Melodies from the depths of history: Musical heritages from ancient China

Song Dynasty (960-1279)

Updated: Feb 9, 2023 Print
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With a thriving urban economy, the Song Dynasty (960-1279) embraced a variety of musical cultures that met the entertainment needs of different social classes. Many of the people’s songs continuously developed the art of storytelling and singing with a wealth of styles and skills.

Detail of the Life along the Bian River at the Pure Brightness Festival, Song Dynasty

Detail of the masterpiece attributed to Zhang Zeduan (1085-1145), Life along the Bian River at the Pure Brightness Festival kept in the permanent collection of the Palace Museum [Photo/Official website of the Palace Museum]

This part of the painting vividly depicts a storytelling performance in the Song Dynasty. At the intersection of the street, a large group of people gather around a shop, including the elderly, the young, children, and monks in cassocks, all engaged in the performance by an actor with a long beard. The painter adopted delicate techniques to truly record a street performance more than 800 years ago. The superb skills of the performer are reflected by each listener’s show of appreciation in the painting.

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