Seeking Harmony: Reviving Traditional Arts in China

By Conte, Jeanne | The World and I, June 1998 | Go to article overview

Seeking Harmony: Reviving Traditional Arts in China


Conte, Jeanne, The World and I


According to Chinese legend, in 2697 B.C. Emperor Huang Ti sent a scholar named Ling Lun to the far western mountains to find bamboo sticks suitable for making the finest lute possible. With this instrument, they hoped to imitate the exquisite sounds of the phoenix and create harmony between the emperor's reign and the universe.

This ancient Chinese desire to achieve harmony with the universe streams own through the centuries and manifests itself in myriad art forms. A respect for nature is evident in most of China's traditional arts.

Today, there is strong pride in the antiquity of Chinese culture; one sense as well as sees this revival. Earlier this century, it would have been discouraged if not forbidden, but now there is a powerful resurgence and renewal of crafts practiced throughout China's history.

This is seen in the classes children are taught in school, such as calligraphy and traditional music. The stringed, wooden erh-hu and gu-qin are especially popular in northern China. The latter, a zitherlike wooden instrument, was reproduced from ancient scrolls. The erh-hu is often played on the streets by retired gentlemen whose friends sometimes practice their slow-motion tai chi to its dulcet tones.

The garden of China still follows traditional patterns, including four elements of design: green plants; rocks or stones (representing mountains and earth); water' and ornate pavilions. Ancient restored Chinese gardens unfold like the unrolling of parchment scrolls. They were more often designed by poets than by architects.

Suzhou is laced with magnificent old gardens nourished by the canals and rivers that weave throughout that city. Many of them were designed hundreds of years ago and rebuilt from time to time throughout the centuries. In the Garden of the Master of the Fishing Nets, which dates from A.D. 1140, only four flowers are allowed, one for each season. …

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