Chinese Musical Instruments during the Six Dynasty Period
Why did Western music penetrate China during the Six Dynasties? The simplest answer is Buddhism. The Silk Road trade route had become available shortly after the Han Dynasty. Its primary function was to transmit commercial goods, but the Buddhist faith and texts (sutras) slipped along as well. The latter described splendid orchestras in Paradise; and most of the instruments were those of Central Asian where many (Indian) sutras had arisen and were translated. The sutras spread East where Buddhist schools and courts wished to emulate the splendors of Paradise. Whereas Chinese music prior to this period had stayed quite isolated from foreign (Western) music, it now opened up and adopted many types of Western instruments. During Shang, Zhou, Qin, and Han most Chinese instruments were large and heavy sets of bells and stone chimes with some more portable wind instruments. But during the Six Dynasties we find rich varieties of lutes, harps, and percussion in China —but all invented in the West.
I will describe the details of the instruments. Can we pin-point the Western regions from which they derived? Along which route had they travelled to China?
Bo Lawergren is a Professor emeritus of Physics at Hunter College, New York. Meanwhile another interest began two decades ago with publications in Eurasian Music Archaeology. He has published 90 scholarly articles in Music Archaeology, including some in Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart (1994-1999), The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (2001), The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt (2001), and Encyclopaedia Iranica (2000-2006). In 2000 the instruments of Marquis Yi of Zeng were shown for the first time in the West (at the Freer and Sackler Galleries in Washington, DC, USA). In the accompanying catalogue, he discussed the string instruments.