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Top 10 Chinese Classical Music – Part I

Jan 30, 2009


Chinese Classical Music

Chinese Classical Music

Honestly, Chinese classical music is not as good as western music. Its theoretical basis was too poor comparing to western music.  A famous Chinese philosopher Feng, You-Lan said: Anybody who knows both eastern and western music would prefer western music; however, anybody who knows both eastern and western philosophy would prefer eastern philosophy.  So, from this point of view, to know Chinese classical music is a very good way to understand Chinese philosophy, since Chinese music is influenced by the eastern philosophy and integrated into life style of Chinese culture.

Here I’d like to introduce the top 10 Chinese classical music. They have been passed through millenniums.  Some of them have historical  stories associated with them.  I will cover these stories and update the links in the future. Please stay tuned. For your convenience, I also include videos from youtube.

1. High Mountain & Running River ( 高山流水 )

There is a famous “friendship” story associated with this music (post later). <High Mountain & Running River> was originally one piece. Since Tang Dynasty, it was split into two separate pieces. Especially, the later one <Running River> has been developed more in recent centuries. With a more than 2000 years long history, its oldest opern preserved till now is one from 1425A.D., Ming Dynasty.   <Running Water> performed by Guan, Pinghu was included on the NASA “Voyager Golden Record” and launched into outer space on Aug. 22nd, 1977. Hope it will find “friendship” for human beings.

2. Guangling Melody ( 广陵散 )

This one also has a famous story about “dignity”. It’s also a more than 2000 years old music. It was a popular folk music in the Anhui area. It became very famous since the story happened.  In the video is a “Guzheng” version.  A “Guqin” version is here.

3. Wild Geese Landing on Sand Beach ( 平沙落雁 )

In this piece, the composer presented us a beautiful autumn natural scene like a ink-and-wash style painting. We see slowly flowing sands, white clouds, and gooses flying to the end of horizon.  It tells us to enjoy the harmony between nature and humanity.

4. Three Variations of Plum Blossoms ( 梅花三弄 )

Plum blossom is a symbol of value to ancient Chinese elite. It represents purity, nobility, and dignity. This piece is best music work about plum blossom. It dated from Jin Dynasty, composed by General HuanYin. Tang Shigu (Tang Dynasty) made a Guqin version, which had become popular since then. The video here is a flute version. A “Guqin” version is here.

5. Ambush from All Directions ( 十面埋伏 )

This is one of the most popular Pipa pieces. It describes a famous battle between Chu and Han at Gaixia in the end of Qin Dynasty. In that critical battle, Han army strategically used “ambush from all directions” and defeated Chu army completely.  That failure forced the leader of Chu committed suicide at Wu River (A story is associated.) And Han Dynasty then established.

This piece excellently presents the audience a vivid picture of the fierce fighting in the ancient battlefield with the magic of music,

== Continue==

Do you like these music? Get any ideas about eastern aesthetics? Another five pieces will be posted as Part II later.

Top 10 Chinese Classical Music – Part II

[Related Product on Amazon.com]
1. The Hugo Masters: An Anthology of Chinese Classical Music
2. Eleven Centuries of Traditional Music of China
3. The Legend of Guqin

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  1. Ying
    August 31st, 2009 at 01:49 | #1

    I strongly disagree with your accessment that Chinese classical music is ‘not as good’ as it’s western counterpart.

    That is a very arrogant accessment you made there, there is no good, better, or best amonst musics from different cultures IMO.

    You may prefer one to the other but to say one is ‘better’ than another is I dunno, compare apples to oranges.

    In my opinion, Chinese musics are composed with heart and soul, whilst most western classics are composed with the mind.

    In other words, Chinese music maybe less technical than it’s western counterpart in it’s virtuoso, yet often times it evokes a stronger emotional responce (at lest for me).

    Interestingly Russian composers ofter have stronger emotional melodies in their composition as compared to the more western europe pieces.

    Geographical co-incidence or cultural links?

  2. James
    September 24th, 2009 at 11:14 | #2

    I agree with Ying. I too feel that Chinese classical music evokes more feeling. Although I enjoy Western classical as well, it’s technicality and strong composition can be restrictive, whereas I feel much more freedom and soul within its Chinese counterpart.

