I’ve written a series of posts on the various ways of playing Chinese fiddles:
- WAM on the erhu, in full-blown romantic conservatoire style (the tip of the iceberg!)
- regional folk traditions
- beautifully restrained erhu playing in duet with the qin zither
- and my own recording of Bach on the erhu, with thoughts on 18th-century Beijing
And some related articles:
- the gulf between folk shawm playing and the conservatoire suona, and the related
- Dissolving boundaries and
- Blind shawm players of Yanggao
- further traditions of fiddle playing around the world
- the conservatoire recreation of the “suite plucking” of old Beijing
- conservatoire renditions of the ritual musics of Beijing temples and Xi’an
- a variety of singing styles: folk-song, spirit mediums, and punk
- the wise Yang Yinliu on the folk–conservatoire gulf, and
- vocabularies, educated and local.
Much of my work revolves around trying to understand the mindsets of rural Chinese dwellers, as in that last post. Now I come to think of it, that’s almost an incidental definition of ethnography. But it’s not entirely a contrast between urban and rural: the difference between traditional style in literati and folk genres (both part of a long imperial tradition, and closely related) seems slight, whereas the modern conservatoire ethos—romantic and Westernized—is quite remote from both.
The term yijing 意境 has a rather more arty literate feel than the trendy English “mindset”, more like “aesthetic”, and in talking to educated urban Chinese I use it quite often to illustrate the issue. But—ironically illustrating the issue further—I don’t quite know how rural Chinese people might express it, though they have plenty of terms to describe different ways of performing within their own style.