Primary page content

The Mesmerising Art of Underwater Chinese Dance

Dancing underwater

Yiyun Li practicing the art of underwater dance

One day whilst I was swimming in a pool, the waves coming from another swimmer nearby caused my body to involuntarily move up and down with the current. It was in that moment that I really felt inspired. I started to imagine just how interesting it would be if I could dance underwater. That is how my exploration into the captivating world of underwater dance began.  

What Makes Underwater Movement so Fascinating?  

The first reason for the fascination with for this art form is connected to our environment and the circumstances in which we as dancers habitually move. As dancers we are used to moving in a specialised space, such as a rehearsal room or a theatre, which has professional flooring and electronic equipment. However, this kind of space has not been available to many of us during the long period of COVID-19 lockdown. Thus, I started to bring my dance practice to new and different environments, such as my sitting room and even outdoors. It was during this process that I became interested in how different circumstances and environments can affect our body movements. 

When we talk of different environments, the ‘underwater stage’ is without doubt the most exciting one because of the feeling of weightlessness that we cannot experience on a normal physical ‘land stage’. What’s more, when we move our bodies or parts of our bodies underwater, we can experience the unusual sensation that water resistance brings to dance. 

What Genre of Dance Should I Choose for Underwater Dance Practice? 

Underwater dance is unlike traditional diving, where the main purpose is to explore rivers, seas, fish and tropical life; it is a new form of physical performance. Chinese dance, with its unique charm, was the ideal choice for my underwater dance practice. This is because the buoyancy of water can help to show the beauty of Chinese dance movements and poses. For example, you may have ever seen the mural paintings of Feitian (the immortals flying in the sky) in the Mogao Caves along China’s ancient silk road where images show the long silks Feitian seemingly floating and fluttering in the air, highlighting their freedom and grace. The buoyancy of water can help dancers to show this attractive quality indicative of the Feitian flying gods. 

The Effect of Dancing Underwater on the Five Senses

Yiyun dancing

The amalgamation of water and Chinese dance makes for mesmerising movements

Underwater dance is a combination of dancing and free-diving. In the preparation stage, I needed to not only complete a piece of choreography but also learn the basic theory and skills of free-diving. Thus, I first endeavoured to train in the sport of free-diving and successfully obtained the free-diver certificate (AIDA2). 

Dancing underwater proved to be a really tough and challenging experience. Firstly, underwater, I had to hold my breath, in other words, this meant that I had to try my best to suppress my most natural instinct to breathe. I had to overcome a strong sense of fear since I could not see clearly when I kept my eyes open without swimming goggles and after emerging from the water, it would take a long time (as much as several days) for my eyes to readjust to normal daylight levels. As my hearing was affected underwater, I also had to ‘play’ music in my mind. Lastly, it might be relatively easy to make certain movements on land, but because of the buoyancy and resistance of water, it was quite physically demanding to make the same movements underwater. Thus it is easy to say that the experience was somewhat of an assault on my senses!

“It was like being back in my mother’s womb. I would like to say that underwater dance is definitely a new form of interdisciplinary creation and a new field of dance that is worth exploring.” 

Although I encountered enormous difficulties during the learning process, I still value it as a precious and irreplaceable experience. Not only did the experience offer me an opportunity to learn professional diving but I also gained a strong sense of achievement. When I was dancing underwater most of my senses (sight, hearing, smell and taste) could not function normally, so my full attention turned to dancing itself, to my physical sensations. As I could not use most of my senses, I turned myself over to my tactile sense and imagination. It was like being back in my mother’s womb. I would like to say that underwater dance is definitely a new form of interdisciplinary creation and a new field of dance that is worth exploring.  

Yiyun Chinese Dance Teacher

Author: Goldsmiths Confucius Institute Dance Teacher, Yiyun Li

 Yiyun Li is a professional dancer, experienced dance teacher and creative choreographer who has worked in Chongqing No.47 College as a specialised dance teacher and for 5 years at Chongqing Broadcasting and Television Station as a choreographer.

Yiyun obtained the Gold Award of a performer in a professional group and Silver Award in performance for her self-choreographed dance piece Taste of Sichuan in the Third Shaanxi Province Lotus Dance Contest. She was also awarded the honour of Excellent Choreographer in 2012. Yiyun teaches on the departmental Outreach for Schools programme as well as our Asian Contemporary Dance and Chinese Folk Dance and Chinese Fan Dance short courses here at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute.

The Dragon Boat Festival

The Dragon Boat Festival, also known as the Chongwu Festival(重午节), Dragon Festival, Zhengyang Festival(正阳节), Tianzhong Festival(天中节)and so on, originated from the worship of celestial phenomena and evolved from the Dragon sacrifice in ancient times.


It is said that Qu Yuan, a poet of Chu state in the Warring States period, jumped into the Miluo River on May 5 and killed himself. Later, people took the Dragon Boat Festival as a festival to commemorate Qu Yuan. There are also commemorations of Wu Zixu, Cao E and Jie Zitui. Generally speaking, the Dragon Boat Festival originated from the ancient ancestors’ choice of “flying dragon in the sky” auspicious day to worship the Dragon ancestors, pray for blessings and ward off evil spirits, and inject the summer season “disease prevention” fashion. In the northern Central Plain, or Zhongyuan, the Dragon Boat Festival was regarded as an unlucky day, and a saying developed there calling it “the evil moon and the evil day”.

