Several thousand years ago in China there was Music

January 2, 2018

The first few weeks of 2018 will focus on China’s long history starting with the earliest known musical instrument found in China.

Music in China is traditionally associated with ritual observances and government affairs.

In 1999, Chinese archeologists unearthed what is believed to be the oldest known playable instrument, a seven-holed flute fashioned about 9,000 years ago from the hollow wing bone of a large bird.

To establish the age of the flute, a U.S. chemist at the Department of Energy’s Brookhaven National Laboratory analyzed data from carbon-14 dating done in China on materials taken from the site. “The flutes may be the earliest complete, playable, tightly-dated, multinote musical instruments.”

The 9,000-year-old flutes were “exquisitely-crafted” from the wing bone of a red-crowned crane.

In The Book of Songs, an ancient collection of Chinese poetry from the 11th to the 7th century BC, the three-hole Yue is the most frequently mentioned wind instrument, but by the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD), the Yue had all but vanished.

Discover China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi,
the man that unified China more than 2,000 years ago.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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The Erhu is Unique to China and it complements the Spoken Language

November 21, 2017

CGTN.com says, “The  erhu is a two-stringed bowed musical instrument, more specifically a spike fiddle, which may also be called a ‘southern fiddle’ and sometimes known in the Western world as the ‘Chinese violin’ or a ‘Chinese two-stringed fiddle’. It is used as a solo instrument as well as in small ensembles and large orchestras. It is the most popular of the huqin family of traditional bowed string instruments used by various ethnic groups of China. A very versatile instrument, the erhu is used in both traditional and contemporary music arrangements, such as in pop, rock, jazz, etc.”

And once you recognize the sound of an erhu, it can usually be readily picked out from other musical instruments, because that sound is unique.

The history of the erhu spans more than a thousand years. The first erhu was heard during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD).

Since the traditional Chinese character for “erhu” indicates it has two strings, the erhu has probably changed little over the centuries.

The Han ethnic group makes up about 92% of the population of China, and Han folk music, in a sense, is similar to Mandarin in that it is made by sliding from higher tones to lower tones, or lower to higher, or a combination of both.

Han folk music is also similar to poetry with slow soothing tempos that express feelings that connects with the audience or whoever is playing the piece. Even the way a moment of silence is delivered changes the meaning behind the music.

Discover China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, the man that unified China and its written language more than 2,000 years ago.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


My Country’s “Got Talent” until they Don’t

November 8, 2017

There’s America’s Got Talent, Britain’s Got Talent, Africa’s Got Talent, Asia’s Got Talent, Belgium’s Got Talent, Bhutan’s Got Talent, Cambodia’s Got Talent, Croatia’s Got Talent, Czech Republic & Slovakia’s Got Talent, Ecuador’s Got Talent, France’s Got Talent, Georgia’s Got Talent (not the U.S. state), Germany’s Got Talent, Greece’s Got Talent, Iceland’s Got Talent, Got Talent Israel, Italia’s Got Talent, Mongolia’s Got Talent, Myanmar’s Got Talent, Nepal’s Got Talent, Holland’s Got Talent, Norway’s Got Talent, and …

Anyway, that incomplete list shows how many Got Talents there are or were. Here’s the Wiki post for all the former and current Got Talents.

The last year for China’s Got Talent was Season 5, 2013-14. The next video shows the five winners of China’s Got Talent from the man who had no arms and played the piano with his bare feet to the acrobat that won season 5.

I have two favorites: one from the United States and one from Norway.

Grace VanderWaal won America’s Got Talent in 2016, at age 12. She writes her own songs and performs them. She then signed a record contract with Columbia Records and put out her first short album that reached #9 in the United States. She went on to win a Teen Choice Award and an award from Disney. She is now 13, and started her first concert tour in early October 2017, at Austin’s City Limits Music Festival. Her first full-length album (she wrote all the songs) is scheduled for release on November 3. I already have my own copy and I listen to it every morning when I exercise. I like her work that much.

