top of page

Shot in 2021 July 

Qing Xi village in Na Xi


Before the Reformation and Opening in 1978, women of Na Xi minority were not allowed to play instruments or join music ensembles. This year, I revisited Lijiang, Naxi and shot an ethnomusicology documentary "Women in Na Xi Ancient Music". I interviewed four Na Xi female musician from Bai Sha village and Qing Xi village, and recorded their daily life as housewife and musician. The documentary explored the role of female musicians in Na Xi ancient music, and reflected the special perspective of women in music inheritance. 

Documentary + Interview
"Women in NaXi ancient music"

XiuQiong He

Women were not allowed to learn Na Xi ancient music, because women had a really low social status at that time. To study ancient music as a woman would be starve to death. A woman should learn to do housework.

-- XiuQiong He 

XiuQiong He lives in Qing Xi village in LiJiang. She was passionated in Na Xi music, but her parents and husband thought that she should stay at home and be a good housewife. However, after the Reformation and Opening, she still joined the Qing Xi village ensemble to study music and instruments. Now she can play guzheng, sanxian, and pipa. Now she is selected as one of the few female inheritor of intangible cultural heritage in LiJiang. As a grandmother, she also starts to teach her granddaughter pipa and NaXi ancient music pieces.

interview Xiuqiong He.png

XiuQiong He interview

XiuQiong He performance.png
XiuQiong He and her granddaugther.png
Interview with Ms_edited.jpg

XiuQiong He at the performance

XiuQiong He and her granddaugther

XiuQiong He and ZiyueYang

ChunJuan Yang

Bai Sha Xi music (a branch of Na Xi music) reflects the complicated feelings of the dragon princess,  her anxiety, stress, and sadness as her father attacked her husband's territory. As a woman, a wife, and a daughter, I can relate to such complex feeling too.

-- ChunJuan Yang

ChunJuan Yang was greatly influenced by her mother who was passionated in singing and dance. Unlike other Na Xi minority girls, she was fortunately supported by her parents. At the age of 17, she became one of the few female disciples of MaoGen He, who was the only inheritor of Bai Sha Xi music at that time. As one of the few female inheritor, she had a unique interpretation of Bai Sha Xi music. As the wife of the Bai Sha village head, she encouraged more female singers to join Bai Sha village music ensemble, and also teaches her son and daughter Bai Sha Xi music too. 

interview ChunJuan Yang.png

ChunJuan Yang interview

Ms. Zhou interview .JPG

ChunJuan Yang's family and Ziyue Yang

ChunJuan Yang performance.png
Bai Sha music ensemble.JPG

ChunJuan Yang singing

Bai Sha village music ensemble, ChunJuan Yang, and Ziyue Yang

QiuHong Zhou 

Shan Zhang is the 'conductor' of the music ensemble. They are usually experienced musician who are familiar with both music pieces and traditional instruments. There were only male Shan Zhang in the past. However, I believe in the future there will be female Shan Zhang in the ensemble too.

-- ChunJuan Yang

QiuHong Zhou was born in a musical family. Her father used to host Na Xi musical event in the village. However, during the Cultural Revolution, her father was being persecuted. After the Reformation and the Opening in 1973, she became the first group of female musician who joined the Dayan Na Xi ancient music ensemble. In the past 30 years, she learnt pipa and and all the Na Xi ancient music pieces from other male musicians in the ensemble. Now she is also one of the few female inheritor of intangible cultural heritage in LiJiang.

QiuHong Zhou.png
QiuHongZhou interview.JPG
QiuHong at backstage.png

Ziyue Yang interviewing QiuHong Zhou

QiuHong Zhou introduce us the meaning of NaXi female fur stole 

QiuHong Zhou at the backstage

QiuHong playing Pipa.png
QiuHong Zhou Pipa _edited_edited.jpg

Arrange and organize Na Xi ancient music classes for Na Xi minority girls 

invited QiuHong Zhou to teach Na Xi minority girls and boys Na Xi music pieces, and provided Na Xi girls opportunities to perform with Dayan Naxi ancient music ensembles. 

Naxi music class for Naxi girls.JPG
ZiyueYang and Naxi girls.JPG

NaXi girls and boys roster:

杨堪麟 Kanlin Yang

杨晴 Qing Yang

和松慧 SongHui He

和子瑶 ZiYao He

杨裔清 YiQing Yang

Na Xi children, QiuHong Zhou, and Ziyue Yang

QiuHong Zhou teaching NaXi girls and boys "Eight Trigrams"

QiuHong and children backstage.png

QiuHong Zhou and Na Xi girls and boys at backstage

preparing at backstage

Dayan Naxi ancient music and children.png

NaXi girls performing with Dayan Naxi ancient music ensemble

digitalize the handwritten GongChe notation score

digitalize Gongche notation.JPG
gongche Mr_edited.jpg
digitalize GongChe notation.JPG

ZhaoLin He's GongChe notation handwritten music 

During the Cultural Revolution, most of the Na Xi ancient music score were destroyed. Fortunately, there were a group of elderly musicians carefully preserving the music score. Mr. Zhao Lin He was one of  the rural musician in Lijiang, Na Xi.  He had handwritten all the Na Xi music pieces he had learnt before the Cultural Revolution using the most traditional Gong Che notation. We digitalized his handwritten music score, and transcribed the Gong Che notation into staff notation. 

organize Gong Che notation classes for Na Xi minority children

Gong Che notation was one of the most traditional music notation in Ancient China. Most of the Na Xi ancient music pieces were notated in Gong Che notation. However, almost no musician is now still studying or using Gong Che notation, and are using simplified numbered musical notation instead. Na Xi music lost its originality during the transcription process. 

2021 summer, I contacted indigenous schools and organized Gong Che notation class for 14 Na Xi minority children (12 girls + 2 boys). I invited ZhaoLin He, who handwritten as the teacher of Gong Che notation class. 

GongChe notation class.JPG

record instruments and instrument making process

instrument digitalizing .JPG

recording instruments made by ZhaoLin He

instrument 宣科.JPG

recording instruments made by Dayan Na Xi ancient music ensemble

instrument 宣科2.JPG

ZhaoLin He making pipa


2020 summer, I visited Li Jiang for the first time. I interviewed Xuan Ke, the founder of the Dayan Na Xi ancient music ensemble, Mr. ZeMing Zhang from the Chinese local government, and LinZhao He from the LiJiang village. I started learning Gong Che notation, digitalizing Gong Che notation Na Xi music pieces, and filmed the documentary "Chinese Living fossil: Na Xi ancient music".

gongche notation.png
naxi music ensemble.png
hezhaolin interview.png

inspired by Na Xi ancient music, compose an electrical acoustic piece "Buried Civilization"

Buried civilizationZiyue Yang
00:00 / 04:13

Buried Civilization is dedicated to Naxi minority musicians in Lijiang, China. by intertwining both sound samples of Naxi musicians from my ethnomusicology documentary Chinese living fossil: Naxi ancient music and modern city sounds, including sirens and excavators, the piece reflects how Naxi minorities fight for the preservation of their music and culture, and also how modernization and globalization accelerate the lose of their culture. Through this piece, I hope to start the conversation about the challenge of balancing modernization and preservation of our culture.

bottom of page