China at 60

Illustration (from top left clockwise):

(1) PLA soldiers practice on giant luogu drum
(2) Southwest (Hani or Yi shaman with Sun Drum
(3) (hidden) luogu “orchestra” from ballet “Sound of the Dragon” (SBC, 2006)
(4) lead dancer from the same production leaps atop a giant Drum.


I here juxtapose several clips of “folk” (and then some) ensemble performances that hover around the edges of the PRC’s last (one hopes) major National Day Gala, in Oct. 2009. The first embraces the full panoply of pageants from 2009; the second but a day-long, single group put-together, well it might have been 70 or 80 years back.

You will need however to listen to the first half minute of clip 1 to sense the overlap (purloining) from clip 2. In acoustical terms it is as if nothing has changed: Or that there is a compulsion to illusionize an permanent “half-time show” public acoustical style. (a comparison comes to mind in the case of our own fetishizing of the fife-and-drums “sound”, but that all ended with Souza and WWI and radio and TV).

Gala, Oct 1, 2009. Part 1

The End of the “Folk” in Dance?

A word perhaps is needed about the second performance, which is where the adrenalized male shout-and-bang sound comes from.

The waist-drum or yaogu 腰鼓 dance was a high point in the celebration of the Chinese New Year in the north of Shaanxi province, where Chinese Communists located their WWII wartime government. It was performed only by unmarried male volunteer trainees, whose youth and gender evoked the sun’s post-solstice passage into Male 阳 (yang) re-ascendance. The dance rite was discovered by folk-performance investigators from the Lu Xun Folk Arts Academy and was taken up as a tool for attracting male bachelor recruits into the Red Army. We are here shown a recruitment ceremony (parading youths on horses) evoking how “poor-peasant” adolescents were ushered off as soldiers, rarely returning. Nonethess the send off was a kind of parade, performed to a firm, repetitive beat in 2/4 timenand pounded out by a bulging cylindrical wood and skin drum with (in some) a golden dragon embossed on the red. This category of drum was bookended by the name luogu 锣鼓 and its players 锣鼓队 a luoguo parade. Perhaps just as important as the insistent, military beat is that the players are moving in file.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s