Chinese Folk Music: Funny or Serious?

This article is a collaborative effort, crafted and edited by a team of dedicated professionals.

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


A light-hearted look at the often-quirky world of Chinese folk music, and what makes it so special.

What is Chinese Folk Music?

Chinese folk music is music that is typically associated with the rural peasantry of China. It is often simple and repetitive, and sometimes incorporates humor or other lighthearted elements. Folk music has been an important part of Chinese culture for centuries, and has undergone a number of different changes and influences over time.

The Different Types of Chinese Folk Music

There are many different types of Chinese folk music, each with their own distinct style and history. Some of these genres are light-hearted and meant to be enjoyed for their entertainment value, while others are more serious and intended to be taken more seriously. In this article, we’ll take a look at the different types of Chinese folk music and explore their unique qualities.

Serious Folk Music

Serious folk music is typically used for religious or ceremonial purposes, and is often centuries old. This type of music is often passed down from generation to generation, and can be used to remember history or teach life lessons. Many of these songs are slow and melancholic, and often tell stories of love, loss, and hardships.

Funny Folk Music

Funny folk music, also known as xiqu or shuochang, is a type of Chinese opera that dates back to the 13th century. It’s known for its comic and entertaining storylines, as well as its unique use of props and humor. Funny folk music is often performed in public places like parks and temples, and it’s a popular form of entertainment for both locals and tourists.

If you’re interested in experiencing this type of Chinese folk music for yourself, there are a few things you should know. First, xiqu is usually performed in Mandarin Chinese, so it’s a good idea to brush up on your language skills before heading to a performance. Additionally, xiqu performances often last for several hours, so be sure to bring a comfortable pillow or blanket to sit on. And finally, don’t be afraid to join in the fun! Xiqu performers love audience participation, so feel free to clap along or even dance in your seat.

The Origin of Chinese Folk Music

Chinese folk music is music that has been created by the people of China. It includes a wide variety of styles and genres, from the simple songs that were sung by farmers in their fields to the complex music that was performed at imperial court ceremonies. Chinese folk music has a long history and it is an important part of the country’s cultural heritage.

The earliest examples of Chinese folk music date back to the Zhou dynasty (1046-256 BC). At this time, the people of China were already singing simple songs about their daily lives. These songs were often about love, nature, or religion. As time went on, more and more people began to create folk music. This music was passed down from generation to generation, and it continued to evolve over time.

During the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD), Chinese folk music reached a new level of sophistication. This was thanks to the booming economy and the cosmopolitan atmosphere of the capital city, Chang’an. Traveling musicians from all over Asia came to Chang’an to perform their music, and this had a big impact on the development of Chinese folk music.

One of the most important changes that took place during this period was the introduction of new instruments, such as the pipa (a four-stringed lute) and the erhu (a two-stringed fiddle). These instruments added a new level of complexity to Chinese folk music, and they quickly became very popular with both performers and audiences.

Another significant change that took place during this period was the increasing popularity of professional musicians. In earlier times, most folk musicians were amateurs who only played for their own enjoyment or for small gatherings of friends and family. However, during the Tang dynasty, there was a growing demand for entertainment at private parties and public events such as festivals and temple fairs. As a result, many professional musicians began to emerge, and they helped to further develop Chinese folk music.

During later periods in Chinese history, such as the Song dynasty (960-1279 AD), Ming dynasty (1368-1644 AD), Qing dynasty (1644-1911 AD), and Republican era (1912-1949 AD), Chinese folk music continued to evolve. New styles and genres emerged, old ones faded away, and cross-cultural influences continued to have an impact on the development of Chinese musical culture.

How Chinese Folk Music is Used Today

Though it is often looked down upon as being corny or outdated, Chinese folk music is actually still quite popular in China today. It is often used in advertising, movies, and television shows. It can also be heard played by street musicians and at small neighborhood gatherings.

In China

Folk music in China dates back to at least the Tang dynasty (618-907 CE) and was performed by professional musicians called shi. These men were trained in the art of singing and playing traditional instruments and they performed at court ceremonies and other important events. Folk music was also popular among the general population and was often played at festivals and other gatherings.

Today, folk music is still an important part of Chinese culture and is regularly performed at weddings, funerals, and other special occasions. It is also very popular among tourists who visit China, as it provides a glimpse into the country’s rich cultural heritage.

In Taiwan

Though its exact origins are lost in the mists of time, Chinese folk music is thought to date back at least 3,000 years. Today, this rich musical tradition can be heard in various forms all over China as well as in Taiwan, which is known for its distinctive style of folk music.

Taiwanese folk music often has a light, playful feel to it and is often used in children’s songs and dances. In contrast, the music of mainland China often has a more serious tone and is sometimes used to convey political messages. No matter what the purpose, Chinese folk music is an important part of the country’s culture and heritage.

In Hong Kong

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. It has its own unique culture, which is a mix of Chinese and Western influences. Hong Kong is also known for its vibrant music scene, and folk music is an important part of the city’s musical culture.

Chinese folk music in Hong Kong is often played at temple fairs, where people go to pray and pay respects to the gods. The music is also sometimes used in films and television shows set in Hong Kong, to create a sense of place and time.

In recent years, there has been a revival of interest in Chinese folk music, with some young people choosing to learn traditional instruments such as the erhu (a two-stringed fiddle) and dizi (a flute). There are also a number of folk music groups in Hong Kong that play at events and festivals.


It seems that Chinese folk music can be both funny and serious, depending on the context in which it is performed. In a more serious setting, such as a religious ceremony, the music takes on a more solemn tone. However, in a more casual setting, such as a festival or party, the music is often more light-hearted and playful. Ultimately, it seems that the meaning of the music depends on the situation in which it is heard.

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