About this Recording
NXW76091-2 - CHINA Folk Music of China, Vol. 4: Folk Songs of Guangxi



1. Geography and Population

Located in southern China, Guangxi is one of the five autonomous regions established for ethnic minorities. Han Chinese account for about 60 percent of the population of Guangxi, and the Zhuang people are the majority of the other 40 percent. Guangxi accommodates the largest number of minority peoples of all the provinces or regions of China. Three of the minority groups featured in this album are native to Guangxi: the Zhuang, Mulao and Maonan. The Bouyei, although native to neighbouring Guizhou province, have a significant population in Guangxi. Guangxi shares the border with Guizhou in the north, Guangdong in the east. It also borders Vietnam to the southwest and the Gulf of Tonkin to the south. Guangxi is a mountainous basin. The northern Guangxi region is part of the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau. Headed by the Pearl River, four river systems constitute the main water resources.

According to the 2010 census, the population of the Zhuang people is roughly 17 million, which makes them the largest minority in China. Eighty-five percent of the Zhuang live in Guangxi, the rest of them dwell in Guangdong, Yunnan and Hunan provinces. The Mulao people have a population of about 2.2 million, 80 percent of which live in Guangxi; the others inhabit Guizhou, Guangdong and other provinces. About 90 percent of the Mulao people live in Luocheng Mulao Autonomous County of Guangxi. The population of the Maonan people is appropriately 100,000, 65 percent of which live in Guangxi, and 27 percent of which inhabit Guizhou. The majority of the Maonan live in Huanjiang Maonan Autonomous County. The Bouyei number nearly 3 million, almost 87 percent of which are concentrated in Guizhou province. The Bouyei living in Guangxi only represent 7 percent of their population. While the total population of China increased from 2000 to 2010, the population of Maonan and Bouyei decreased.

Huanjiang County borders Luocheng County in the southeast and is contiguous to Libo County in the northwest. The three counties located in northern Guangxi and southern Guizhou constitute the main living area for the minorities performing in this album, aside from the Zhuang performers who are from Napo County, which is in the west of Guangxi and borders Vietnam to the south and west. Xianan County is under the jurisdiction of Huanjiang County. Huanjiang County as the only autonomous region for Maonan people accommodates 19 ethnic groups, among which the Zhuang represent nearly 70 percent and the Maonan account about 16 percent. Established in 1983, Luocheng is the only Mulao autonomous county in China. The Mulao people represent about 33 percent of Luocheng’s population. Under the administration of Qiannan Buyei and Miao Autonomous Prefecture of Guizhou, Libo County is a representative tourist attraction of Guizhou for its natural Karst topography, of which two sites were included in the South China Karst UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located in the south of the Yunnan-Guizhou Plateau, forests cover nearly 70 percent of the land of Libo County. Different minority groups constitute more than 90 percent of the total population of Libo. As a part of Baise City, the Napo County is a mountainous area featuring Karst topography. Several ethnic groups including Han, Zhuang, and Mulao live in Napo County.

2. Languages

The four languages that appear in this album all belong to the Sino-Tibetan language phylum in a broad sense. Proposed by Chinese linguist Li Fanggui in 1937 and revised in 1973, the Sino- Tibetan phylum includes the Sinitic, Tibeto-Burman, Dong-Tai and Miao-Yao language families. Geographically, Sino-Tibetan languages extend from north-eastern India, Burma, Bangladesh, and Thailand in the southeast, across the Tibetan Plateau to the north, throughout most of China. Under the Dong-Tai language family, also known as Tai-Kadai or Kra-Dai, the Zhuang and Bouyei languages are a part of the Tai language branch, while the Maonan and Mulao languages constitute a part of the Kam-Sui language branch.

Aside from the Zhuang languages, the Zhuang people also use Chinese for communicating. Primarily based upon phonology, the Zhuang language has northern and southern dialects, each with relatively great divergence. The Zhuang people living in the recording locations of this album all speak the northern dialect. The Zhuang language incorporates an array of Chinese loan words, which were absorbed in their early stage, and maintain some features of Cantonese or medieval Chinese. In the 1950s, an alphabetic writing system using Latin letters substituted the traditional Zhuang square characters, which had been used to pass down folk songs or stories for more than a thousand years.

The Bouyei people mainly speak their native language, while the young generations living with Han choose Chinese as their communication tool. Mainly used in Guizhou province, the Bouyei language has three regional varieties: northern, southern and central. It is noticeable that the Bouyei language incorporates a lot of Chinese loanwords, some of which still maintain a form of early Chinese. The vocabulary primarily consists of monosyllabic words or their compounds. A romanised writing system was made and revised for Bouyei respectively in the 1950s and 1980s.

Most of the Mulao people are bilingual speakers of their native language and Chinese. The Mulao language has many similarities with the other languages that are under the same branch with Mulao. At the same time Mulao is influenced to a more considerable extent by Chinese when compared to the other languages of the Dong-Tai language family. Mulao absorbs not only Chinese loanwords but also creates new words compounded of Chinese and native words.

Belonging to the same language branch, the Maonan and Mulao languages share a very similar vowel system. Without a written language, the Maonan people use Chinese to write and study. As a result, the majority of Maonan people cannot speak the Maonan language. Since the Maonan people live in an area densely populated with the Zhuang, the two languages share a large number of words. Most of the Maonan people can also speak the Zhuang language.

3. Histories and Cultures

All four minority groups featured in this album can trace their origins back to the Baiyue ethnic group of southern China. Baiyue is a general name for various ethnic branches that can be traced back to the 3rd century BCE. The Zhuang, Bouyei and Mulao peoples all originate from the Luoyue, a branch of Baiyue. While medieval Chinese historical materials recognise the Zhuang and Mulao as a part of the Liao people, the contemporary accounts recorded Bouyei as Man, meaning barbarians. The Maonan people were also related to Liao. Without being classified into a specific branch of Baiyue, the name of Maonan’s ancestors first appeared in the 12th century.

