Updated 1 year 2 months ago



Final Project - Audio: 


The topic that I chose to learn more about was Dongjing music because of my already large passion for music. I enjoy listening and playing western music, but wanted to learn more about Chinese music and to be able to compare it to western music (that was my original plan). However, through my experience in Xizhou, I decided to narrow my focus down to a particular genre of music: Dongjing music. As I looked for sources of information, I decided to collect opinionated data from two main people: Xiao Wu and Mr. Zhao. Xiao Wu is a village governor with a dream to revive Dongjing music, and therefore had a lot of connections with Dongjing musicians as well as some basic background information about it. It was him who first introduced me to this genre of music. Through him, I was able to talk to many more people. I also talked to Mr. Zhao, a professional musician who lived through the years of the Cultural Revolution and could explain the large revival of Dongjing music during the reforms. After distinguishing my topic, I came up with a list of a few major questions that fit into two categories; the first being a technical analysis of the music, and the second being a more philosophical approach on the importance of tradition preservation. Therefore, my final product will provide some background information on Dongjing music, and then talk about the importance of preserving Dongjing music afterwards. 

Dongjing Music: The Importance of Preserving Tradition

Hundreds of years ago at the time of the Ming dynasty, the scholars of Dali traveled to the North for education, and brought culture back to Dali with them on their return. Ever since, the Naxi people of Yunnan and Sichuan have performed and respected Dongjing music, a traditional folk genre used in religious worship. The essence of Dongjing reminds citizens of the importance of Buddhist, Confucianist, and Taoist  scriptures and the dispersion of philosophical ideas. (Article: Dongjing Music in Xizhou - given to me by Xiao Tang, Linden Center Accountant)

A week after setting foot in Xizhou, I was still unsure of the exact aspect of Bai Minority Music that I was going to more deeply understand. The plan that I created before this month was to get a very general idea of Bai Music, and wasn’t very focused. Hence, it was difficult for me to know where to start, and the amount of work I had to get done seemed overwhelming. Of course, there are many interesting topics that I could focus on, but it was the essence and origin of Dongjing music that caught my eye because it is what brings the music its meaning. I therefore started to look in the direction of Dongjing music and its importance. However, I didn’t completely throw away the technical aspect of music, because I knew that I needed some of the analytic information to understand and appreciate the music. 

In a large ensemble, there are two chanters/singers, then percussion, a section of brass and woodwinds behind them, and then the stringed instruments. The chanters are typically the leaders of the ensemble. I would compare this to a symphony orchestra, where instruments are split into distinguished sections. As I continued to analyze the ensembles and instruments, I was able to make even more close connections between western music and Dongjing music. In smaller ensembles (often a quartet), there is one Sanxian player, one Ruan, one Erhu, and a percussionist. These are all very common Dongjing instruments and are comparable with western instruments. For example, the Erhu is a two stringed instrument that is played using a bow; it reminds me of a violin. The Sanxian is picked and played horizontally, and is relatively larger and plays lower pitches than the other instruments. This reminds me of the bass guitar because it plays a supporting line rather than the melody of a song. Lastly, the Ruan is a stringed instrument played with a pick. The pitch is played by pressing fingers down on different frets; this is similar to a guitar. (After listening to Dongjing music played at "The Lily Pad" restaurant and by Mr. Zhao's quartet ensemble)

Dongjing music uses the pentatonic scale, reinforcing the fact that it has been around for a long time (the pentatonic scale is one of the oldest scales in music). Almost all songs are written in the time signature of 4/4. A very common technique that all instruments use is the trill, which is played by picking or bowing the note very quickly. Vibrato is also often used in Dongjing music. 

How did my interest for all of this start exactly? It was on the day that we (the microcampus group) went on our group hike up to the tea plantation that I met a village governor named Xiao Wu who had a vision of reviving Dongjing music in his village. I heard this and decided to talk to him more about Dongjing music and his opinions on it. As the conversation went on, I was eventually invited to a Dongjing festival in Dali the next day which sparked my fascination for the subject. 

On the day of the concert, I spoke to a few members of the ensemble about Dongjing music. Not knowing anything about it prior to the concert, I was able to ask a lot of questions and discover many great new ideas. The first person I talked to was an Erhu player, and when I asked him to play some music for me, he responded: “Play music? By myself? Dongjing music is only Dongjing music when people come together and play. You cannot express the values of Dongjing with only one musician.” He then went on to tell me about the religious morals that it preaches, and why those are important. After having conversations with several others, I was interested in learning more about Dongjing music and thought of shifting my project focus over to the importance of Dongjing revival. 

