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Old-style Buddhist music thrives in modern times

By Xin Wen | | Updated: 2021-05-17 18:37
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Twice every day in Zhihua Temple, at 10 am and 3 pm, Hu Qingxue, the 27th-generation inheritor of Jing music - an art handed down through generations of Buddhist monks - strikes up the music with seven other players for a 15-minute performance for visitors from home and abroad.

Resounding and solemn, the music flows at it has for 577 years, mainly from wind and percussion instruments - the flute, cloud gong, sheng, drum and bili (or guanzi), a double-reed pipe. Sometimes, large and small cymbals provide an accent.

All musicians familiar with traditional temple music learned to sing according to the musical notation called gongche pu, a traditional Chinese system, before playing it with instruments.

The Zhihua Temple, 5 kilometers east of the Forbidden City in Beijing's Dongcheng district, was built in 1444 under the rule of Zhu Qizhen, also known as Emperor Zhengtong of the Ming Dynasty (1366-1644). It was a family temple of Wang Zhen, who was the emperor's favorite eunuch, as well as supervisor of the official Office of Rites.

In its golden age, the temple occupied an area of around 20,000 square meters, with five courtyards in its west, east and central sections.

These days, Hu Qingxue's free performances include mostly original songs, though many have been passed down from Ming Dynasty's aulic music, and a few pieces are adapted for the Qujiaying percussion instrument, which was named for its village of origin in Hebei province.

The musical ensemble is similar to that of the past for royal court assemblies and banquets. The bili - Hu's instrument - takes a leading role.

"Though our music has been inherited for half a century, we have the responsibility of introducing more younger listeners to this fine music and finding the right people to follow in our footsteps," he said. "What I hope to do is to organize a large folk ensemble with students from the Central Conservatory of Music performing different parts of the Zhihua Temple music with varying scope."

In his view, for example, the first half of the orchestral arrangement would be played with traditional tunes, with the latter part being more innovative Hu said.

"While based on the original content, the style of the music lends itself to many forms of presentation. In terms of orchestration, there should be more types of musical instruments and include more parts," he said. "It will offer a rich listening experience to the audience."

In 2006, the Jing music at the Zhihua Temple was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage.

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