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Chinese Ancient Music

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The Chinese musical tradition was well-developed as early as the Zhou Dynasty, which began in 1122 BC. As the longest lasting dynasty, the Zhou Dynasty saw a flourishing in the performance arts, as well as written art. The oldest written music is Youlan (the Solitary Orchid), credited to Confucius, one of the most famous Chinese philosophers and intellectuals. The strong tradition for this art form is steeped in myth and legend, with Ling Lun credited as the legendary creator of music. Ancient stories claim that he created bamboo flutes that could imitate the sound of any bird, including the mythical Pheonix. Hang-di, the Yellow Emperor and legendary co-founder of the Chinese civilization, is said to have created bells that were tuned to Ling Lun’s flute. It is from this romanticized beginning that an established, esteemed tradition has developed. From its legendary founding, music has always been connected to the ruling powers of China. During the Qin Dynasty, which began in 221 BC, the Imperial Music Bureau was established and charged with supervising court and military music. It was also charged with gathering folk music; the rulers of China recognized the power and influence of music, and believed that folk music expressed the will of the people. It is in this way that the rulers of China heard the voice of the common people. One ancient form of music is the orchestra. As far back as the Shang Dynasty, which began in 1550 BC, orchestral music was central to ceremonial events. At its inception, Chinese Orchestra mostly consisted of percussion instruments with a few wind instruments. It was not until the Han Dynasty (beginning in 202 BC) that stringed instruments were imported from Central Asia.

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