Nanyin (南音) is an ancient Chinese music art form that has been transmitted from the Han dynasty to present times. Nanyin began as the palace music of the Han court and went through various stages of development incorporating musical norms of subsequent periods.
During the Five dynasties and ten kingdoms period, King Meng Chang (孟昶) of Later Shu (后蜀) and his consort lady Huarui (花蕊夫人) became important patrons of Nan Yin. After the fall of his kingdom, Lady Huarui was captured into the harem of the founding song emperor.
When she was found praying to a portrait of her beloved king, Lady Huarui told the Song emperor she was praying to a deity who could bestow a son. The Song Emperor happily gave this deity a title Lang Jun (郎君) and even prescribed ritual offerings.
The king’s musicians also began praying to Lang Jun who eventually became the patron saint of Nanyin music. Today, Nanyin groups continue to play their respects to Lang Jun.
Nanyin music transmitted further as the Chinese civilisation spread southwards to today’s Fujian area. The fall of the Song dynasty resulted in large scale Chinese migration to the south proving Nanyin with musical talents to develop the art form.
Quanzhou in Fujian eventually became the centre of this art form and from there spread to the rest of the world as Chinese migrated during the late Qing period.
Overseas centres of Nanyin
Today, Nanyin can be heard in most Chinatowns with substantial Hokkien populations. In Taiwan, it is commonly performed in temples and during festivals.
In Vietnam, Er Fu Temple and Clan Association (二府庙) is the center on Nanyin in Ho Chi Minh and has public performances during Yuan Xiao, Lantern Festival, marketing the end of Chinese New Year celebrations and during the Mid-Autumn festival.
In Singapore, Siong Leng, one of the two active Nanyin organisations, performs three times a year at the Thian Hock Keng temple to commemorate the festive days of Guan Yin the Buddhist bodhisattva.
These are the main public performances and Nanyin is also performed in many theatres and private events.
Nanyin is also found in Malaysia, Philippines and other countries that Chinatownology will cover soon.
After world war two, Nanyin, driven by the overseas Chinese communities, went through important developments outside of China and eventually introduced Nanyin to a greater global audience.
In Singapore, Mr Teng Mah Seng of Siong Leng Musical Association (湘灵音乐社), organised the Asian International Nanyin conference in 1977. It was the first international Nanyin conference in the history of Nanyin.
In 2000, Siong Leng organised the International Nanyin concert and Symposium, attracting participants comprising artistes, academics, media and government arts officials from eight countries.
In 1983 Siong Leng won an international award in the Llagollen Musical Eisteddfod in Wales Music Competition. This is the first instance of nanyin winning a major proize on the global stage. In 2011 Siong Leng repeated the feat again by winning in two categories of the competition.
Nanyin – UNSCEO World Hearitage art
In 2009, China successfully championed for UNESCO designation of Nanyin as intangible cultural assets. Nanyin music joined Mazu worshipped, Dragon Boat Festival as Chinese cultural practises with UNSCEO recognition.
Nanyin is an ancient art form with a lineage of more than a thousand years surviving political, social and cultural change. It has been able to incorporate new influences, stay relevant to changing audiences yet maintain its ancient legacy.
Nanyin music is one of the few music heritages in human history to have been able to sustain itself and one that is still being presented to the general public.
So if you have not experienced Nan Yin, seize the next opportunity to do so.