Qu Yuan

Traditional Customs

The Dragon Boat Festival is a very popular folk festival in China. It is a traditional custom of the Chinese nation since ancient times. Due to the vast territory and many stories and legends, there are not only many different Festival names, but also different customs in different places.

  • Dragon Boat Racing

Dragon Boat Racing is an important activity of the Dragon Boat Festival. It is also a relic of ancient dragon totem worship. According to the first excavation report of Hemudu site, as early as 7000 years ago, the ancient ancestors had made canoes with single wood and rowed with wooden oars. The earliest “Dragon Boat Race” figure in China was found in Jia village, Yunlong Town, Yinzhou District, Ningbo City, Zhejiang Province. Dragon boat was originally a dragon shaped canoe carved on a single canoe, and later developed into a dragon shaped boat made of wood.

Dragon boat has a long history. It is a collective rowing competition, and it is divided into different parts. Before the dragon boat race, a grand sacrificial ceremony is usually held. First, the dragon and the God are invited. Before the Dragon Boat Festival, we should choose an auspicious day to get out of the water. After sacrificing to the gods, we should install the dragon head and dragon tail, and then prepare for the race. Fujian and Taiwan went to Mazu temple to worship. In the past, when people offered sacrifices to the Dragon God, the atmosphere was very serious. They prayed for blessings, good weather, evil spirits, calamities and good luck. In Zigui, the hometown of Qu Yuan in Hubei Province, there is also a ceremony of rowing dragon boats to worship Qu Yuan.

Dragon-boat Racing

  • Artemisia argyi and Acorus calamus

In the Dragon Boat Festival, there are many kinds of flowers and plants that can drive away evil and diseases, which have a long history. The most popular in the Dragon Boat Festival are Artemisia argyi and Acorus calamus. This is because Artemisia (moxa) is an important medicine plant, it can also be made into moxa velvet to treat diseases, moxibustion points, and insect repellent. In May, Artemisia argyi oil is the most abundant, so it has the best effect, and people are competing for it. A few wormwood plants are often hung at the door of the house. Due to the special fragrance of wormwood, people use it to drive away diseases, prevent mosquitoes and ward off evil spirits.

Hanging wormwood and Acorus calamus

  • Eating zongzi

Zongzi is a traditional Chinese dish mainly made of glutinous rice and stuffing. It is wrapped with Ruo leaf (or new leaf). It has various shapes, such as sharp angle shape, four angle shape, etc. Zongzi has a long history. It was originally used as a sacrifice to ancestors. After it was introduced into the north, it used millet (produced in the North) to make Zong, which was called “jiaoshu”. Due to the different eating habits of different places, zongzi has formed a north-south flavour. From the taste point of view, there are two kinds of zongzi: salty zongzi and sweet zongzi. The custom of eating rice dumplings during the Dragon Boat Festival has been popular in China for thousands of years. It has become one of the most influential and widespread folk eating customs of the Chinese nation, and has spread to Korea, Japan and Southeast Asian countries.


  • Herbal Lotion

Washing herbal medicine is one of the customs of the Dragon Boat Festival. It falls in the most effective time of the year for plants, and there is an abundance of natural medicines. Dragon Boat Day herbal lotion can cure skin diseases and remove evil Qi. During the Dragon Boat Festival, many places in China have the custom of boiling the medicine and bathing in herbal water, and the beneficial properties of herbal medicine play a vital role in the culture. Herbal liquid is the Mulan Decoction recorded in ancient books. The extensive written records about the custom of washing herbal liquid can be found in Xia Xiaozheng, the book of rites of the great Dai Dynasty, at the end of the Western Han Dynasty. It mentions an orchid, which is not a regular orchid, but the fragrant orchid of Compositae or herbal medicine. In Volume 22 of Sui Shi Guang Ji “Picking Miscellaneous Drugs” it is quoted: “on May 5, competing to pick miscellaneous drugs can cure all kinds of diseases.” 《岁时广记》卷二十二“采杂药”引《荆楚岁时记》佚文:“五月五日,竞采杂药,可治百病。”This custom still exists today and is widely popular. In Guangdong, children use bitter grass and wheat herbs or flowers such as Artemisia argyi, cattail, Impatiens balsamina, and magnolia to boil and wash in water, while men go to rivers and seaside to take a shower – a custom called washing dragon boat water to wash away bad luck and bring good luck. In Hunan, Guangxi and other places, they use Baiye, dafenggen, wormwood, Acorus calamus, peach leaves, etc. to make medicinal liquid for bathing, no matter men, women, old and young, the whole family.

  • Wearing scented sachets

Wearing sachets is one of the traditional customs of the Dragon Boat Festival. The sachet is usually filled with some Chinese herbal medicines with aroma, which have a variety of purposes, from air fragrance, insect repellent, anti-plague and disease prevention. The sachets are usually filled with spices, wrapped with five colour silk thread, or cotton, and mixed with chuanxiong, Baizhi, paicao, qincao, clove, shanai, Xixin, Gansong, Baizhi, Gancao, realgar powder and other traditional Chinese Medicine powder(川芎、白芷、排草、芩草、丁香、山艾、细辛、甘松、白芷、甘草、雄黄粉), and then worn on the chest.

