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Cheng, Yu (2005) Xi'an old music in new China: "Living fossil" or "flowing river"? PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This is the first extended study of Xi'an guyue, a wind-and-percussion instrumental music native to Xi'an, northwest China. Xi'an guyue is one China's most acclaimed, oldest and most sophisticated musical traditions by virtue of its extensive old notations and wide range of performing forms including hymns, percussion pieces, processional pieces and "sitting music" suites. The tradition can be seen as constituting three distinct but overlapping strands; urban (which embraces both Buddhist and Daoist traditions); rural; and most recently a state-sponsored music conservatory representation of the tradition. Though the conservatory draws from the folk roots, it has departed from the traditional musical and socio-cultural contexts and its representation is typically modem. The thesis discusses a range of inter- and intra-musical questions set against the broader context of the contemporary Chinese theoretical debate as to whether cultural traditions should be regarded as either fixed and invariant (the "living fossil" position) or adaptive and changing in response to changes in wider social conditions and contexts (the "flowing river" position). The thesis also engages with Western scholarship regarding tradition and change. The first part of the thesis (chapters 2-4) explores the relationship of Xi'an Guyue to the prevailing historical, social, political and religious or ceremonial contexts and shows how this has affected the social significance and meaning of the tradition. The second part (chapters 5-6) examines the tradition's musical and tonal elements, traces and analyses the historical links between the genre's notation and earlier related Tang and Song and later Ming and Qing gongche systems; the inter-generational transmission of the tradition; and other aspects and musicological questions pertaining to the tradition's instruments, repertoires, musical structures and so forth. The study provides an ethnographic and contemporary historical study of the inter-subjective, socio-political, and musicological dimensions of Xi'an guyue. It shows the ways in which the existence, development and social meanings of the three main branches of the tradition are intimately bound up with their respective social cosmologies. As such, the thesis strongly supports the "flowing river" school of thought.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:11

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