I started looking for more experts on Dongjing music and found a man named Mr. Zhao, who had good relations with staff from the Linden Center. As we talked on the phone one night, Mr. Zhao offered to come over to the place we were staying to perform for us. That night, he and 3 other members of the ensemble played some music for us and helped me better understand the history of Dongjing music. He mentioned that the reason Dongjing music nearly became extinct was because of the Cultural Revolution. At the time, all Dongjing music had been banned from China, and so people stopped listening to it. Eventually, during the reforms, Dongjing music was allowed to be played again. A few men decided to have a huge celebration for the revival of Dongjing music, and it was that celebration that sparked the comeback of Dongjing music. However, since that day, Dongjing music has started to fade away again, and elders are hoping for a revival of this. (Mr. Zhao, Dongjing musician)

As I stated previously, Dongjing music has been around for nearly 800 years. This proves that the Dongjing instruments came much before many of the modern western instruments, and had strong influence over them. It is important to at least acknowledge the fact that Dongjing music was a great contribution to world music. Losing Dongjing music takes the traditional instruments with it, as well as the entire Dongjing culture. 

Throughout the music chants, religious scriptures and lessons are preached. These are important life lessons that are unique to their culture and their past, and should not be taken away from them, because that is what makes their culture different from any other. This isn’t a matter of preaching a specific religion, but an acknowledgement of the importance of a culture’s convictions. 

Sharing My Learning: See the video above or click the following link: https://youtu.be/o7yn89mcg_0


My Microcampus journey was one that I will never forget. Every day was something to look forward to and more to inquire about, and with each answer, more questions come; and it leads to an unending journey of learning. Microcampus isn’t about isolating yourself from your peers, but rather an experience where students get to learn and figure things out on their own. Not only did I acquire independence from this opportunity, but also discovered the beauty of nature and true Chinese culture. Before this month, I had always viewed nature as boring and rural China as a lower quality area (and perhaps it is), but Microcampus has awakened me to see that nature is part of who we are and what makes the world so amazing. The interaction with locals have also led me to conclude that the people of China are often very hospitable and friendly, contradicting the frequent negative stereotypes. When any of us started talking to a Xizhou citizen, they would most likely respond with wholly friendliness and would sometimes even invite us into their houses. This is something for all of us to learn from and respect. Lastly, mainly through my inquiry project, I was able to make deeper connections and take my critical thinking to a whole new level. Rather than making it a musically enhanced project, I decided to instead think about the philosophical ideas and areas of my topic.

Before I came to Microcampus, I knew almost nothing about music within the Bai Minority. Based on the topic descriptor, I assumed that there was an actual genre of music called Bai Music, but when I arrived, I realized that there wasn’t. On the first week, I felt a little lost on where to start and what direction to look towards, and therefore decided to continue to pursue my project of giving an overview of everything I know about Bai Music. 

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t find any articles or books about Dongjing music. After looking through multiple online search engines, asking staff from the Linden Center about books about Dongjing Music, and then even scanning the entire library once again, I was still unable to pick up a book. This was definitely the most difficult part of my inquiry project. Since I couldn’t find information from outside sources, my solution was to get musicians and citizens’ opinions on Dongjing music in order to gather information to justify my conclusion on the importance of tradition.

One day, a village mayor named “Xiao Wu” started talking about Dongjing music, a traditional folk genre, and eventually invited me over to a Dongjing concert. I was both surprised and thrilled, and was eager to attend the concert. 

At the concert, I got to talk to a few of the instrumentalists about why they think Dongjing music is so important. After talking to them, I realized that this was the topic that interested me the most because of the philosophical aspect of it. It also gave me a more focused topic to elaborate on in my final product rather than an broad generalization. 

This project did not primarily enhance my musical knowledge, but helped me become a better critical thinker. It was only this year that I found my interest in philosophical and moral topics, and this project only increased that interest. I am now not only a factual thinker, but an “inquirer”.

If I could start this project all over, I would make sure to research a lot more before I even get here, because by the time I get to Xizhou, I should be done with all background information and be ready to research and explore within the village. This time I stalled my research on background information prior to the trip, so I wasted nearly a week trying to catch up on the research. If I (or someone else) could go further with this project, I would suggest to not only write or advocate for the preservation of Dongjing music, but actually take action and make a difference.

Lastly, I would like to thank a few people for helping me out with this inquiry project. 

  1. Xiao Tang (Linden Center Staff/Accountant), for giving me so many sources of information to talk to.
  2. Xiao Wu (village governor), for taking me to a Dongjing concert and helping me understand the basic reasoning of Dongjing music.
  3. Mr. Zhao/Ms. Duan (an elderly couple and musicians), for allowing me to even further understand the truth behind Dongjing music. 
  4. Mr. T and my parents, for being supportive of my inquiry work at every stage.
Hey, I'm Ethan, and like playing basketball and listening to music. As a music fanatic, I decided to focus my inquiry project on Bai Minority Music. Microcampus is really a great opportunity for me to not only have more freedom, but to become responsible. It also allows all of us to interact with rural China, something we don't do often despite the fact that many of us have lived in China for a while. Feel free to take a look at my blog posts at any time!