Sachets can be of different shapes, and have become a common handicraft. In some cities in southern China, young men and women also use the sachets to express their deep love.


  • Five-colour silk thread

In ancient times, five-colour silk threads were called “bibingza” (避兵缯)and “Zhusuo”(朱索). Tied on the mosquito net and cradle, they are also called Wanzhuan rope and Jiansheng rope. Ying Shao’s “Customs” says: “on May 5, five colored silk was used to tie the arms, named Changming thread, a Xuming thread, a Bibing thread, a wuse thread, a Zhusuo, a Bibing and a ghost, to protect people from disease and plague.”. In ancient China, five colours were revered as auspicious colours. Therefore, in the early morning of the festival, the first thing for adults to do when they get up is to tie five coloured threads on children’s wrists, ankles and necks. Children are forbidden to speak when tying the thread. In the traditional custom, red, green, yellow, white and black thick silk threads are twisted into colourful ropes and tied to children’s arms or necks. Since May 5, they have been tied up until the birthday of qiniangma on Qixi, and then they are burned together with Jinchu. It is also said that on the first rainy day after the Dragon Boat Festival, cutting off the multi-coloured thread and throwing it in the rain means letting the river wash away the pestilence and disease. It is said that it can remove the evil and stir up the disaster, which will bring good luck for a year.

The five colours of the five-colour silk represent the five elements, as well as the five directions. They interact with each other and have the mysterious function of removing evil spirits and welcoming good fortune. Cyan wood represents the East; Red is fire, representing the South; Yellow – soil – represents the Central; White is gold, representing the West; Black is water, representing the North. Marked by animals, green dragon is in the East, rosefinch is in the south, white tiger is in the west, Xuanwu (tortoise and snake) is in the north, and yellow dragon is in the centre. In fact, the symbolic meaning of five-colour silk is far more obvious than its actual function. In baopuzi(《抱朴子》)written by Ge Hong in the Eastern Jin Dynasty, there is also a description of the witchcraft of hanging five colour paper in the mountains to summon the spirits of the five sides. It is likely that the five colours also symbolize the spirits of the five sides to be protected.

Five colour silk is tied on the arm, or it is a tattoo custom. It used to be a popular festival custom to tie arms with five coloured silk threads. After spreading to later generations, it has developed into many kinds of beautiful ornaments, such as longevity wisps, longevity locks, sachets and so on. The production is becoming more and more exquisite, becoming a unique folk art of the Dragon Boat Festival.

Five colour silk thread

This note is just a brief introduction to the profound culture of the Dragon Boat Festival. I hope to have the opportunity to continue to share Chinese traditional culture with you next time.

Author: Wei Tianci

Wei Tianci is a graduate student of Beijing Dance Academy, majoring in Chinese folk dance. She also does Chinese classical dance of Han and Tang dynasty. Now, Wei is one of the artistic Teaching Assistants at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute for Dance and Performance. She hopes to be able to continue exchanging knowledge of the traditional culture of different places with international friends.


Six Schools of Zheng of Han People

Zheng or Guzheng is a traditional music instrument in China with over 2500 years of history. During the long time development of Zheng, there are 6 different schools of Han people established according to their regions and styles. So today, we’re going to talk about these brilliant 6 schools of Han Zheng.

Zhejiang School

Zhejiang School is mostly welcomed in Zhengjiang province, a southeastern province in China. Its music perfectly depicts the scenery of southeastern China and the lifestyle of people in this region: quiet, elegant and peaceful. The mostly known piece of this school is Gaoshan Liushui (High Mountains and Flowing Waters), through which we can get a glimpse of the beautiful sights of Zhejiang province.

Chaozhou School

Chaozhou school is popular in Chaozhou area, Guangdong province. The most spectacular features of this school are its notation system and tonalities. The notation system is referred to as Er’si Pu, marked by the Chinese character of numbers. And its tonalities are based on the notation system, giving the music various types of personalities full of changes.

Kejia School

According to different scholars with different taxonomy, we can also divine this school into Kejia school and Fujian school. Kejia people is a branch of Han people who in the past migrated from central China to the South. And Fujian is a province in southern China where many Kejia people live. Broadly speaking, these two schools share a common history, but when the people from middle China settled in different parts of southern China, their culture blended with different locals, so that the taste of these two schools are also a little bit different. But generally speaking, the musical styles of these two schools have preserved the presence of music of Han people in ancient middle China, so that we can still hear the voice of our ancestors from long time ago.

Shanxi School

Shanxi is a northeastern province of China, and this is highly probably the region where Zheng was born. The music here is quite distinguished from others, especially the ones with Kuyin scale (the scale of bitter). When you listen to the music in this scale, you can really hear the sound of sadness, cry and inner anger and bitterness of the people.

Henan School

Henan is a province in middle China, adjacent to Shanxi province. The Chinese traditional opera arts are highly developed here, so its music is largely influenced by that. In addition, the dialect here has also influenced its music largely, so the tunes of language people speak here are reflected in the musical pieces.

