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Ella Kiang Sings Popular Chinese Folk Songs
The Carrying-Pole • A La Mu Han • The Swallow and others


There are those who find all Chinese music alike. In fact, within the conventions of Chinese music, there are wide regional differences, some of which emerge in the present collection of songs. The vast country of China embraces peoples of divergent cultures and ethnic traditions.

The Carrying-Pole
Henan Folk Song (arr. Lu Hua Bai)

Henan is at the south of the Yellow River. The carrying-pole is a common sight in China. A single bamboo pole is used like an oblique yoke for carrying even the simplest burden. Musically the song uses a wide range of notes, and is not strictly pentatonic. Most Chinese folk music, of course, uses the five-note scale.

Here the singer tells of the carrying-pole that he is bearing, and on his way, past green willows and red flowers, to the town of Jingzhou.

A La Mu Han Xinjiang
Folk Song (arr. Li Ying Hai)

Xinjiang is one of the remoter provinces of China. It is part of the Chinese Turkestan, with traditions of music and dance that have all the characteristics of Central Asia.

A La Mu Han’s beauty is praised; she is neither fat nor thin, her eyebrows are like the new moon, she lives in the wilds of Tibet; thoughts of her keep the singer awake at night, and send him to run in the wind and snow.

The Swallow
Kazakh Folk Song (arr. Wu Zu Qiang)

Kazakh is a region in the far west of China. The singer uses the swallow as the symbol of his beloved, with her bright eyes, long hair and finely moulded chin.

Mi Du Mountain Song
Yunnan Folk Song

Yunnan is a mountainous district in the extreme south west of the country.

Here mountains face mountains, bees die collecting honey, and lovers die separated from the beloved. A young man builds a palanquin to take his bride home across the river.

Turtle Dove Song
Jiangxi Folk Song (arr. Yip Wai Hong)

The province of Jiangxi is to the south of the Yangtze River. Its plain is surrounded by mountains, and its many rivers are tributaries of the Yangtze River itself.

The turtle dove sings. You call I listen, and the flowers bloom at the bird’s song. The birds sing in spring. You call from the hilltop, I listen, and the flowers bloom at the birds’ song. Frogs croak, butterflies flutter and bees collect honey, in spring.

A Yi Sha
Xinjiang Folk Song (arr. Luo Zhong Kong)

Like a La Mu Han, A Yi Sha is also a Xinjiang folk song. A Yi Sha is a beautiful girl. Her singing is better than that of the birds, and makes the farmers work hard so that deserts are turned into green land. She sings by the water and people in the village can hear her voice.

Flying a Kite
Hunan Folk Song

Hunan is irrigated by the Yangtze River. It is the principal producer of wheat and known for its fertility.

At leisure I go out to fly a kite. I draw a butterfly, cut out the shape, and fly my kite. My mother asks me where I am going, and I tell her I am going to Five Mile Village. There I fly my kite, with a bell on it, and it goes high.

Boat from the Distance
Wuming Folk Song (arr. Li Zhi Shu, Li Yan Lin)

Wuming is an area of Guangxi, a province known for its beautiful mountain scenery, and consequently, for its rainfall.

A boat comes from the distance, the water swells in its wake. From it we hear singing, and the people on the shore answer. The boat is carried by the waves; the oarsmen rest and the boat comes near the shore.

Love Song of the Grassland
Qinghai Folk Song

Qinghai in the west of China contains the biggest salt lake in the country. Here the Yangtze and Yellow Rivers rise. Its climate is arid.

From a distant land there is a beautiful girl whose charms attract all eyes. Her face is radiant as the sun, her eyes like the moon. I wish I could work as a shepherd, or if I were a sheep in her flock, I could then be near her.

The Young Scholar
Guizhou Folk Song (arr. Huang You Di)

There is a saying that you can never travel three miles without coming to a hill in Guizhou. This region is mountainous and has some of the biggest waterfalls in the country. Little schoolboy, you take your satchel and go to school, fearing neither the sun nor the rain, but are afraid of a scolding from your teacher. Then you would not know what to say to your parents when you reach home.

Kang Ding Love Song
Sichuan Folk Song (arr. Jiang Ding Xian)

Sichuan, known to gourmets for its highly spiced food, is in the west of China. Its name means “four rivers”.

Along the mountain footpath you can see beautiful clouds, near the town of Kang Ding. The crescent moon shines over the town, and the Lee family’s daughter is beautiful. She is loved by young Cheung. Beautiful girls always favour successful or handsome men.

Under the Silver Moon
Tartar Folk Song

The Tartars, to give them their usual English name, form a small minority in Xinjiang.

On the shore the bright moon is shining, and I try to remember the past. Everything is like a dream. Where are you hiding? My beloved has left me. I am riding towards her on a horse as fast as an arrow.

Little Road
Suiyuan Folk Song

Suiyuan, in north China, is famous for its railways. In front of the house there is a wide road, but please do not go that way. Take the little road behind the house instead.

Flower Song
Hebei Folk Song (arr. Bao Lin)

Hebei is a north eastern province in China where five rivers meet. In spring we see many flowers. Who wear them? The workers of the country. In summer we see pomegranate flowers. Who wear them? The soldiers of this country. There are flowers in all four seasons. The people wear them.

Spring Mountain Song
Shanbei Folk Song (arr. Sang Tong)

Shanbei is a region in the centre of China.

In spring a warm wind blows and the river loses its chill. Under the blue sky all is good. I can see many fine villages. The spring wind makes green grass grow; wheat appears, and sheep and cattle flourish. The people are happy too. They wear new clothes and build new houses. Everyone works hard and sings happily.

Riddle Song
Yunnan Folk Song (arr. Yip Wai Hong)

Yunnan is a particularly beautiful part of western China, mountainous and remote.

My dear little child, let me give you a riddle to solve. What is long and found in the sky? What is long and found in the water? What is long and found in the street? What is long and used by a girl? Let me answer. The Milky Way is long and found in the sky. The lotus root is long and found in the water. Noodles are long and sold in the street. Silk ribbons are long and a girl uses them.

My dear child, let me give you a riddle to solve. What is round and found in the sky? What is round and found in the water? What is round and sold in the street? What is round and used by a girl?

Let me answer the riddle. The moon is round and found in the sky. Lotus leaves are round and found in the water. Dumplings are round and sold in the street. A mirror is round and a girl uses it.

Singing in the Meadow
Words: Ban Ping / Music: Li Ying Hai

Singing in the Meadow is written in the tradition of folk song. There are flowers and mountains. By the lake there is green grass, and sheep and horses run in the fields. A young girl rides on a fine horse. She sings, and everywhere in the meadow we can hear her voice. There is music in the meadow. Cattle and sheep flourish, and horses run freely. The sun shines on the Mongolian camp. From the shore comes smoke and people are cooking. In the mountains we can see green pine trees. The camels too are singing. They bring with them bales of fine cloth. The autumn wind blows away the white clouds. The grain is resplendent, and the people are busy in the factories. Everywhere in the meadow we hear singing.

Three Days’ Journey in Two Days
Inner Mongolian Folk Song

Three Days’ Journey in Two Days is a climbing song from one of China’s remotest areas.

The young horse runs in the meadow. A girl watches her friend ride; her feet are weary. You ought to feed this little horse well, then you can make three days’ journey in two days. The boy dismounts, and the girl is happy. He has travelled thousands of miles to see her. Everybody pities the young horse.

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