Nanyin Music (Southern Music) is one of the oldest existing music genres in China, which has existed for 1,000 years. It is also known as "string and pipe music" or "Quanzhou Nanyin Music" (Quanzhou is a developed historical city in Southeast China’s Fujian Province). Nanyin Music originated from royal palace music (the highest class of ancient Chinese noble music), and later established itself in South China when the court musicians migrated to the south. Beginning from the Western and Eastern Han Dynasties (from 207 BC), and especially during the Tang Dynasty (618–907), people in Central China (mainly the area around the present Henan Province) immigrated to the Minnan Area (South Fujian, where Quanzhou City is located) to escape the civil wars. They brought along their music culture, which later blended into the local folk music, and became a new music genre: Nanyin music.
Combining various music elements, including the local Kun Opera style of South Fujian, Nanyin music is a beautiful music genre that is soft and smooth in both lyrics and melodies. For this reason, it became a perfect way for those people who had travelled from far away from home to express their sad feelings of homesickness in ancient times. It was usually played in palaces, Buddhist temples and theaters. Nanyin Music songs are sung in the local dialect of South Fujian (the Minnan dialect), and the tunes retain lots of ancient words and melodies from Central China.
Nanyin Music Instruments
Nanyin Music was mainly performed using the dongxiao (vertical bamboo flute), also known as "end blown flute", which is usually 60 cm (2 ft) long and has ten holes and nine sections. The tone is quite deep and rich. Besides the vertical bamboo flute, there are other instruments that are sometimes used, like the nanpa (southern pipa, a bent-necked lute), the erxian (a two-stringed vertical instrument), the sanxian (a three-stringed plucked instrument) and the paiban (clappers).
Nanyin Music captures the essence of music from the flourishing Tang period, and is a grand music genre that is well-preserved in richness and completeness. Nanyin music has been handed down through oral instruction and has spread from Quanzhou to other parts of Fujian and Taiwan, and even to Southeast Asia and Europe.