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Author: 李小敏 (Li Xiaomin) The Non-Material Cultural Heritage in Nantong

(2010-07-03 10:10:16)









分类: JiangsuProvince

The Non-Material Cultural Heritage in Nantong

Here is the place where the sun rises, here is the place where the Yangtze River ends its way, here is the place where the Dong Hai sea and the yellow sea converge. Gift of the sun, blessing of the sea, preference of the Yangtze River have magically created such a charming city –Nantong.  

Nantong boasts diverse local folk culture, as evidenced by the Nantong tongzi opera, the Hai’men folk songs, the Hai’an flower-drum, etc, among which many have been classed into the non-material cultural heritage of China. I’ve chosen five of them to work on.

1.        Tongzi Play (童子戏)----folk theatre

The Tongzi Play (Drama for kids) has its origin in the sortilege culture of ancient countries, Chuyue. It came out in the Zhou dynasties and didn’t become popular until the Tang dynasties rose to power. And today, it is still spread in some areas and especially favored by old people. The special opera now has gained attentions of different circles in the world.

 Author: <wbr>李小敏 <wbr>(Li <wbr>Xiaomin) <wbr>The <wbr>Non-Material <wbr>Cultural <wbr>Heritage <wbr>in <wbr>Nantong

figure1: “竹签穿腮” in Tongzi opera

(source: http://www.esgweb.net/Article/Class58/Class94/Class443/200512/2116.htm)

Tongzi claims to be able to enter into the three worlds of god, ghost and human and by this means, he drives away bad things for people and prays for them.

Dialect is the only language used in the Tongzi opera, and the incidental music is all percussion music, so the tune-partten is barpque, sonorous and heartbroken. Also, the impact on vision and ear is violent. At the same time, since it is greatly concerned with vanquishing demons and monsters, it can naturally attract enough audience. The special form of expression of the interpenetration of religion with theater, dance and acrobatics leads to its later changing into the Nantong opera.

Although, in the eyes of modern people, this kind of art is too simple as to be primordial, it is the typical folk theater. I think the more ancient the form of art is, the more precious it is.

2.Shen Embroidery(仿真绣)----folk art

“Life-like embroidery” is a branch of Suzhou Embroidery, which is characterized by figure embroidery. It was originally created by Shen Shou, whose life-like embroidery works were greatly appreciated and treasured by the upper classes of Europe and south-east Asia. That’s why it is also called “Shen Embroidery”.

Author: <wbr>李小敏 <wbr>(Li <wbr>Xiaomin) <wbr>The <wbr>Non-Material <wbr>Cultural <wbr>Heritage <wbr>in <wbr>Nantong

Figure2: the embroidered figure of Jesus by Shen Shou

(source: http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_47402b180100ephi.html )

Shen Embroidery combines traditional embroidery techniques with the skills of oil-painting’s colour and thus formed its own feature ----from whatever angle you see, it never changes its vivid color. This also owes to, from a certain degree, the natural luster of silk thread used in the embroidery and its unique stitch. The embroidery threads are made of natural silk which dyed through special technique. All the works are embroidered on the silk cloth, which request high embroidery skills and cost a very long time to finish, so other than artists who master well embroidery skills and at the same time, has basic knowledge of painting could accomplish the work.

The portrait of Jesus is a representative work of Shen Shou. The rich color applied in it has been highly praised until now, with more than 110 colors of threads being used. Various stitching methods have been employed to add more colors, so that the Portrait of Jesus can present the fullness and thickness of the oil paintings.


 3.Whistle kite(板鹞风筝技艺)---- handcrafts

  Early summer is the best season for flying kites. People in Nantong have kept this custom for hundreds of years. Kites today are more than a toy. Kites mirror the hopes and dreams of the people who make them. The kites of Nantong ---- a dazzling array of dragons, birds, fish and insects, tell the tales of an ancient and intricate civilization.

In our country, kites are split up into two parts----the “yuan” (鸢) in the north and the “yao”(鹞) in the south. The whistle kite in Nantong, dated from the Beisong dynasties, is the most typical of the nanyao kite. This kind of kite is like a hundred flutes, wind through trees, a jet, or a ghost. The sound of whistle kites drift across the fields: you hear them before you see them. Whistles are made from dried gourds and wood, a slit carved in the top. They are lashed to a bamboo frame on the front of the kite. Kites are painted with red, green and white geometric designs, or with dozens of small paintings from legends and nature.

