Academic journal article Comparative Drama

Chinese Nuo and Japanese Noh: Nuo's Role in the Origination and Formation of Noh

Academic journal article Comparative Drama

Chinese Nuo and Japanese Noh: Nuo's Role in the Origination and Formation of Noh

Article excerpt

Modern interest in the Chinese ancient Nuo rite and drama did not take a strong hold in China until the final two decades of the last century; however, the Nuo rite and drama remain an aspect of Chinese culture that is hardly known to the West. While a fair amount of research on the origins of Japanese Noh drama has been done in the West, no historical investigation has yet been made in a Western language on the role of Chinese Nuo into its origin and formation. This is so in spite of the historical fact that prior to the birth of Noh, the Chinese Nuo rite had long been practiced in Japanese temples, shrines, and fields where Noh was born and developed.

The general consensus now is that gigaku, gagaku (and its dance form, bugaku), and sarugaku (from sangaku), forerunners of Noh, were forms imported or generated from ancient Chinese Wu music (Japanese: kuregaku) and Tang music and dance (Japanese: togaku), mainly from sanyue (miscellaneous music and plays) and daqu (grand music). In bugaku, the solo dance Ranryo-o (Chinese: Lanling Wang) is a variant of the Lanling Wang Ru Zhen Qu (Prince Lanling in Battle) of the Sui and Tang dynasties; (1) bugaku's jo-ha-kyu, the core structure of Noh drama, was adapted from the music and dance structure of the daqu developed during the Tang dynasty. The Tang daqu integrates singing, dancing, and instrumental music and consists of three sequences: the sanxu (beginning random sequence facilitated by instrumental music), zhongxu (middle sequence composed primarily by singing), and po (fast exposition accelerated primarily by dancing). Sanyue (sangaku or sarugaku, the latter being a Japanese pronunciation of sanyue) forms the core of sarugaku Noh.

But a more important influence upon the formation and the character of Noh is the Chinese Nuo rite. While sanyue and daqu influenced the development of Noh in terms of dramatic structure and presentation, the Nuo rite played a significant role in formulating Noh's religious and ritualistic character and features. The present article introduces the Chinese Nuo rite and Nuo theater to the West from a historical perspective and also attempts to trace the origination and development of Japanese Noh drama (2) from the Chinese Nuo rite and other sources. I examine the evolution of the Chinese Nuo rite (3) and its influence upon, and incorporation into, the ancient Japanese religious ceremonies that contributed to the formation and development of Noh drama. I also compare a variety of masks used both in Chinese Nuo theater and in Japanese rites of exorcism and Noh theater to identify similarities and to delineate possible connections between them.

The Origins and Development of Chinese Nuo

The origins of Chinese Nuo, a rite of exorcism, can be traced back to the beginnings of Chinese civilization. By the time of the Xia (c.2205-c. 1806 B.C.E.), Shang (c. 1783-1134 B.C.E.), and Zhou (c. 1134-256 B.C.E.) dynasties, this collective exorcist ritual had evolved into definite forms that were practiced to drive away evils and pestilence and to pray for prosperity, health, and stability for the people, the community, and the nation. According to Lun Yu (The Analects), Confucius once observed a folk Nuo rite with great interest and reverence: "When the men of his village hold their Expulsion Rites, he puts on his Court dress and stands on the eastern steps." (4) Lu Shi Chun Qiu (The Annals of Lu Buwei) mentions three Nuo rites practiced in the Zhou dynasty: the State Nuo, the King's (the Son of Heaven's) Nuo, and the Grand Nuo. (5) The State Nuo was performed during the third month of spring of the Chinese lunar year: "The people of the state perform the Rites of Exorcism, and at each of the nine gates sacrificial animals are torn apart and offerings made [to drive off evil emanations], in order to complete the ethers of spring." (6) The performance of the King's Nuo was ordered during the second month of autumn: "The Son of Heaven then performs the ceremonies to ward off pestilence and avert any occurrence of plague, to assure the proper circulation of the autumnal ethers. …

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