Female clothing is an external sign to recognise different branches of the Zhuang. Five-coloured glutinous rice and zongzi, a kind of rice dumplings, are common festival food. The Zhuang have a tradition of making various kinds of wine, among which the medicinal wine made of three types of snakes is famous. Aside from the Han Chinese festivals, the Zhuang also celebrate a lot of traditional festivals. The most important festival for the Zhuang, the Double Third Festival is an outdoor singing festival held on the third day of the third month of the Chinese calendar.

The Bouyei live on traditional agriculture, which includes planting rice, tobacco, rapeseed and tea. The female Bouyei also engage in handicrafts featuring batik and tapestry. The female clothing usually uses the colours green, blue and white, and is decorated with batiks. The Bouyei like to wear silver accessories. The Bouyei people prepare various kinds of food made of glutinous rice for festivals. Different kinds of sour food are indispensable components of the Bouyei’s daily diet. The Spring Festival is the most important among all the Bouyei festivals.

The intensive farming makes the Huanjiang Maonan County one of the commercial grain bases in Guangxi. The majority of Maonan people have the surname of ‘Tan’. The old Maonan saying that ‘females wear no dresses and sour can join all the tastes’ shows the clothing feature and taste preference of the Maonan. The well known ‘three treasures of Maonan’ are sweet potatoes, Maonan beef, and bamboo hats. Aside from maintaining characteristic rituals in the festivals shared by the Han and Zhuang peoples, the Maonan also pray for rain in the fenlong festival, which is held in the fifth month of the Chinese calendar, and literally means the dragons departing from each other to rain.

The name Mulao means farmers, which shows one of the two primary economic sources of the Mulao: grain planting and coal mining. The Mulao also favour food made of glutinous rice and food that has a sour taste. Usually, people with the same surname live together in a village led by a patriarch. Every family digs a hole in the ground of their rooms to make a stove. The Mulao celebrate many festivals including those of the Han Chinese. Buddhism, Taoism, ancestral and natural worship constitute the religious life of the Bouyei.

4. Music Traditions

It is noteworthy that the music of the Dong-Tai language speakers presents a common feature of incorporating polyphonic or heterophonic songs. Although this feature is present in the music of more than 20 minorities in China, it is rare that the speakers of a whole language family all incorporate multi-voice songs in their music. The performance forms of these multi-voice songs include nearly all the types found in folk music. The number of harmonic intervals is limited because the songs usually employ only one octave. Aside from pentatonic scales, the folk music of the Dong-Tai language speakers also incorporates the scales of three or four notes.

Zhuang music has the categories of folk songs, dance music, instrumental music, narrative singing, and operas. The Zhuang people classify folk songs by different measured arrangements of words in lyrics. The Zhuang folk songs include songs of single or multi voices. Two-voice songs dominate the multi-voice songs, in which the three-voice songs also appear. The Zhuang people are famous for being good at singing their folk music. Gexu, meaning collective singing activities, are held along with several specific festivals annually. The most influential instrumental music of the Zhuang is the eight-note ensemble, which gives priority to winds.

The categorisation of Bouyei music is the same as that of the Zhuang music. As the most distinctive part of Bouyei folk music, the multi-voice songs have ‘big’ and ‘small’ vocal songs, which are different in structure and social function. Libo County, one of the recording locations of this album, is the performance centre of Bouyei multi-voice songs. Bouyei multi-voice songs all have two voices. The Bouyei people include these principles for the co-operation between the two voices: intervals between the two voices should be small; the two voices should be distinct from each other in melody as well as in tone colour. The Nuo opera or dixi meaning ground opera is regarded as a living fossil of Chinese culture and is one of the ‘non-material’ cultural legacies of China. Different ethnic groups including the Han perform the Nuo opera in southern China. With an abundant repertoire that varies in different areas, the Nuo performers all wear masks.

In China, the Mulao people are the only ethnic group whose folk music only includes multi-voice songs, without any monophonic songs. The structure of Mulao lyrics is divided by two criteria: 15 types of lyrics are divided by the number of verses; 26 types of lyrics are differentiated by the number of characters in each verse. The common types are the four-verse song and elevencharacter song, which are both included in this album. The Mulao multi-voice songs all have two voices. The lower voice of a continuous drone accompanies the upper voice as the main melody. The drone usually includes G or A.

Maonan music consists of three parts: folk music, shigong and daogong music, of which the latter two are types of religious ritual music. The Maonan folk songs have three forms: bi, huan, and paijian. Bi is a general name for the songs sung outdoors, huan denotes the songs sung for weddings or other celebrations at home, Paijian refers to the long narrative songs of the Maonan. The Five-Word Song (Bi Dan tune) is a type of bi tune. The We are Both Old and Joyful Morning Tune both belong to the huan form. Shua Diao, meaning joyful playing tune, is a type categorised into bi or huan according to the vocal features. The Sending Flowers belongs to liulanglie, the love songs of the Maonan. Liulanglie have monophonic and heterophonic forms. The lower voice of heterophonic liulanglie is the main melody, which accompanied by the upper voice. Feitao, a Maonan word meaning votive rituals, is a kind of Nuo opera. It was popular among the Maonan people since the early modern period. In each Maonan family, every generation should hold the feitao once in their lives. Feitao is held by shigong who are the priests of the Nuo folk religion. The lyrics of feitao music use mainly Chinese characters and are in supplement with the Maonan and Zhuang languages. However, sometimes the Chinese characters cannot be apprehended according to Chinese grammar.

Jasmine Zhou

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