Shandong School

Shandong is a province located in Shandong peninsular, the music here embraces the temperament of nature, just like the Shandong people, honest and simple, warm and hearty. Shandong Zheng music owes its good reputation to a rich repertoire and varied performance techniques.

Author: Yuting Jiang

Yuting has been playing Zheng since the age of 7. Graduated from Xi’an Conservatory of Music in 2018, she now studies at Minzu University of China as a postgraduate, majoring in Historical Musicology with the focus on modern music of Western Countries. She also teaches Zheng in our short courses and participates in Goldsmiths Confucius Institute outreach activities.

Wen Ji Qi Wu (闻鸡起舞)

Wen Ji Qi Wu originally means to get up early and dance a sword. Later, it acquired the connotations of people wanting to serve their country rise up immediately. This idiom also comes from a historical story in China.

Zuti, a native of Fanyangqiu County in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (now Laishui, Hebei Province), was a man with a broad mind and great ambition. But when he was a child, he was a naughty boy who didn’t like reading. In his youth, he realized his lack of knowledge and felt that he could not serve his country without reading, so he began to study very hard. He read books extensively and studied history conscientiously, from which he drew rich knowledge and managed to make great progress. He had been in and out of Kyoto and Luoyang several times, and people who had contact with him said that Zuti was a bright talent who could help the emperor govern the country.

When Zuti was 24 years old, someone recommended him to be an official, but he didn’t agree. He still strived to study more and work hard. It was only later that Zuti and his childhood friend Liu Kun served as the governor of the state. He and Liu Kun shared deep feelings. They not only often lie in the same bed and slept together, they also shared the same lofty ideal: to make contributions, revive the state of Jin, and become the pillars of the country. Once, in the middle of the night, Zuti heard a rooster crow in his sleep. He kicked Liu Kun up and said to him, “do you hear the rooster crow?”. Liu Kun said, “it’s bad luck to hear the rooster crow in the middle of the night.” Zuti said, “I don’t think so. Why don’t we just get up and practice sword when we hear the rooster crow?” Liu Kun agreed. So every day after the rooster crowed, they got up to practice their swords.

The light of the sword is flying and the sound of the sword is sonorous. Spring comes and winter comes, cold comes and summer goes, it never stops. After a long period of hard study and training, they have finally become all-round talents. Zuti was appointed as the general of Zhenxi, realizing his desire to serve the country; Liu Kun became the general of Zhonglang in the northern expedition, and took charge of the military affairs of Bingzhou, Jizhou and Youzhou, giving full play to his literary talent and military strategy.

Through this story, we learn the worth of the struggle of living a down-to-earth life every day, doing a good job of every little thing in hand, avoiding procrastination and complaint, steering away from shirking and laziness. Every day, bit by bit, through strife and effort, leads you to where you want to go, takes you to complete your dream.

Author: He Zhong

He Zhong is a master of traditional sports in Beijing Sport University. She won the national second level athlete of Wushu and the national first level referee of Wushu routine. She loves martial arts, and hopes to carry it forward and share the love for the discipline with others, so that more people are introduced to, appreciate and practice martial arts.


The Origin and Custom of Qingming Festival

Clear and Bright (Qingming) is one of the 24 solar terms in China. Since the 24 solar terms objectively reflected various aspects of temperature, rainfall and phenology changes in the four seasons throughout the whole year. The laboring people in ancient times used them to guide the arrangement of farming activities. The solar term is closely related to farming activities. Qingming Festival, also known as Spring-outing Festival, March Festival, Ancestor Worship Festival, Tomb-sweeping Festival, Grave Sweeping Festival, Ghost festival, etc., together with the Zhongyuan Festival on the 15th of the seventh lunar month, and the Hanyi Festival on the 1st of October, are called three famous Ghost Festivals in China. Qingming Festival was listed in the first batch of national intangible cultural heritage items in 2006.

The origin of Qingming Festival

Qingming Festival originated from the rites for ancestor-worshipping in spring in ancient times, beginning in Zhou Dynasty with a history of more than 2000 years. At first, Clear and Bright (Qingming) was a very important solar term, later, as the time of Qingming Festival closing to Hanshi Festival, both gradually became one. The customs of Qingming Festival include tomb sweeping and offering sacrifices to ancestors, fire prohibition, eating cold food, spring-outing, tree-planting, kite-flying, willow-planting, chicken-fighting, willow-shooting, playing Cuju (a game of kicking a ball in ancient times), Silkworm Temple Fair, etc. Among them, tomb sweeping, fire prohibition and eating cold food were originally the customs of Hanshi Festival. Hanshi Festival originated mainly as a way to commemorate Jie Zitui, a Han aristocrat who served the Jin prince Chong’er during the Spring and Autumn Period in Chinese history. Because Hanshi Festival and Qingming Festival are integrated into one, so are the customs of the two festivals.

The period of Qingming Festival

Among the 24 solar terms, Clear and Bright (Qingming) is the only one that is a solar term and a festival at the same time. Qingming Festival falls around April 5 of the Gregorian calendar, which is also a good time for people to have a spring outing in bright spring days with green trees.

