Source: Bandcamp Daily.
To speak of “traditional Chinese music” is to collapse millennia of history, dozens of distinct ethnic traditions, and a sprawling, topologically diverse geography into a vague catchall phrase. Of course, there is a canon of sounds that register as quintessentially “Chinese” to many listeners, such as the seven-stringed plucked guqin, a member of the zither family, or the two-stringed, bowed erhu. Particular sonic registers, like the high-frequency din of gong-and-horn temple music, or regional styles, like Sichuan opera and Suzhou pingtan, each add their own dimension to the gestalt of “traditional Chinese music,” overlapping in time and space across the grand sweep of Chinese history. But these examples only scratch the surface—modern China is such a geographically and ethnically diverse place that the very idea of a coherent national sound, a singular unifying tradition, is untenable.
Here’s a quick guide to a few artists working with traditional instruments or folk musics across China’s geographically, linguistically, and ethnically diverse soundscape.