Yunnan is noted for having the highest ethnic diversity in China: of the country’s 56 recognized ethnic populations, 25 are found in Yunnan. Some 38% of the province’s population are members of one or another ethnic minority, including the Yi, Bai, Hani, Dai, Zhuang, Miao, Lisu, Hui, Lahu, Wa, Naxi, Yao, Zang (Tibetans), Jinpo, Bulang, Pumi, Nu, A’chang, Jinuo, Mongols, De’ang, Man, Shui, Buyi, and Dulong. The mountains environment of the region which historically stop people travel in and out very often enable these minority communities keep their traditional culture different from each other, meanwhile the marriages between the ethnicities and localities bring the closeness to some extant in their music tradition.

Hani musical landscape


Hani musician Chen Xialing from Honghe county playing sanxian (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)

Hani women from Qidieshang village singing love song (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)

Local Hani people singing in the Samaba (撒玛坝) terraced fields (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)

Hani musician from Jinhe county singing marriage song (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)

Hani shaman from Bangzha village in Pu’er county singing to offer sacrifices to the ancestor of tree (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)

Naxi musical landscape

Ba Gua

Religious traditions like this are the sources of stimulation for contemporary composers, and the new piece ‘Ba gua’ was adapted by He Liping and Li Guoqun based on Naxi ritual music and fused with Taoist music sources from the Tang dynasty ‘Zi wei bagua wu’.

“Ba Gua” performed by the Youth Orchestra of Gucheng Youth Activity Center (Courtesy of Mu Cheng).

Naxi marriage lament

In the past, people in many places in China sang laments when their daughters married, and this still occurs in ethnic minority areas, such as among the Hani, Yi, or Naxi in Southwest China. Since daughters typically married out of the village, and since roads were formerly poor and so travel was difficult, the married daughter would only rarely be able to return to see her parents. As a result, the tunes of marriage songs were usually very sad. On fieldwork in Jinping in May 2018 with a Hani woman aged in her 50s, I was unable to make a recording of such a song, as the singer stopped several times as she couldn’t keep herself from crying.

Lijuan Qian 2019. ‘The Music of China’. On Music of the World. Class 12, 13, 14 and 15. Herndon, VA. Connect for Education, Inc. (https://c4elink.org/).

Naxi Marriage Song (Performed by He Yueyuan and other Naxi staff at the Creation Cultural Experience Centre, Lijiang city (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)

Naxi musician He Yuanyue from Lijiang singing a local tune (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)
Naxi musician from Lijiang playing hulusheng (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)

Yi musical landscape

Yi musician Yang Feng from Nanhua County is playing dasanxian (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)

Yi musician Wang Liliang from Azhahe town in Honghe county playing sixian (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)

Yi musicians from Chegu town in Honghe county performing drum dance (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)

Bulang musical landscape

‘Tune of the Horse Caravan’ (赶马调)

‘Tune of the Horse Caravan’ is from Yunnan province, the Southwest mountain area of China. Many ethnic minority groups live there, as well as the majority Han Chinese. In fact, there are many folk songs under the name of ‘Tune of the Horse Caravan’ with totally different melodies and lyrics. The example given here was sung in Han Chinese, by a Bulang women named Yang Ziju who is from Baoshan city. Yang doesn’t know whether this song is originally Han or Bulang or when it first emerged, but her mother taught her that it was sung by people who are going to travel (personal communication, 8 July 2018). Historically, the city and its region were economically underdeveloped, and man there often had to travel elsewhere to make a living.

Lyrics: (Say to you, older brother) October is coming, (ai yo, plum flowers are smiling, my older brother.) The swan is passing the road, your younger sister is worried (ai ai, my old brother). [Lyrics explained in Mandarin by Yang Ziju]

Lijuan Qian. 2019. ‘The Music of China’. On Music of the World. Class 12, 13, 14 and 15. Herndon, VA. Connect for Education, Inc. (https://c4elink.org/).

‘Tune of the Horse Caravan’, Bulang singer Yang Ziju (Photo and music: courtesy of Yang Ziju)

Pumi musical landscape

Pumi musician Li Haishu from Lanping county playing sixian
Pumi musicians performing Pumi traditional music in Europe

Pumi musician Li Haishu from Lanping playing Xifan tune with a leaf (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)

‘Xifan tune’ (西蕃调)

‘Xifan tune’ is a Pumi love song. ‘Xifan’ is a historical name for the Pumi people. This song was sung by a Pumi women Li Haishu in Pumi language.

Fun fact: Pumi language only exists in spoken form, and many younger Pumi no longer employ it since they study Mandarin Chinese in school. Learning folk songs helps them sustain their mother tongue and its associated culture.

Lyrics: ‘My distant lover, when will you come to see me? On the day you come to see me then, then I will come out to meet you. There are flowers when you come. There’s water when you leave. I love you and you love me. We keep our love in our hearts.’ [Lyrics translated from Pumi language to Mandarin by Li Haishu]

Lijuan Qian. 2019. ‘The Music of China’. On Music of the World. Class 12, 13, 14 and 15. Herndon, VA. Connect for Education, Inc. (https://c4elink.org/).

Pumi singer Li Haishu singing “Xifan tune” (Photo and music: courtesy of Li Haishu).

Theatrical performances

Performance at Yunnan Yingxiang Theatre (Courtesy of Lijuan Qian)