Qingming Festival Custom: Sweep the tombs

The customs in Qingming Festival refer to the custom of worshiping ancestors around that day. The custom of worshiping ancestors and mourning dead relatives continues to be prevalent in Chinese culture. Tomb sweeping, commonly known as going to the grave, is an activity of offering sacrifices to the dead. Most of the Han people and some ethnic minorities sweep tombs on Tomb Sweeping Day. According to the old customs, when sweeping tombs, people should bring wine, fruits, paper money and other items to the cemetery, offering food to their relatives’ graves, burning paper money, cultivating new soil for the graves, folding a few green branches to insert them on the graves, and then kowtowing to worship. These customs are still popular today as a way to commemorate our ancestors, carefully attend to the funeral rites of parents and follow them when gone with due sacrifices; to cherish our martyrs, look forward to the days to come, and create a happy future together.

Qingming Festival Custom: Spring-outing

Spring-outing is also called touring in spring, also called exploring spring, looking for spring in ancient times. According to the solar calendar, Qingming Festival comes between April 4 and 6 every year. It’s a festival with beautiful flowers and green trees, full of lively energy and vitality. After a dull winter, people are in urgent need of mental adjustment. It is the best time for people to wander in a clear, bright, sunny day with gentle breeze. The habit of spring-outing on Qingming Festival has kept for a long time in our country.

Qingming Festival Customs: Making Sachets

At the time of the Qingming Festival, spring will have returned in most parts of China. The sky is clear and bright with everything reviving, temperature rising slowly, which is likely to make people restless. The ancients used to pack aromatic herbs and spices in delicate sachets during the Qingming Festival. The elegant and mild fragrance with cool feeling can calm people down, relieve and soothe the fidgetiness at the end of spring.


Author: Maggie Wang

Mengjuan Wang graduated from Beijing Dance Academy with a Master’s degree specializing in the basic theory of dance. Her research focused on the Long Sleeve Dance of the Han Dynasty depictions. She previously volunteered as a teacher in Xinjiang Province, China, and she is now one of the dance and performance artistic Teaching Assistants at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute. She hopes more and more people can understand and appreciate China’s cultural and artistic heritage.




Styles of Erhu Tunes

Erhu, or erh-hu, is one of the most prevalent instruments in Chinese folk music. The prototype of erhu was a bowed, stringed accompaniment along with other traditional Chinese stringed and woodwind instruments as well as percussion and wind instruments in Jiangnan China over the Qing Dynasty and the early years of the Chinese Republic. Liu Tianhua (1895-1932) upgraded erhu into a solo instrument. The design of erhu was finalised after the founding of the PRC, as it was produced in state-owned instrument manufacturers in the context of the planned economy. According to Liu Tianhua, huqin was another name of erhu in the Republic of China (1912-1949). Nanhu was also used for calling erhu before the Liberalisation in 1949. Therefore, the concept of erhu in general research is circumscribed within erhu as a sole instrument in modern Chinese history.

The regional and ethnic variations in China breed the diversity of artistic styles. The regional music style plays an essential role in the development of erhu performance over the past hundred years. The style originates from life but is higher than life; it has simple folk customs and is closely related to regional culture and local customs. China has a vast territory and many nationalities. Each place has its own dialect, folk song and local opera. Due to the differences in climate, soil and other natural conditions, as well as diet, habits, local customs and other factors, a robust musical style comes into being. The characteristics of erhu style are mainly reflected in the music works infused by different regional styles and artistic forms. The musical style is a comprehensive concept, encompassing rhythm, tone, timbre, dynamics and structure.

Therefore, understanding the regional culture and musical connotation in significant source areas of erhu tunes is key to appreciate erhu.

Erhu tunes in Jiangnan Style

Jiangnan Sizhu has a long history of development, and has absorbed and carried the rich influence of many operas, folk arts and music genres in the south of the Yangtze River during its development, so that Jiangnan Sizhu has become a folk music genre within Jiangnan cultural heritage and high performance level. It has become the closest relative of erhu and the carrier that directly supplies erhu nutrition. Jiangnan music requires the erhu to play a sweet and soft timbre, and the inherent timbre of the erhu instrument itself is the material basis for the timbre needed to play Jiangnan music. On this basis, through the unique performance techniques of various Jiangnan music from left and right hands, it can make Jiangnan Erhu music full of strong Jiangnan music flavor.

Erhu tunes in Northern Shaanxi Style

Because northern Shaanxi is located on a plateau with a large area and sparsely populated areas, communication is inconvenient, so people often communicate with each other in the way of “screaming” without the slightest ambiguity and softness. The music melody in northern Shaanxi has a lot of fluctuations and often uses four-degree jumps into the interval. The musical personality is impulsive and straightforward, which also makes the music of northern Shaanxi feel free and easy and crude. The music bred on this land has inherited the unrestrained, simple and unrestrained characteristics of the Loess Plateau, which makes the Erhu in northern Shaanxi possess the same style and characteristics.

