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Long Narrative Folk Songs of Xianning
http://English.xianning.gov.cn 11-01-21
 

  Reported by Liu Yuguan and Wei Fangming (www.xnnews.com.cn

  The long narrative folk songs have been “sung” for hundreds of years.

  On January 6, it was extraordinarily lively in the ancestral hall of the the Zhang’s, Qutan Village, Tongyang Town, Tongshan County.

  Outside the ancestral hall, the wind was bone-chilling and the drizzle was drifting. Inside the ancestral hall, people lit fire and gathered around. After a while, the drums were beaten, and melodious singing came out of the hall, spreading throughout the village along with cold wind, and even wafted to places beyond the mountain. Soon, more and more people gathered in the hall. Some sang antiphonally and passionately, some singing actively one after one, and some joining the chorus. They could sing for a whole morning.

  What they sang is the Xianning long narrative folk song. In the hall, the reporter noticed that a middle-aged man was particularly active. Sometimes, he sang loudly and passionately and sometimes, he beat the drum along with the music, arousing others’ interest to sing. He, Zhang Shanyu, is the organizer of the Recreation Center for Senior Citizens in Qutan Village, and also the traditional successor of the Xianning Long Narrative Folk Songs. Zhang Shanyu said, most of the senior people in the village can sing folk songs. No matter when they are busy planting in Spring or harvesting in Autumn, when they rest in slack seasons or people gather together to celebrate, they like to sing folk songs to relieve the fatigue, to recreate, to celebrate or to share the singing, etc.

  It is learnt that Xianning people have been fond of singing folk songs since ancient times. Folk songs in Tongshan County and Xian’an District described: “Singing in the day is like having tea and meals; singing in the evening is like entering into the warm bed; singing late at night is like having you wife by your side.” It shows that singing has been an indispensable part of their life. Special historical background and cultural conditions contribute to the formation and development of Xianning long narrative folk songs and they are also influenced profoundly by other local forms of folk literature and art. Dating back to the years when the Xianning long narrative folk songs came into being, it has at least hundreds of years’ history. The earliest extant written recorded material is Small Cherry, written in the 53rd year of Emperor Qianlong’s reign (1711-1799AD) of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912AD), namely in 1788. Then large amounts of long songs sprang up like mushrooms. Folk songs were characterized by expressing emotions, but narration is gradually integrated as folk songs are influenced by local folk dramas. The early work Begonia still remains the art feature of focusing on expressing emotion with simple narration. In many subsequent works, on one hand, they still remain the lyrical characteristics, and on the other hand, the narrative plot gradually becomes complete. There is an old saying among people in Xianning that “What sings on stage is what happens in people’s life”, which shows that the dramas on stage just reflect the reality. So the “Xianning long narrative folk songs” are rightly formed and passed to meet the people’s strong desire and the demands of life and production, and they have become a unique folk songs phenomenon in Xianning areas.

  The long narrative folk songs are based on real people and stories

  “I want two hundred grams of the floating clouds in the sky, one kilogram of the toad’s eyebrows and one pair of the Yellow Dragon’s horns. Lightening send me strings to bind my hair. I also want several drops of the dew and several spindle tree ferns in the moon.” Inside the ancestral hall, just after someone finished the singing, Zhang Shanyu immediately beat the drum along with the rhyme and sang joyfully: I would tear several meters of the cloud in the sky to send it to my beloved girl to make clothes; I would grab a bundle of the toad’s eyebrows to send it to my beloved girl to make dresses; I would cut the Yellow Dragon’s horns to send them to my beloved girl to sit on; I would grab large rolls of Lightenings to send it to my beloved girl to tie her hair; I would collect one basket of dewdrops to send it to my beloved girl to moisten her eyes; I would cut several spindle tree ferns to send them to my beloved girl to make fire to warm herself.” Others told the reporter that the antiphonal singing is a small part of Sister Lu Ying, in which the heroine tested her pursuer. What bold imagination! What a beautiful artistic conception! It was really a splendid opera. They sang the folk songs to tell stories and to show the quaint charm of the Xianning long narrative folk songs. Both singers and listeners were enjoying the singing.

  It is learnt that Xianning long narrative folk songs are mainly based on true stories of the local people, but some are adapted from cultural stories that were widespread among them. Most of the folk songs choose love stories as their theme, and they usually end up with tragedies, like famous works, Twin Lotuses, Begonia, Small Cherry, and Sister Lu Ying and so on. Sister Lu Ying is the lyrics of the Zaitian drum, which is widely spread in the area of Tingsiqiao. The story’s archetype is based on the tragic love story of Miss Luo Ying, a daughter of a local rich family. Considering that her family may not agree, the name Sister Luo Ying was changed to Sister Lu Ying. In addition to talking about love, there are also works that glorify a hero, stress ethics, morality and moralization in Xianning long narrative folk songs, such as the Zhong Jiu Robs of Rice, which is originated from a local peasant uprising, Mu Lian Looks for Her Mother, which reflects ethics and morality and The History of Three Kingdoms, which spreads historical knowledge and so on.

