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Naxi Ancient Music, the Living Fossil of Chinese Music


The Naxi ethnic groups inhabit the foothills of the Himalayas in the northwestern and southwestern parts of Southwest China's Yunnan and Sichuan provinces respectively. Both the ancient Tea and Horse Caravan Road and the Silk Road ran their ways through the area, leaving behind a cultural mix of Han and Tibetan characteristics.


The heavenly atmosphere of the Naxi area fosters in its residents artistic qualities and a poetic mindset. Along with innate talents for poetry, calligraphy, and painting, the people of the region seem to be born with a gift for music. Naxi ancient music is a type of folk music unique to the Naxi people.




Naxi Ancient Music is believed to have its roots in Xi’an ancient music. However, Naxi Ancient Music, with its mixture of literary lyrics, poetic topics, and musical styles from the Tang and Song dynasties, as well as some Tibetan influences, has developed its unique style.


Interestingly, the music from Central China has been well preserved in Naxi Ancient Music as a result of the Naxi’s geographical isolation, while the music directly from Central China was lost, as the inland was transformed many times during China's changing history. As a result, Naxi Ancient Music boasts itself as a “living fossil of music.”





Naxi Ancient Music is composed of three styles: Baisha Fine Music, Dongjing Music and Huangjing Music, but Huangjing Music has been lost. Naxi Ancient Music has a special charm thanks to the integration of Taoist ritual music, Confucian ceremonial music and even the ci and qu music of the Tang, Song and Yuan Dynasties.


It can be performed in two ways - sitting or walking. Seated performances are a kind of chamber music that involves more than 20 musical instruments, including wind instruments, such as di zi, sheng(a kind of reed pipe wind instrument), and percussion instruments, such as sitting drum,war drum, single drum, big and small cymbals, big gongs, a slit drum, and so on.


Three Treasures


Naxi Ancient Music has been passed down through a set of rigorous rules. At least four unabridged orchestras exist in and around Lijiang, and these characteristic bands are famous for their “three treasures” or “three olds”.


Old Men- the music performers are mostly elderly musicians who are over 70 years old. Old Instrument- many are antiques dating back to more than 100 years, some of which can't be found anywhere else. Old Songs- all are antiquated classical music.


Generations of national musicians devote themselves to Naxi Ancient Music and make it a part of Naxi culture. Music can represent a nation’s spirit and offer a better way to know the people who play and enjoy it. Therefore taking the opportunity to hear Naxi Ancient Music is guaranteed to be an unforgettable life experience.

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