Erhu tunes in Xinjiang Uyghur style

Turpan Uyghur folk songs adopt three major music systems of East Asia, West Asia and Europe, and the content is very rich, among which music and dance are particularly prominent.  Its melody has three main characteristics: First, the rhythm is diverse.The second is that most of them have non-square structure, the melody is stretchable, the phrases are more irregular, and the lengths are different.  The third is rich in modes, frequent alternation, mostly seven-tone scales.  Comprehensive analysis shows that the artistic form of Turpan Uyghur folk songs fully embodies the Uyghur nationality, cultural traditions and national spirit; it reflects the history, social life and spiritual outlook of the nation, and is a concentrated expression of the cultural exchanges between the East and the West.

Erhu tunes in Inner Mongolia style

Inner Mongolia has lived in the vast grassland for a long time, and the free nomadic life has made Grassland Music its own unique music style. The rhythm is free and the melody is comfortable. Erhu music in Inner Mongolia is often borrowed from local musical instruments. Matouqin’s tone and technique use minor thirds vibrato, big slide, as well as horseshoe-like music rhythms and erhu bow throwing techniques to express this rhythm, and the swaying music melody and playing techniques on the horse’s back to express the unique charm of music.

Through the understanding of different music styles, the player can process the music more accurately when learning the music, and it can also enable the player to use the performance techniques more flexibly and accurately, and more appropriately express the music styles of different regional styles.

Li Wen graduated from Sichuan Conservatory of Music, Chengdu, Sichuan, China. (Sep. 2016 – June 2020)- Master of Arts in Chinese Instrument (Erhu).

In 2019, the performer Li Wen served as a teacher assistant of Goldsmiths Confucius Institute for Dance and Performance, University of London for one year. During her stay in the UK, she has done a lot of instrumental music teaching and performance activities. She is currently conducting online Erhu teaching courses at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute for Dance and Performance, University of London and takes part in our outreach activities.


Tibetan Dance

Tibetan dance, or Tibetan ethnic dance has a long history closely connected with Han dance culture. It interacts with the dance culture of neighbouring ethnic groups and countries, forming a unique Tibetan dance culture in the Tibet Plateau of China. There are many kinds of Tibetan folk dances with their own characteristics, of which the most popular ones are Xie, Zhuo, Guozhuang, Guo Xie, Guo Zhuo, Xianzi, and Dui Xie. are the most famous circle dances.

Tibetan dance, on the whole, can be divided into national folk entertainment dance and religious dance. Both kinds of dance have their own rich cultural connotations, beautiful and natural dancing posture and unique dance styles and form. Among them, Qiangmu belongs to the most important sacrificial dance in the category of religious dance. The emergence and spread of the temple dance Qiangmu is closely related to the birth and development of Tibetan Buddhism. At the same time, due to the existence of different sects in Tibetan Buddhism, Qiangmu, also commonly known as Tiaoshen dance, can have different characteristics and varieties of dance forms, use of props, and costumes of performers.

Tibetan folk entertainment songs and dances also enjoy an amazing variety. Xie, a collective circle dance, is mainly composed of singing and dancing and accompanied by a string instrument.

Zhuo is a dynamic group dance involving repeated musical dialogues between dancers and relying on song, dance and lyrics. During a Zhuo performance we can often see different kinds of drums used as a dance prop.

Originating from the ancient Tibetans’ entertainment of singing and dancing around bonfires or indoor pots is Guozhuang, a mixed-tempo style in which dance movements include the simulation of animal postures, mutual verbal or non-verbal expressions of love and other elements. The style and characteristics of Guozhuang are distinctive in form, style and jumping method thanks to the influence of different regions and cultures in agricultural and pastoral areas.

Another dance style popular in the vast rural areas of the Tibet is Guoxie, sometimes referred to as “Tibetan rural song and dance”. During festivals, people sing and dance all night long. Men and women sing together in turns, praising the scenery of their hometown and pouring out their love; people dance hand in hand using strong, energetic, steady steps to a distinct rhythm. As the speed of dance gradually accelerates, all the dancers use the full soles of their feet to jump and stump the ground, making the atmosphere more and more inviting, lively and spirited through the collective song and dance.

Of course, there are many more Tibetan folk dances to introduce. If you find it interesting, I will be happy to share more details of the traditional Tibetan and Chinese folk dance with you next time.


Author: Wei Tianci

Wei Tianci is a graduate student of Beijing Dance Academy, majoring in Chinese folk dance. She also does Chinese classical dance of Han and Tang dynasty. Now, Wei is one of the artistic Teaching Assistants at Goldsmiths Confucius Institute for Dance and Performance. She hopes to be able to continue exchanging knowledge of the traditional culture of different places with international friends.


Qin – an instrument with a history

Qin or Gu Qin is a very traditional music instrument in China with nearly 3000 year-long history. In China, when we talk about Qin, we naturally connect it with the ancient Literati class – the prestigious intellectual group of scholar-officials. To some extent, Qin is the representative of this class and it also endows this beautiful instrument with some insightful meanings.

At the beginning, Qin had only 5 strings, which corresponded to the 5 elements in Chinese culture: Gold(Jin), Wood(Mu), Water(Shui), Fire(Huo) and Earth(Tu). Later, during the Zhou Dynasty, the Emperor Wen( Zhou Wenwang) and then Emperor Wu (Zhou Wuwang) added two stings to the 5-stringed Qin. Since then, the Qin has 7 strings until today.