Angelina Jordan won Norway’s Got Talent when she was age 8, singing classic jazz. At age ten in 2016, she recorded “I Put a Spell on You.”  If you enjoyed that performance, there’s more. You will discover she performs barefoot. Jordan’s first album was scheduled for release this year.

Discover Anna May Wong, the American actress who died a thousand times.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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An Erhu Master Captures a violent slice of China’s history

September 5, 2017

To understand another country’s history and culture, one should listen to its music, read that country’s novels, and see its films.

For instance, Reflection of the Moon about Ah Bing (1893 – 1950), a master of the Chinese Erhu, who in 1950, shortly before his death, became a national sensation as radios throughout China started to play his music.

Fortunate for me, this Chinese film had English subtitles, but were not the best quality and true to form for a Chinese movie filmed in 1979 (shortly after the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976), the plot was melodramatic with traces of propaganda that favored the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

However, to be fair, the brutal Civil War between the Communist and Nationalist Parties raged from 1927 – 1950 (with a short break during World War II to fight the Japanese invaders), and the CCP, with support from several hundred million peasants, won.

Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution would not begin for years and for those that survived the purges in 1949 and 1950 (the victims were allegedly abusive land owners and drug dealers accused of crimes by the people they allegedly abused and victimized), Mao fulfilled his promise of land reform. Many of the landowners lost their lives, and the land they had owned was divided among the peasants collectively and not individually.

To understand the era of Ah Bing’s life, much of China (including Tibet) was still feudal in nature, and the upper classes often took advantage of the peasants and workers as if they were beasts of burden treated as slaves. At the time of his death, he was 57, and the average lifespan in China was 35. Today the average lifespan is 75.5 years.

Ah Bing’s real name was Hua Yanjun. His knowledge of traditional Chinese music and his talent as a musician went mostly unnoticed until the last year of his life in 1950, shortly after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

In 1950, two musicologists were sent to his hometown of Wuxi to record and preserve his music. At the time, he was ill and hadn’t performed for about two years. Six of his compositions that are considered masterpieces were recorded by those musicologists. It is said that he knew more than 700 pieces and most of them were his compositions.

The lyrics of some of his music criticized the KMT (Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government), and he was often punished for speaking out through his music. If you have read of The Long March, you know that the peasants did not trust the KMT, but they did trust the Communists, and most rural Chinese from that era still think of Mao as China’s George Washington.

Before the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, China’s Communist Party treated the peasants and workers with respect while the KMT didn’t.

China Daily reported that Ah Bing’s story and music is still popular, and that the Performing Arts Company of China’s Air Force performed Er Quan Yin, an original Western-style Chinese opera, in 2010. The performance was “Based on the story of legendary Chinese erhu performer, Hua Yanjun, or Blind Ah Bing, the opera tells the story of an erhu performer, Ah Quan and his adopted daughter Ah Li, who struggle to make a living in the 1950s.”

Discover Anna May Wong, the American actress who died a thousand times.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

Where to Buy

Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


The Difference between Chinese vs English Poetry

August 22, 2017

Su Kent says, “In my opinion, the essence of classical Chinese poetry is more difficult and allusive. Because of the nature of Chinese characters, each line can express utmost meanings in limited words. The beauty is condensed similar to energy ready to burst out.”

However, traditional Chinese Poetry is similar to Western poetry in other ways.  Lines in Chinese poetry may have a fixed number of syllables and rhyme was required, so ancient Chinese poetry resembles traditional English verse and is not at all like the free verse in today’s Western culture.

Modern Chinese poets have written in free verse, but many still write with a strict form.

In the end, the form is not as important as what the poem says. Western poetry often focuses on love while painting an image of the poet as a lover.

Influenced by Confucius and Taoism, the ancient Chinese poet shows he or she is a friend, not a lover and often paints a picture of a poet’s life as a life of leisure without ambitions beyond writing poetry and having a good time. Su Kent says, “Chinese poetry draws much of its richness from the depth of meaning which these individual ideographs can carry.  Structurally, a classical Chinese poem usually has five or seven hieroglyphs per line, with each line creating a self-contained thought or image.”


