A Guide to Chinese Folk Music

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

Contributors: Andranick Tanguiane, Fred Lerdahl,


Looking to learn about Chinese folk music? This guide provides an overview of the genre, including its history, key characteristics, and notable artists.

Introduction to Chinese Folk Music

Chinese folk music is a genre of traditional music originating from China. Folk music is typically passed down from generation to generation and often exists as part of a community’s oral tradition. Chinese folk music has a long history and has been variously influenced by the music of other cultures. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to the basics of Chinese folk music.

What is Chinese Folk Music?

Chinese folk music has a long history and is incredibly diverse, with regional styles varying significantly from one another. Common instruments used in folk music include the erhu (a two-stringed instrument), dizi (a flute), and pipa (a four-stringed lute).

Much of Chinese folk music is based on storytelling, and many of the songs are about real life events such as love, marriage, birth, and death. There is also a strong tradition of instrumental folk music, which often features pieces that are traditionally used for dancing.

Chinese folk music is an important part of the country’s musical heritage, and has been influencing other genres of music for centuries. If you’re interested in exploring this fascinating style of music, we’ve put together a guide to some of the most popular Chinese folk songs.

History of Chinese Folk Music

Chinese folk music has a long and rich history, dating back to the time of the Xia Dynasty (c. 21st century BCE). Folk music was an important part of daily life in ancient China, used for entertainment, storytelling, and religious ceremonies. Over the millennia, Chinese folk music has been passed down orally from generation to generation, developing into a wide variety of regional styles.

During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE), Chinese folk music began to take on a more formal structure, with improvisation and ornamentation becoming less important than in earlier periods. In the following Song Dynasty (960-1279 CE), court musicians began to adopt elements of folk music into their own repertoire. By the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 CE), Chinese folk music had undergone something of a renaissance, with new interest in traditional styles and instrumentation.

During the 20th century CE, Chinese folk music continued to evolve, incorporating influences from Western music and other contemporary styles. Today, Chinese folk music is enjoyed by people all over the world and is an important part of China’s musical heritage.

The Different Types of Chinese Folk Music

Chinese Folk Music is a broad term used to describe the music of the Han Chinese people. It covers a wide range of musical styles and genres, which can be divided into four main categories: folk songs, folk ballads, folk dances, and folk opera.

Types of Chinese Folk Music

Chinese folk music is music produced by common people without any formal training in music. It includes a wide variety of music styles and songs, which are typically divided into two major categories: “work” and “play”. Folk music has always been an important part of the Chinese culture, serving various purposes such as entertainment, storytelling, labor, and worship.

There are four main types of Chinese folk music: work songs, religious/ceremonial music, narrative songs, and ballads. Work songs were usually sung by farmers or other workers while they were performing their tasks. These songs typically had a slow and steady rhythm that helped the workers keep a consistent pace. Religious/ceremonial music was performed during festivals or other special occasions. This type of music often featured lively rhythms and instruments that were designed to get the attention of the gods or other celestial beings.

Narrative songs told stories and were often used to teach moral lessons. Ballads were love songs that were often passed down from generation to generation. While Chinese folk music is not as widely known as other genres such as pop or classical music, it continues to be an important part of the country’s culture and heritage.

The Different Instruments Used in Chinese Folk Music

Chinese folk music is a huge genre that encompasses a wide range of different musical styles. These styles are often categorized by the different regions of China where they originate. One of the most distinctive aspects of Chinese folk music is the use of traditional Chinese instruments. These instruments often have a very different sound to Western instruments, and can be used to create a wide range of different musical effects.

Some of the most commonly used Chinese instruments in folk music include the dizi (flute), sheng (mouth organ), erhu (two-stringed fiddle), pipa (lute), and guzheng (zither). These instruments are often used in combination to create complex and highly distinctive soundscapes. In recent years, there has been a trend towards incorporating Western instruments into Chinese folk music, giving it a more modern sound. However, the traditional instruments are still very much in use, and continue to give Chinese folk music its unique character.

Chinese Folk Music in the Modern Day

Chinese folk music has been around for centuries and has been passed down from generation to generation. It is a type of music that is typically associated with the rural areas of China and typically has a more traditional sound. In recent years, however, there has been a resurgence in popularity for Chinese folk music.

How Chinese Folk Music has Changed

Chinese folk music has undergone a number of changes in the modern day. Perhaps the most significant change has been the introduction of Western instruments and styles of playing. This has led to a number of different hybrid genres, such as ‘Chinese rock’ and ‘Chinese jazz’.

Another significant change has been the increasing popularity of folk music among the younger generation. In the past, folk music was mostly enjoyed by older people, but now it is becoming increasingly popular with young people as well. This is partly due to the fact that many Chinese folk songs have been adapted to be more suitable for pop audiences.

One final change that has taken place is the increasing use of technology in Chinese folk music. This includes the use of audio and video recordings, as well as internet platforms such as YouTube. This has made it easier for people to access Chinese folk music, and has also helped to promote it to a wider audience.

Where to Hear Chinese Folk Music Today

Although Chinese folk music has been around for centuries, it has only recently begun to gain popularity in the western world. If you’re interested in hearing this type of music, there are a few ways to go about it.

First, you can check out some traditional Chinese musical performances. These often take place in public parks or other outdoor venues, and they’re a great way to get a feel for the music and its history. If you’re lucky, you might even be able to catch a glimpse of traditional Chinese instruments being played.

Another option is to listen to modern interpretations of Chinese folk music. This can be anything from pop songs with traditional influences to more experimental pieces that blend different genres together. You can find this type of music on streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Music, or you can look for specific artists and bands who are known for their work in this genre.

Whatever route you decide to go, listening to Chinese folk music is a great way to expand your musical horizons and learn more about another culture.

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