CASE 6:  Pipa as a Window on Chinese Music

Pipa music is encountering many challenges at present. One important contemporary question is how it can play a part in negotiating Chinese experiences and feelings in a contemporary, globalized world. Anyone who has been to Yunnan and visited Yi people, for example, will probably notice that “Yi People’s Dance Music” has very little to do musically with traditional Yi music. Besides a vague melodic reference to Yi tunes, and the fact that Yi people use lutes to make music, the piece features

Ming Ke performs a pipa with a western orhestra

little that can be verified as authentically Yi. The music’s elusive and debatable link to Yi people is, however, precisely why it makes an interesting case study of Chinese experiences and subjectivities. It allows people to ask questions such as: How are Han and Yi Chinese musically different and similar? How has traditional Chinese music become westernized, modernized, or transformed for contemporary and multi-ethnic audiences? How does “Yi People’s Dance Music” demonstrate the ways non-Han minorities were exoticized by Han Chinese in the 1950’s and 60’s? How does this exoticism promote the sales of pipa CDs and concert tickets? How does musical hybridity challenge the status quo? Music example 8: Lang Lang performs ” Chunjiang huayueyue” (Spring-river-flowers-moon-night) on the piano, with pipa. Though answers to these difficult questions may not come easily, it is the search for the answers and for new questions that sustains Chinese pipa music.

Music example 10: He Shuying performs “Sakura.”

Music example 11: He Shuying performs “ Musical Moment” by Schubert.

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