Intangible cultural heritages of Xi'an

Updated: Jan 15, 2019 Print
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Xi'an Drum Music


Xi'an Drum Music is a large-scale folk drum music that has circulated in Xi'an (Chang'an in imperial China) and surrounding areas for about a thousand years.

In and around ancient Chang'an, and especially in the many Buddhist and Taoist temples on the Northern slopes of the Qinling Mountains, temple fair activities and many folk music clubs are the basis for the survival of Xi'an Drum Music.

Notations on an extant Xi'an drum music manuscript dated to 1763 (the 28th year of the Qianlong reign) are roughly the same as those inscribed on the 17 self-composed songs by the Song Dynasty (960-1279) musician and literary master Jiang Kui (1154-1221). This proves that the manuscript has a long history and a tablature that has gradually been lost in the country since the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911).

The existing Xi'an Drum Music repertoire, a total of more than 1,100 music scores, includes some pieces of the same names as the Tang Dynasty Daqu (entertainment song suites involving music and dance), the Imperial Banquets Music of the Tang and Song dynasties, and the court Jiaofang Daqu, which thrived in China from the seventh to the 13th century. It is comparable to the huge structural form of the Tang and Song dynasties Daqu as well as its band configuration but does not accommodate musical instruments new since the Ming and Qing Dynasties. It shows certain primitive features and thus reflects the immediate period after the music of those dynasties. The commonly played drum music scores now include "Drum Beat", "Tackling", "Slow Song", "Set Lyrics", "Southern Lyrics", "Shorten Form Song", and "Miscellaneous Song".

Xi'an Drum Music is an important relic of ancient Chinese music. Its complex music system, unique music vocabulary, musical mode, and instrumental configuration are precious evidence for deciphering the mystery of ancient Chinese music art; inheritance of its numerous music scores has enriched the treasury of Chinese music culture. It will definitely play an important role in the further development of folk music in China.

Due to the strong impact of more modern culture, the folk cultural environment in which the original Xi'an Drum Music lived, such as folk temple fairs, is dying out, and the soil for its survival is disappearing. In addition, the old artists have successively died, with fewer successors. Xi'an Drum Music is on the verge of extinction and should be rescued and protected.

Puhua Concert Music, Lantian County

Puhua Concert Music is a public music performance that has thrived for more than a thousand years in the Puhua Town of Lantian County, Shaanxi Province at Buddhist events, charitable fairs, and sacrificial rituals. Lantian County is located in the Northern slope of the Qinling Mountains in the southeast of the Guanzhong Plain. It is the gateway from ancient Changan to Hubei and Sichuan in the south. According to historical records, the Wuzhen Temple in Lantian, which can accommodate thousands of Buddhist monks, was an important place for official and private large-scale Buddhist events in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). In large-scale Buddhist activities, the music performance of stringed, wind, and percussion instruments is used to create a solemn atmosphere; therefore this peculiar form of art has been inherited by monks and folk musicians.

The Puhua Concert Music can be divided into outdoor and indoor performances. Because the performances are serious and solemn, they are never used for festive occasions such as weddings. The music score is austere, clear, elegant, and delicate, striking a sharp contrast with the exciting and unrestrained Qinqiang opera - another folk music art of Shaanxi. Common repertoire selections include "Qingjiang Song", "Little Song", "Sanlianzi", "Eight Boards", "Palace Tune", and "Old Score".

Manuscripts of Puhua Concert Music originally covered over 80 melodic patterns (qupai). The tablature notations on the half-character manuscripts follow those datable to Tang Dynasty palace entertainment music, which also testifies to its long history. Puhua concert music, especially in the composition of the orchestra, the repertoire, and the notation, has high historical and academic research value.

After being hit hard in the 1960s and 1970s, for decades Puhua Concert Music was in an endangered state. Few music scores are left, and untold musical instruments have been lost and destroyed. The old artists have successively died, and it is imperative to rescue this old folk music form.

Cooking Method of Crumbled Flatbread Mutton and Beef Stew by Tongshengxiang Restaurant


Crumbled flatbread mutton stew (yangrou paomo) has a long history. In the era preceding the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC), rituals of "Offering lamb as sacrifices" and "killing the lambs to entertain friends with meal and wine" were held to worship ancestors and welcome guests. The tradition has evolved for more than 2,000 years. In the early 1920s, the Tongshengxiang Restaurant began serving crumbled flatbread beef and mutton stew in Xi'an. Chefs of the restaurant constantly innovated and developed it into a dish with distinctive local characteristics. Tongshengxiang crumbled flatbread mutton and beef stew is rich in taste: the meat is soft and juicy in broth, the tendon is smooth, the aroma is pervasive and the flavor is unique. The cooking process is very sophisticated, from the selection of materials, the stewing of the meat, the simmering of the broth, the adding of the spices, and the overall seasoning, to soaking the crumbled flatbread; the entire process always adheres to fine standards. The dish is a nourishing food with unique flavor. It warms the stomach and has long been loved by the people of Shaanxi and throughout the northwest region of China.

Crumbled flatbread mutton and beef stew is a distinctive food specialty and has unique regional flavor. It enjoys a long-standing reputation in the country. Over the past 100 years, Tongshengxiang Restaurant has continued to innovate and develop on the basis of inheriting the tradition, and has greatly improved the color, flavor, taste and shape of this local dish. It represents halal flavor in Shaanxi.

Mulberry Paper Craftsmanship

Working with mulberry paper is one of the important production techniques of traditional handmade paper. The original folk craft is still preserved in Beizhang Village, Chang'an District of Xi'an.

Beizhang Village is located at the foot of the Qinling Mountains. As it's a highly populous village with reduced farming land, local people have had to rely on the resources of the mulberry trees found in the mountains since ancient times to maintain their livelihoods. Beizhang Village is one of the birthplaces of papermaking. The famous Western Han Dynasty "Ba-bridge paper" began there. Before the reform and opening up, basically every household in the village ran a papermaking workshop.

The traditional manufacturing of mulberry paper in Beizhang Village demonstrates consummate craftsmanship. The entire production process involves neither modern machinery nor glue; yet the paper sheets can be separated without difficulty. This manufacturing process is extremely rare in the domestic handmade paper- making industry and is a "living fossil" for studying the evolution of the handmade paper process. Since the 1970s, the traditional papermaking skills of Beizhang Village have attracted the attention of scholars at home and abroad. In 2002, the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage invited Zhang Fengxue, a paper-making inheritor of Beizhang Village, to participate in the 36th Folk Life Art Festival. Nearly 100,000 visitors watched Master Zhang's wonderful papermaking demonstration.

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