolian, Japanese, Korean, Indian,ā etc.) You can find more of this music here:

What is a song, what is an arrangement?

A song is a typically referred to in terms of vocal sound[2]

In music, a song is a composition for voice or voices, performed by singing. A choral or vocal song may be accompanied by musical instruments, or it may be unaccompanied, as in the case of a cappella songs. The lyrics (words) of songs are typically of a poetic, rhyming nature, though they may be religious verses or free prose.
A song may be for a solo singer, a duet, trio, or larger ensemble involving more voices. Songs with more than one voice to a part are considered choral works. Songs can be broadly divided into many different forms, depending on the criteria used. One division is between "art songs", "pop songs", and "folk songs". Other common methods of classification are by purpose (sacred vs secular), by style (dance, ballad, Lied, etc.), or by time of origin (Renaissance, Contemporary, etc.).
A song is a piece of music for accompanied or unaccompanied voice/voices or, "the act or art of singing," but the term is generally not used for large vocal forms including opera and oratorio.[1] However, the term is, "often found in various figurative and transferred sense (e.g. for the lyrical second subject of a sonata...)."[1] The noun "song" has the same etymological root as the verb "to sing" and the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines the word to mean "that which is sung" or "a musical composition suggestive of song." The OED also defines the word to mean "a poem" or "the musical phrases uttered by some birds, whales, and insects, typically forming a recognizable and repeated sequence and used chiefly for territorial defence or for attracting mates."

An arrangement how ever is something else:[3]

The American Federation of Musicians defines arranging as "the art of preparing and adapting an already written composition for presentation in other than its original form. An arrangement may include reharmonization, paraphrasing, and/or development of a composition, so that it fully represents the melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic structure".[1] Orchestration differs in that it is only adapting music for an orchestra or musical ensemble while arranging "involves adding compositional techniques, such as new thematic material for introductions, transitions, or modulations, and endings...Arranging is the art of giving an existing melody musical variety".

In this wiki, the songs as shown in Category:Songs are referring to all kind of musical compositions and include both original compositions as well as later arrangements. As such the music ontology class "musical expression" (see here) has been chosen, which is very open.

Some examples of what that means:

  • If a rock band in the 80s is playing a song and a metal band in the 2000s is making a cover, then that is a re-arrangement of an original composition, yet we would cover both of these in our Category:Songs in two independent articles:

As this is a pretty easy example there are a lot of cases where it is not so easy to see the difference:

  • A song composed in the Tang Dynasty for the guqin is being re-applied according to the original notation on a modern guqin instrument. In this the actual intent of the original composition is given (notation, melody, instrument), but looking more closely the used instrument (modern guqin) is constructed in a different way, and according to experts[4] sounds significantly different than an original guqin. In order to capture that difference correctly the best way is to split the article in either two or three parts:
    • SONG NAME (silk guqin arrangement)
    • SONG NAME (metal guqin arrangement)
    • The genre however for all three would have to be decided case by case depending on the actual arrangement.

Note: Abstractly speaking, every recording is an arrangement of an original composition and so far no system in the world is able to keep track of the same or make them available in a useful way. Hence this wiki system is not intended to capture ALL possible arrangements but should concentrate on the most important ones.

In any case and especially for traditional songs, a general video should be chosen that reflects the melody as good as possible and in the content a description text should be mentioned.

What is Chinese?

In this wiki an artist is considered Chinese if one of the following applies:

  • Members are Chinese
  • Non-Chinese members are living in China

If a band (consisting of Chinese or Non-Chinese) are just touring in China, but not living there, then they are considered a 'Foreign Artist'.

This also applies for musical influences not from recent times but throughout the centuries, such as Mongolian influences or Indian influences. If that music was made by Chinese or on the territory of China (in whatever extend throughout history), then it is appropriate to be described in this wiki.

Further information


  1. Wikipedia contributors. "Common practice period." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 28 Mar. 2013. Web. 13 Apr. 2013.
  2. Song. (2013, March 13). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:00, April 7, 2013, from
  3. Arrangement. (2013, April 4). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 06:02, April 7, 2013, from
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