Changqing Jiang of Qing dynasties have written this poem in his book <崇川竹枝词> to describe the pomp of kite flying in Nantong:“草绿长堤海角东,双蝴蝶戏牧牛童;声声何处胡笳奏,放出林梢红杏出。” This poem reflects the basic characteristic of banyao kites of this district----as large as sails, as loud as thunders. So we also call the whistle kite “symphony in the air”.

 Author: <wbr>李小敏 <wbr>(Li <wbr>Xiaomin) <wbr>The <wbr>Non-Material <wbr>Cultural <wbr>Heritage <wbr>in <wbr>Nantong



(source: http://guoxue.zynews.com/XianFeng/2009/7114.html

Author: <wbr>李小敏 <wbr>(Li <wbr>Xiaomin) <wbr>The <wbr>Non-Material <wbr>Cultural <wbr>Heritage <wbr>in <wbr>Nantong



(source: http://guoxue.zynews.com/XianFeng/2009/7114.html)


4. Flower drum of Hai’an----folk dance

Hai’an is a small county of Nantong where the flower drum enjoys a long history of over 400 years, and its dancing patterns originated from the actions in laboring and living of farmers. The sincere, honest and enduring characters of farmers in Hai ’an best owed the dancing patterns with strong, humorous and open features. Hai’an flower drum is based on dancing music, both strengthening the local musical styles of Hai’an and absorbing the features of folk lyrics in Jiangsu. It perfectly reveals the beauty and gentle of women. 

The popularity of flower drum in Hai’an dates from the Ming dynasties. As recorded in《明斋真识·广陵韵事》:“花鼓传来三十年,而变者屡矣,始以男、继以女,始以日、继以夜,始以乡野、继以镇市,始以村俗民氓、继以纨裤子弟”,we can see that during that period, there is the flower drum as a kind of folk dance. 。

When the performance begins, it is the lion dance, horse dance and dragon dance that come first. And then the flower drum appears on the stage. The audiences sit around them and watch. In this district, there are many temple fair:“村郭平安时作会, 觋巫歌舞历年年”,dancers of influence all gather here, so it often can be seen that over ten flower drum groups perfom at the same time. We call it the “flower drum arena”, which becomes an dance competition organized by people.

In general, the flower drum in Hai’an has not only strengthened the rhythm of the local theme music, but also absorbed the tune in the typical folk song of Jiangsu, thus formed one of the most wonderful flower drums in Jiangsu and represented the local customs and practices of Jiangsu.

The Hai’an flower drum has perfomed before the open ceremony of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

  Author: <wbr>李小敏 <wbr>(Li <wbr>Xiaomin) <wbr>The <wbr>Non-Material <wbr>Cultural <wbr>Heritage <wbr>in <wbr>Nantong

Figure5:the flower drum of Hai’an


 5.Folk songs of Haimen ----folk music

Haimen folk song, as the name suggests, refers to the folk song popular in Haimen area in Nantong. The pristine and natural language is abundant in vivid images, wit and humor. The music is pure, sweet and melodious. Taking nature as the stage, the singer interacts with the river, sea and weald through his songs. Haimen has been praised as "Land of Folk Songs".

Haimen folk song can be roughly divided into two categories. One is impromptu folk song, casually created and sung by laboring people when they are at or off work. The lyric is composed of four, six or eight lines, mostly reflecting labor and romantic love. The other category refers to the narrative folk song, the lyric of which is much longer. There is a complete plot, vivid characters and abundant emotions. In terms of the performance form, Haimen folk song is mainly divided into solo and antiphonal singing between the male and female. Yaochuanlang (the boatman) and Hongniangzi (literally, a red maid) are representatives of traditional folk songs.

In particular, by learning the fluent tunes, as well as the beautiful and lyric techniques of creation from the opera, the folk song has changed a lot in the structure of accented beats. Here are some representatives of the new folk song, such as Mianxiang (literally a village of cotton) People in Memory of Premier Zhou Enlai, Jianghai (literally the river and sea) Antiphonal Singing and Folk Songs in Praise of the Hometown.


   All in all, we should see that, the protection of non-material cultural heritage is imperative: some traditional buildings are constantly suffering destruction, some kind of art and handcraft that called the soul of the country is dying away. Can we treasure the precious gifts inherited from our ancestors and pass them to our successor?  It depends on what we do now.   



1.    补天戏苑,

http://guoxue.zynews.com/XianFeng/2009/7114.html (accessed April 14,2009)

2. wind above, earth below


3. 詹皖,2009,《海安花鼓的艺术风格及文化价值》

4. 张蕾, Zhuang Jinyun Embroidery Design Studio   http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_47402b180100ephi.html (accessed July 13, 2009)

5. http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_4ba960c50100c98k.html (accessed March 20,2009)




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