Chinese dynasties, dances and CPEC

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Naveed Aman Khan

 

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has introduced wonderful dances to Pakistan. Dance seems to be the most effective and best art of sentimental expression. Chinese dances are perhaps the most beautiful and fascinating dances. In China, dance is a highly varied art form, consisting of many modern and traditional dance genres. The dances cover a wide range, from folk dances to performances in opera and ballet, and may be used in public celebrations, rituals and ceremonies. There are fiftysix recognized ethnic groups in China and each has its own folk dances. The best known Chinese dances today are the Dragon Dance and the Lion Dance.

Various forms of dance in China have long history. The earliest Chinese character for “dance”, written in the oracle bones, is itself a representation of a dancer holding oxtails in each hand. Some Chinese dances today such as dancing with long sleeves have been recorded since the very early periods, dating from the Zhao Dynasty. The most important dances of the early period were the ritual and ceremonial music and dances called Yayue. These dances were performed at the imperial court until the Qing dynasty, but only survive as performances in Confucian ceremonies today. The imperial court from the Qin dynasty onward established various departments responsible for the collection of music and dances, training of performers as well as their performances at the court, such as the Music Bureau and Royal Academy. During the six Dynasties era, there were strong influences from Central Asia in music and dance. The art of dance reached at peak in the Tang Dynasty, and the dances of the period were highly diverse and cosmopolitan, dances from Central Asia in particular were popular. A great number of dances were recorded in the Tang dynasty.

There are over sixty Grand Compositions alone which are large scale performances from the Tang court and tens of thousands of musicians and dancers were there at the Imperial palaces. The art of dance however declined after the Tang dynasty. This is due in part to the increasing popularity of the practice of foot binding, which may have first arisen from dancers themselves but later tighter binding limited their movement and greater social restriction placed on women may have also led to a virtual elimination of female dancers. Furthermore, dance was absorbed into Chinese opera that started to take shape in the Song dynasty and became increasingly popular and further developed in the following dynasties and dance as a separate performance art largely survives in folk traditions. In more recent times, the art of dance in China has enjoyed resurgence and modern developments in Chinese dances are continuing apace. Many of the traditional dances have long history. These may be folk dances or dances that were once performed as rituals or as entertainment spectacle. Some may have been performed in the imperial court. A form of lion dance similar to today’s Lion Dance was described in Tang Dynasty. The modern form of the Dragon Dance however may be a more recent development.

In some of the earliest dances in China, dancers may have dressed as animal and mythical beasts. During the Han Dynasty, some forms of the dragon dance are mentioned. The dragon dances of Han Dynasty don’t resemble modern form of the dance. Dragon dances include a dance performed during a ritual to appeal for rain at time of drought as Chinese Dragon was associated with rain. Modern Dragon Dance uses light-weight structure manipulated by a dozen or so of men using poles at regular intervals along the length of the dragon and some forms of the dragon can be very long and involve hundreds of performers. In China, there are more than seven hundred different dragon dances. The Lion Dance has been introduced from outside China as lion is not native to China and the Chinese word for lion itself “Shi” may have been derived from the Persian word “Ser”.

Detailed description of Lion Dance appeared during the Tang Dynasty and it was then recognized as a foreign import but the dance may have existed in China as early as the third century AD. Suggested origin of the dance includes India and Persia. During the Northern and Southern Dynasties it had association with Buddhism. A version of Lion Dance resembling modern lion dance was described by Tang poet Bai Juyi in his poem “Western Liang Arts”, where the dancers wear a lion costume made of a wooden head, a silk tail and furry body, with eyes gilded with gold, teeth plated with silver and ears that moves. There are two main forms of Chinese Lion Dance, the Northern Lion and Southern Lion. A form of the Lion Dance is also found in Tibet where it is called the Snow Lion Dance.

Folk dances are important in the development of dance in China. Some of the earliest dances in court rituals and ceremonies may have evolved from folk dances. Rulers from various dynasties collected folk dances, many of which eventually became court dances. At various times there had also been antipathy towards some folk dances and some emperors attempted to ban them. Many of the folk dances are related to harvest and hunting and the ancient gods associated with them. The Constellation Dance was performed to procure as much seed grain as there are stars in the sky, while the Harpoon Dance was associated to Fuxi who according to the mythology gave the Han people fish net, and the Plough Dance was connected to Shennong, the god of agriculture. Yangge Dance is popular in Northern China while Lantern Dance found in Southern China is very famous. There are many minority groups in China and each has its own dances that reflect its culture and way of life. Baishou Dance, Uyghur Dance, Sword Dance, Nuo Dance and Cham Dance are the most common and popular dances in People’s Republic of China. These colourful, marvellous and magical Chinese dances are undoubtedly fascinating and matchless.

 

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