  Wan Lihuang, the vice-president of Federation of Literary and Art Circles of Xianning City, has been engaged in the research of folk culture of Xianning for over 30 years. The first volume of the book Xianning Long Narrative Folk Songs, managed and edited by him in 2009, was officially published by Changjiang Press. Wan Lihuang said that the length of the Xianning long narrative folk songs reaches thousands of lines at its longest and hundreds of lines at its shortest. Sometimes, it takes several days to sing a whole song. The lyrics are also poetic. The sentence patterns can be divided into three-sentence, four-sentence, five-sentence, six-sentence, quasi-six-sentence patterns and so on. And the five-sentence pattern is the commonest. There is special appeal because they are sung in local dialect with popular local tunes.

  Long narrative folk songs are sung in every corner of Xianning.

  At noon, the children in Qutan Village came back from school. They heard the singing in the ancestral hall and they gathered and squatted around the fire. Leisurely listening to the adults’ singing, they all wanted to learn. After a while, a group of children gathered around the fire at Zhang Shanyu’s kitchen. Zhang Shanyu sang one sentence, and the children just followed. Repeatedly like this, some kids were out of tunes which made women onlookers burst into laughter. Seeing the children’s red faces, Zhang Shanyu remembered what he was like when he learned singing from the elders.

  From mouth to mouth, Xianning long narrative folk songs have passed down for hundreds of years in this way. Walking out of the Qutan Village, on the street of Tongyang County, the reporter was conquered by another lively scene: on the street there was a house, crowded by singing people with an old man playing the Erhu to accompany them. It was said that the house which seemed to be ordinary, was very famous in the surrounded areas. This was a non-government hall that organized by the people, and was called “Song-competition Hall”. The old man who played the Erhu was the organizer, Xu Zhongzheng. Although he was a retired doctor, he was fond of music all his lifetime. He had a group of singer friends, who knew much about Tongshan folk songs. Xu Zhongzheng told the reporter that the “singers” from the surrounded areas gathered here when they are free, learning singing techniques from each other, making friends or becoming an apprentice of a master and so on.

  Wan Lihuang said, in a specific labor occasion, with the labor drum and basin drum and other struck music instruments, it usually didn’t need other instruments to accompany. In leisure occasion, the singing mainly went with no accompaniment, sometimes with the accompaniment of Erhu and bamboo flute.

  The ancestral hall in Qutan Village and the “Song-competition Hall” in Tongyang County, both of them are bases where they spread Xianning long narrative folk songs in Tongshan. In fact, in Xian’an District, Chibi City, Jiayu County, Chongyang County, Tongcheng County and the nearby areas like Yangxin County, people spread and sing Xianning long narrative folk songs.

  Sun Guoxi, now 72 years old, lives in Jiulong Village, Gaotieling Town, Jiayu County. He starts to learn folk songs when he was 13. Till now, he can sing more than 20 long narrative folk songs, including The History of Three Kingdoms and Miss Wang and the Black Gold. The people in Chibi City and Jiayu County attracted by his fame often invite him to sing and respect him as a “master in singing”, or a “scholar in singing”. It is said that the longest time he sings in his life lasts for 3 overnights and he just finished several pieces.

  Senior Citizens love Singing the long narrative folk songs

  People sing in the ancestral hall, by the pond, on the ridge and so on. Most of the people are voluntary to spread Xianning long narrative folk songs. They are not passed down from family to family or from teachers to students, but by collective inheritance. That way of inheritance still moves on among the local people, such as the non-government associations “Labor Drum Association”, “Folk Songs Association”, “Folk Songs Hall”.

  According to Wan Lihuang’s introduction, in addition to Twin Lotuses and Zhong Jiu Robs of Rice, the earliest hand-written copies which are extant are Begonia, Peony, and Sweet Osmanthus, found in 1955 in Tongshan. Till now, it is roughly estimated that there are more than 300 hand-written copies found in every county, city and district in the city. Xianning long narrative folk songs are sung in dialect with local popular folk song tunes, so some plots, sentence patterns and arias may be changed in the passing process of singing and hand-copying. For example, both in Xian’an District and Tongshan County, there is the folk song Sister Lu Ying, and both in Xian’an District and Chongyang County, there is the folk song Play Love. They share the same names, have similar plots but their endings are totally different. The former are tragedies while the latter have happy endings.

  It is said that Xianning long narrative folk songs are mainly originated from the true stories happened in the local place, recording the social and political condition and local customs and practices at certain time and certain place. The contents have strong historical authenticity and credibility and they provide typical materials that have historical value for people to study the historical and culture life of the end of the Chinese feudal society.

  Xianning long narrative folk songs have a wide range of civic base, inheritors with proficient skills of singing, and scholars that dig and study folk cultures and so on. After a busy day’s interviewing, the reporter noticed that, compared with other folk cultural heritage projects, Xianning long narrative folk songs have a wider range of civic base and more inheritors. However, the problem that it’s difficult to inherit folk culture is also the problem that Xianning long narrative folk songs face. In the process, the reporter noticed that it was the senior people who sang the tale madrigals, while the young people were keen on popular music and were not interested in the traditional folk songs at all. How to inherit and spread the folk culture is the problem we have to face.


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