  3. January 22nd, 2010 at 15:19 | #3

    Thanks for this great collection of classical Chinese Music!
    I play the traditional instrument Pipa.

    Check out my HQ-videos at:

  4. Shi Sura Nai
    February 11th, 2012 at 09:59 | #4

    “Honestly, Chinese classical music is not as good as western music. Its theoretical basis was too poor comparing to western music.”

    Unless you have a Phd in Musicology AND Ethnomusicology with preferably additional studies in Eastern philosophy such as Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism (even if you may be a Chinese native), I won’t take your blanket statement seriously.

    Keep in mind that if you are going to make comparative statement, you should at least be explicit in your explaination. What does “theoretical basis” implies?

  5. T. Roll
    June 19th, 2012 at 10:38 | #5

    I agree with you. Chinese classical music is not very good at all.

  6. T. Roll
    June 19th, 2012 at 10:42 | #6

    @Shi Sura Nai
    We don’t need all those degrees. A pair of ears is enough.

  7. T. Roll
    June 19th, 2012 at 11:00 | #7

    Actually, thank you for this blog and your explanations of Chinese culture. It’s refreshing that it’s not just filled with the usual sweeping generalizations like “China’s got 5,000 years of history” without any specifics. Actually, I appreciate the music but it’s not easy to imagine how it would sound if you actually lived in that era and hadn’t already been exposed to modern music.

  8. T. Roll
    June 19th, 2012 at 11:01 | #8

    “Interestingly Russian composers ofter have stronger emotional melodies in their composition as compared to the more western europe pieces.”

    Utter crap.

  9. Jim S
    July 1st, 2012 at 05:03 | #9

    I live in China and before I came here, I would always hear these types of recordings of traditional Chinese music and really could not understand its beauty. It is so different than what we are accustom to in the west, not to mention that this music is many, many years older than anything we have in the west. Now that I have been living in Suzhou, Jiangsu for the past two years, I have had the pleasure of hearing this type of traditional music played live by excellent musicians and I must say that the recordings never do this music justice at all. There is a reason why this music has survived for centuries and I could only hope that people can witness what I have heard live before passing judgements and biased opinions. As the reply by Ying states, comparing western and eastern music is just ridiculous, apples to oranges. And whoever made this site (Yi Liu?) should probably consider changing that awful opening statement.

  10. Jim S
    July 1st, 2012 at 05:16 | #10

    You have to experience this music live and in China by excellent musicians to understand its beauty. It’s not something you hear on the radio or download from Youtube and can make a good judgement. Seriously, I would have agreed with your biased statement before I left the west as well. Now I understand why this music has been around longer than most civilizations. I have a completely new perspective on it and can only hope some others from the west can be so lucky as to get the same opportunities to experience this music the way it is intended to be heard as I have had. @T. Roll

  11. Shi Sura Nai
    July 15th, 2012 at 10:14 | #11

    @T. Roll

    Degrees in the West do mean authority, especially if you are going to make comparative inane statements, in regards to and reflecting with Western music, culture, etc., which the author (Yi Liu?) did.

    You, like the author of his own postings, have little to offer in terms of explainations and elaborations as to why with such differences based upon your own limited, partial, biased and uneducated views. Hardly suprising… afterall. It’s called ignorance. Plain and simple. =]

  12. Rose
    September 17th, 2012 at 11:23 | #12

    I’m American, and I think that classical chinese music has much more feeling than that of western classical. Its beautiful.

  13. Gonda
    January 15th, 2013 at 06:35 | #13

    I too love traditional music, if it’s Chinese, Irish (I hear lot’s of similarities) South American, Indian, or whatever country it’s from. I also like a lot of modern music, too. I’m glad today we can enjoy all these beautiful music from all over the world and enrich ourselves and each other with it. Just as much as I love onion soup and chocolate pie. It depends on which need you have and what mood you’re in. So stop comparing and start enjoying!!

  14. Aaron Kfir
    May 28th, 2013 at 10:01 | #14

    Someone here said, “Honestly, Chinese classical music is not as good as western music.” To say that Chinese music isn’t very good is wrong. What ought to have been said is, “In my opinion Chinese music….” My father was a composer and I grew up with everything from Glenn Miller to Prokofiev and I, personally, find traditional Chinese music to be very beautiful. I suspect the egos are being strutted here.

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