When we look at the body of Qin we find an arch-shaped upper side under the strings and a flat baseplate. This is a reflection of Chinese Tianyuan Difang philosophy, literally meaning that the sky is round and the earth is square. Therefore, the upper side of the Qin represents the round sky, and the flat square baseplate references the earth.

Some of you may be familiar with a famous Chinese music piece called Gaoshan Liushui, High Mountain and Flowing Water in English. Behind this beautiful piece there’s a touching story about friendship.

Back in the Spring and Autumn period (770-476 B.C.), there was a brilliant Qin playing master named Boya Yu. One day he was playing in a wild field. A woodman called Ziqi Zhong happened to be passing by, and when he heard the music, he felt moved and immediately said: ‘magnificent like great mountains, mighty like flowing rivers!’. Boya was surprised by how much this man understood him and soon after that they became very close friends. That’s how the piece Gaoshan Liushui was created. After Ziqi passed away, Boya believed no one could ever understand him as well, so he destroyed his Qin and never played again.

Of course, they are so many other wonderful pieces and stories about Qin. If you are interested, we can write about them next time.

Author: Yuting Jiang

Yuting has been playing Zheng since the age of 7. Graduated from Xi’an Conservatory of Music in 2018, she now studies at Minzu University of China as a postgraduate, majoring in Historical Musicology with the focus on modern music of Western Countries. She also teaches Zheng in our short courses and participates in Goldsmiths Confucius Institute outreach activities.

The Relationship Between Wushu And Chinese Traditional Culture

Chinese traditional culture is broad and profound, and martial arts inherited from traditional culture not only has the traditional Chinese medicine’s way of maintaining health, but also has the influence of Taoism and Confucianism. The theory of five elements is a kind of material view with unity of opposites and development as the core in Taiji philosophy. The five elements give birth to the relationship of mutual generation and mutual restraint in the movement and change of Yin and Yang of all things in the universe, while traditional Chinese medicine and Qigong have the same origin. The ancients called Jing, Qi and Shen the “three treasures” of human beings.

There was a saying in ancient times that “the essence, Qi and spirit are the basis of human life”. Traditional Chinese medicine uses the theory of viscera and meridians to reflect the phenomenon of life – disease and injury. Qigong uses the theory of meridians and essence, Qi and spirit to discuss the function of life health preservation. Qigong is a technique to transform essence, Qi and spirit into each other. Traditional Chinese medicine holds that “kidney stores essence, lung stores Qi, heart stores spirit, liver stores blood, and spleen controls transportation and transformation”. Traditional Chinese medicine’s “theory of essence, Qi and spirit” adopts the coordinated way of action, idea, and breath to consolidate essence, Nourish Qi, and regulate spirit, so as to achieve the goal of double cultivation of life. The original meaning of Tao is road, which can be extended to law or formula. China is a farming society. It has been living in one place for a long time, thus forming a completely different cultural feature of “family”, opposite to the “individual” in western society.

It has become a feature of Chinese people that “what our ancestors left behind can not be easily discarded, but should be handed down from generation to generation.” The reason why the ancient martial arts practitioners summarized and refined some regular things in the actual combat, and arranged them according to certain principles, thus forming a simple routine is actually a kind of program, and also a concrete embodiment of the pursuit of “Tao” in Chinese traditional culture. In ancient times, all schools had strict requirements and rules for practicing martial arts and teaching morality. Shaolin Temple had “Ten Commandments in vain”, much like Wudang, which stipulated that all those who committed adultery, theft, evil, prostitution and gambling were in violation of the commandments and were not allowed to teach their skills. Under the influence of traditional moral concepts, these strict martial rules and precepts combine attack and defense techniques with life cultivation, and gradually form the idea of advocating martial arts and morality, which is the folk characteristic and fine tradition of Chinese martial arts. The essence of practicing martial arts is to cultivate the moral sentiment of traditional martial arts ethics, respecting the teacher and respecting the way, being polite and trustworthy, valuing justice over benefit, being lenient with others and being strict with oneself. According to the theory of Chinese Wushu, human body, mind and morality are inseparable.

Mental cultivation and cultivation of martial ethics are extremely important contents of Chinese martial arts. In different historical periods, martial spirit had not only affected the development of martial arts practice, but also played an immeasurable role in promoting and shaping the spirit of the Chinese nation. Wushu, as a cultural phenomenon, has both progressiveness and limitations. The individuals and groups who practice Wushu in China have fully accepted the Confucian ideas of “benevolent people are benevolent” and “seeking benevolence and getting benevolence is nothing to complain about”. And these thoughts are closely related to the carrier of Wushu culture.

As a result, the development process of martial arts is more embodied in “dogmatic, conservative, and archaic” elements, which occupy the main position. This kind of ancient Confucianism just restricts the development of martial arts in thousands of years. In a word, the martial virtues advocated by Chinese martial arts are closely related to the idea of “benevolence” as the foundation and valuing justice over benefit in Confucian culture. In other words, the ideological essence of Confucian culture is systematically and completely passed on to the people in the Wulin, so that Chinese martial arts and Confucian culture also complement each other and remain in perfect harmony.

