There are dozens of styles of folk music in China. Along with the Han folk music, the ethnic folk music that tourists might hear and most like includes the Tibetan, Uighur, and Dong folk music. The Miao are famous for their singing.
Han Folk Music
About 92% of China's people are Han Chinese, and there are various regional styles of Han folk music. Han folk music is the music of common people who live in the country. The Han people have several languages and many dialects, and there are many regional styles of folk music also.
Until recently, Chinese people were mostly peasant farmers. You might hear folk music being played during weddings, funerals, or festivals such as the New Year Festival.
Though most young people opt for modern music at their wedding dinners, you may still hear the traditional suona (a wind instrument) played or the clanging of gongs. There are several regional styles.
In the North, ensembles of wind and percussion instruments, with musicians playing mouth organs (sheng), suonas, flutes (dizi), drums and gongs are popular. Around Xi'an in northern Central China, the Xi'an drum music consists of sheng or dizi playing and drumming.
In the richer eastern coastal provinces such as Shandong, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu, the favorite instruments for folk musicians are stringed instruments, such as the gu zheng, erhu, and gao hu. Musicians like to perform in groups or solo.
In Fujian Province, the folk music tradition has a genre of traditional ballads called Nanyin or Nanguan. These songs are sung by a woman accompanied by a xiao or a pipa and other traditional instruments. The music is generally melancholy in tone.
In Guangdong Province and Guangxi Province, the large Cantonese-speaking population has a distinctive culture and folk music tradition, as do the Hakka-speaking people. Hakka folk music is known for its rhythms.
Tibetan Folk Music
The Tibetan people occupy a large region that includes Tibet and several southern and western provinces. Tibetan folk music is mainly religious music. The people chant or sing about religious topics. People recite stories, teachings or history through songs and chants. People chant in the Tibetan or Sanskrit languages.
A good time to hear the traditional music is during the many festivals, such as the Tibetan New Year Festival.
Uighur Folk Music
Uighur folk music arises from great deserts and high mountain regions of Xinjiang Province. Like the people, the folk music is warm-hearted and fun to listen to. The musicians and dancers have fun. Their dancing and music is like a combination of Indian, Turkish, and Russian styles. Their expressions and body movements generally make Uighur musicians fun to watch too.
Along with their folk music, they have a classical music tradition. The composition called the Uyghur Muqam has been designated by UNESCO as part of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity. Uighers generally credit Amannisa Khan (1526–1560) for the Twelve Muqam.
The ancient composition is played by an orchestra playing many kinds of traditional Uighur instruments. These instruments are different than Chinese traditional instruments. They are generally central and western Asian in form. Even during their performance of this classic piece, you can see Uighur musicians smiling and having fun.
Dong Folk Music
In contrast to the expanses of Tibet and Xinjiang, the Dong villages occupy a small territory. The Dong people live in southwestern China between Guizhou, Hunan, and Guangxi. The Dong people are renowned for their polyphonic choirs.
In 2009, UNESCO officially listed the Dong Grand Choir performances as a World-class Intangible Cultural Heritage. During some festivals, the villagers gather to perform Dong plays accompanied by playing lusheng flutes, dance and sing.
In order to hear their wonderful and interesting choirs, a good time to go is during their Bull Fighting Festival. While you are there, you can also admire the expert carpentry skills for which the Dong are also renowned. See our tours to Mapang Drum Tower and the Wind and Rain Bridge.