In Chinese poetry, the poet must balance one thing against another.

According to legend, Qu Yuan, a Chinese poet, killed himself to protest the corruption of the time, and it is said that the Dragon Boat Festival was named to honor his sacrifice.

Battle
By Qu Yuan (332-295 B.C.)

We grasp our battle-spears: we don our breastplates of hide.
The axles of our chariots touch: our short swords meet.
Standards obscure the sun: the foe roll up like clouds.
Arrows fall thick: the warriors press forward.
They menace our ranks: they break our line.
The left-hand trace-horse is dead: the one on the right
is smitten.
The fallen horses block our wheels: they impede the
yoke-horses?”

Translated by Arthur Waley 1919

Note: The translation process from Mandarin to English would insure that the fixed number of syllables and rhyme required of a traditional Chinese poem in its original language would not survive, but the contextual meaning should.

Discover The Return of Confucious

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

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Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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China’s Transition Years – Discovering History through Film

July 18, 2017

Farewell, My Concubine covers more than 50-years of Chinese history from 1924 – 1977.

In 1924, prostitute Yanhong sees no other alternative than leaving her son Douzi at a training school for Chinese opera where the boys are beaten, and tortured for forgetting their lines. The only escape is suicide. China’s decades long Civil War between the Communists and Nationalist rages on and then Japan invades China in 1937 and the challenges to survive become worse. After World War II, the Chinese Civil War continues and doesn’t end until 1949.

Two of the boys at the training school, Douzi and Shitou, become friends destined to be great actors, and they impress audiences by performing together. Through the years, with the political situation in China ever changing and not always for the good, Shitou and Douzi remain close.

Chen Kaige, self-trained as a filmmaker, was the director for this award-winning 1993 film. Prior to “Farewell, My Concubine”, Chen received modest acclaim for the “Yellow Earth” and “The Big Parade”. With “Farewell, My Concubine,” he won the Palme d-or in Cannes.

Although the film is in Mandarin with English subtitles, the story captured me from the beginning. If you are interested in Chinese history, this film spans several decades beginning soon after the end of the Qing Dynasty. On the surface, it is a story of two boys that happen to become famous, but they have difficulties and challenges like most of us do. However, the film takes us from the Qing Dynasty to a warlord dominated, struggling republic, the Japanese invasion of World War II, and through Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

I saw this movie more than a decade ago and I remember this powerful, dramatic story of one man’s life from the day his mother took a knife and chopped off an extra finger on each hand so he would have five instead of the six he was born with.

Discover Anna May Wong, the American actress who died a thousand times.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

Where to Buy

Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

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China’s Holistic Historical Timeline


The Differences between Chinese and Western Operas

June 13, 2017

JadeDragon.com says, “Chinese opera is uniquely different from Western opera – whether Mozart or Wagner. There are so many details: origins, storylines, costumes, facial painting, stage rituals and customs, character types, and so on, not to mention musical usage that makes Chinese opera a unique form.”

For instance, Peking Opera is a combination of several styles of Chinese opera. The metamorphosis started during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)  about two-hundred years ago.

Peking Opera focuses on historical events, legends about emperors, ministers, generals, geniuses, and great beauties.

Performances are a combination of singing, dialogue, pantomime and acrobatic fighting and dancing.

Today, Peking Opera is considered the highest expression of Chinese culture.

The origins of Peking Opera did not begin in Peking (Beijing).  The opera had its start in the Chinese provinces of Anhui and Hubei.

Experts say the opera was born in 1790 and was originally staged for the royal family and only then for the public.

There are thousands of these operas that cover the history and literature of China. Peking operas can be divided into two categories.

“Civil” operas focus on singing while “Martial” operas feature acrobatics and stunts.  Some are a combination of both.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine, Crazy is Normal, Running with the Enemy, and The Redemption of Don Juan Casanova.

Where to Buy

Subscribe to my newsletter to hear about new releases and get a free copy of my award-winning, historical fiction short story “A Night at the Well of Purity”.

About iLook China

China’s Holistic Historical Timeline