He Zhong is a master of traditional sports in Beijing Sport University. She won the national second level athlete of Wushu and the national first level referee of Wushu routine. She loves martial arts, and hopes to carry it forward and share the love for the discipline with others, so that more people are introduced to, appreciate and practice martial arts.


Lantern Festival

The Chinese Lantern Festival is coming soon. What do you know about this festival?

According to the traditional Chinese lunar calendar, Chinese Spring Festival(Chinese New Year), begins with the New Moon and ends on the Full Moon, which is from the first to the 15th day of the first lunar month in a new year. The last day (the 15th day of the first lunar month) of the New Year is known as the Lantern Festival. In that way, the Lantern Festival is a‘festival within a festival’ and it is considered the ending point of the Spring Festival.

According to the historical records, the festival began to prevail during the Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. – 24 A .D.) and flourished during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 A .D.) and Song Dynasty (960 – 1279 A .D.). Its present name is in fact derived from the Tang Dynasty custom of hanging out lanterns on the night of the festival. Lantern can break darkness, illuminate the land as well as bring brightness and hope to people. Therefore the Lantern Festival has been observed and celebrated by people all over the country for more than 1,000 years.

What are the customs of the Lantern Festival? Let’s take a look together.

  • Enjoy Beautiful Lanterns

At the night of the festival, temples and parks are decorated with colourful lanterns made of paper, gauze and glass, painted with legendary figures, landscapes as well as the flowers and birds. After dinner, Chinese people like to walk around parks to enjoy the beautiful lanterns.

  • Guess Lantern Riddles

Guessing lantern riddles is a typical activity during the Lantern Festival that has been practiced since ancient times. Firstly, Chinese people hang colourful lanterns and fire firecrackers to celebrate the lantern festival, then they write riddles on papers and stick them on the lanterns for people to guess. Lantern riddles add to the festive atmosphere, showing the wisdom of the ancient working people and their yearning for a better life. Every year plenty of people take part in the lantern riddles guessing, which has gradually become an indispensable element of the Lantern Festival.

  • Play Lion Dance

During the Lantern Festival or assembly celebrations, people use lion dances to cheer. This custom has a history of more than a thousand years. It is usually completed by three people, two dressed up as lions, one as a lion head, one as a lion body, and the third one as a lion guide. The dance incorporates elements of Chinese civil and martial art. Civil arts express the taming of the lion, such as shaking hair and rolling, and the martial arts express the fierceness of the lion, including prancing, kicking, and rolling.

  • Play Dragon Dance

Since ancient times, China has been relying on agriculture. Good weather and rain are very important for producing harvest and life, and the ancient Chinese believed that the dragon had the function of calling the wind and rain, eliminating disasters and epidemics. Therefore, ancient Chinese people tried their best to get the protection of the dragon, thus forming the custom of dragon dancing during sacrifice or the Lantern Festival. When performing, these dragons circulated and exulted, and their movements were very complicated. During the Lantern Festival, there are more than a hundred “dragons” in some places, and the length of the team can even exceed 1 km. Each dragon team is accompanied by ten gongs and drums of spectacular size and sound.

  • Walk on stilts

Stilt walking is a popular folk performance of group skills. It is said that the ancient Chinese tied two long sticks to their legs in order to gather wild fruits from trees for food, which gradually developed into a kind of stilt walking activity. Stilt performers, walking on stilts, can perform such movements as sword dance, splitting, jumping stool, crossing the table, and yangge dance. Depending on their character, they have difference costumes and heights. Their lively performance includes singing, laughing and having fun, walking on the ground. The performers’ funny looks always attracts great interest among the audience.

  • Eat Yuanxiao (sweet round dumplings)

The trademark food of the Lantern Festival is called 元宵(yuán xiāo). It’s also known as 汤圆 (tāng yuán) in the South, and it’s one of the many tasty Chinese New Year desserts. On the Lantern Festival, every household eats Yuan Xiao. That’s why the Lantern Festival is also called Yuanxiao Festival.

Yuanxiao are filled with sugar, roses, sesame, red bean paste, cinnamon, walnuts, nuts, jujube puree, etc. They are wrapped in rice flour into a round shape. They can be cooked in soup, deep-fried, and steamed, but are usually boiled and served in hot water.

They represent family reunions because 汤圆 (tāng yuán) sounds similar to “reunion” (团圆 / tuán yuán). Some businessmen also call this dessert 元宝 (yuán bǎo), meaning gold or silver ingots.

Despite being a night of fun and celebration, the Lantern Festival is also a night for families. Before Chinese New Year holiday ends, the family should reunite again. Take a break from the celebrations and relax with your family. Reconnect under the moon. Enjoy firework shows and performances while eating a bowl of yuan xiao.

This is China’s Lantern Festival! I hope you like it.

Jingwei Dong received her bachelor’s degree in Clinical Medicine from Lanzhou University and her master’s degree in Teaching Chinese to Speakers of Other Languages from Beijing Language and Culture University. She has obtained the certificate of an international Chinese language teacher and she loves teaching. She is good at traditional Chinese painting and loves paper-cutting, calligraphy, dancing and other traditional Chinese arts. She hopes to communicate more with people from other countries and share cultural knowledge and experiences.