Ya Yueh


Introduction of Ya Yueh

Music Bridges the Political Divide Between China and Taiwan


Published: April 20, 2010

DALIN, TAIWAN — When a Taiwan music ensemble performed its reconstruction of Chinese imperial court music last year in Beijing, it marked not just a cultural milestone, but a political one.

The latest on the arts, coverage of live events, critical reviews, multimedia extravaganzas and much more. The concert provided a rare opportunity to hear ancient sounds salvaged from a nearly vanished musical tradition. The 3,000-year-old genre known as yayue, or “elegant music,” faded with the collapse of dynastic rule in 1911, and nearly succumbed to the later Maoist assault on “feudalistic” elements of China’s past.But it was also a chance for people from both sides of the long-divided Taiwan Strait to compare notes on which parts of their joint Chinese heritage have been preserved, or not. 

“The audience response was quite strong. Many were hearing this music for the first time,” said Xie Jiaxing, director of the China Conservatory in Beijing, which had invited the Yayue Ensemble of Nanhua University to perform in the capital.

“For political reasons, we haven’t done enough to research yayue,” Mr. Xie said. “Taiwan’s Nanhua University has done a really good job in this respect. Afterwards, our students wrote to the school saying how happy they were to discover such a great treasure in ancient Chinese culture, even though they don’t really understand it.”

The Communist victory in the Chinese civil war in 1949 and the flight of the defeated Kuomintang forces to Taiwan was followed by decades of tense separation. Taiwan considers itself a self-governed island, while China regards it as a renegade province. 

A détente, first taking the form of economic ties, gathered strength beginning in 2008 with the election in Taiwan of President Ma Ying-jeou, who has made improved relations a hallmark of his administration. Direct flights, tourism and, increasingly, cultural exchanges have blossomed.

While Taiwan has long prided itself on being the keeper of Chinese tradition, until recently it had been distanced from its cultural roots on the mainland. The Communist mainland, by contrast, had in many regards cut itself off from its own past. The exchanges are allowing both sides to fill in the gaps. The past year has seen exhibits and performances unimaginable not long ago.

Last October, the Palace Museum in Beijing and Taiwan’s National Palace Museum held their first-ever joint exhibition in Taipei, displaying paintings and other treasures from a long-splintered imperial collection.The two museums are also stepping up cooperation, coordinating their catalogs and Web sites, and sharing their expertise in storing and restoring artifacts.

In March, the internationally renowned Chinese director Zhang Yimou staged his production of the Puccini opera “Turandot” in Taiwan, performed by mainland singers and Taiwanese instrumentalists. Mainland provincial governments have been sending delegations to Taiwan to promote investment, trade and tourism, and each brings examples of local culture, some of which had never been seen in Taiwan. 

Henan Province brought monks from the Shaolin Temple who demonstrated their martial arts skills. Guizhou Province displayed one of its most famous products — Maotai grain liquor, which is still barred from sale in Taiwan — but also the clothing, crafts and dances of its many ethnic minorities.

Chou Ju-mu, 20, a Taipei fashion design student who visited the recent Guizhou exhibit, expressed amazement at the intricate embroidery, batiks and paper-thin silver ornaments. “We’ve only learned about the mainland from books,” she said. “Only today are we able to see these things in reality.” Joseph Lee, a businessman who was also at the exhibit, agreed, saying many aspects of China’s culture remained foreign to ordinary Taiwanese. “We’ve seen more of the culture of Japan, South Korea, Singapore, the United States or Canada than we have of mainland China.”

That is changing. Banners on the main boulevards of Taipei that once were more likely to promote Western or Japanese performers now advertise coming performances by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra or a Kunqu opera troupe.

Even a singer from the People’s Liberation Army has given a concert here. (Page 2 of 2)

These events are not happening without controversy or criticism, especially from Taiwan’s main opposition party and others who suspect that China’s overtures, even cultural exchanges, may all be aimed at eventually bringing the island under its rule.


cron web_use_log