Folk Songs of the Northern and Southern Dynasties

The Southern and Northern Dynasties (nán běi cháo 南北朝)(420-589) refer to the period of more than one hundred years from the decline of the Eastern Jin (dōng jìn 东晋) (317- 420) to the foundation of the Sui Dynasty (suí cháo 隋朝) (581-618). It was an age of civil war and political confrontation between two powers, one in the north and the other in the south. However, it was also a time of flourishing in the arts and culture. Created orally by people in the wake of Yuefu Songs (yuè fǔ 乐府), Folk Songs of the Northern and Southern Dynasties (nán běi cháo mín gē 南北朝民歌) has also played an important role in both Chinese music and literature.

the Ode to XizhouFolk Songs of the Southern Dynasties
Songs of this genre are mostly love songs which reflect the sincere and pure love life of people. They are often sung by women with refreshing and touching appeal, which possibly has a direct relation with the beautiful environment and rich condition of the south. Most of the folk songs belong to the 4-line poems with 5 characters in each line. Moreover, pun is often used in folk songs.

The Ode to Xizhou (xī zhōu qǔ 西洲曲) is the representative work of Folk Songs of the Southern Dynasties. The main theme is that the heroine’s lover hadn’t come back home, so she went to gather lotus to divert herself from loneliness and boredom. At a distance from the lake, both of them were lovesick apart. Finally, she begged the wind to bring her dream to Xizhou wher her lover was staying.
Ode to Xizhou (part)
…When they gather lotus at Nantang in autumn,
the lotus blooms are higher than their heads;
They stoop to pick lotus seeds,
Seeds as translucent as water.
…The waters is beyond the scope of eyesight,
You are lovesick, me either…
The south wind knows my mood,
It blows my dream to Xizhou.

Folk Songs of the Northern Dynasties
Folk Songs of the Northern Dynasties were mostly created by ethnic groups and reflected the society and their lives from every profile. Besides the theme concerning warfare, most folk songs of the Northern Dynasties describe scenery of the north and the people’s nomadic life, thus manifesting straightforward complexion of Northerners which has a clear contrast with those of the Southern Dynasties.

As the Northern Dynasties were often at wars, the long narrative poem The Ballad of Mulan(mù lán cí 木兰辞) is the best-known work of that period.
The Ballad of Mulan describes the heroine Mulan who was brave, smart and high-minded. In the ode, Hua Mulan (huā mù lán 花木兰) disguised as man and joined the army, replacing her father to fight against the enemies. At that time in a feudal society, women were universally regarded to be inferior to men. So this poem had its special significance. The story about Hua Mulan’s enlistment has maintained its great popularity among people and has been adapted for the screen and the stage.

The Ballad of Mulan
The Ballad of Mulan (part)
…"Last night I saw conscription lists,
The Khan is calling troops everywher.
The army’s rolls were in twelve scrolls,
And every scroll held Father’s name.
My father has no older son,
Mulan has no big brother.
I wish to go buy horse and gear
And march to the wars for father."

In all, Folk Songs of the Northern and Southern Dynasties had great influences on poets of the Tang Dynasty (táng cháo 唐朝) (618-907).


    The Ballad of Mulan 南北朝民歌现存五百多首。南北朝长期对峙的局面,以及两地在民族风尚、自然环境等方面存在的差异,南北朝民歌呈现出不同的情调与风格。大抵南方民歌清丽缠绵,北方民歌朴直刚健。《西洲曲》和《木兰辞》,分别代表着南北朝民歌的最高成就。
      北朝乐府民歌语言质朴刚健,风格粗犷豪放,自然清新。多杂言格式而以五言为主。北朝乐府民歌数量虽然不多,题材却比较广泛。主要有以下几方面内容:一是描写了北方的壮丽山川和游牧生活。二是表现了北方民族粗犷豪迈的个性和豪侠尚武的精神。三是反映了北方频繁的战争以及由此给人民带来的离乡背井、流离失所的痛苦。四是反映了婚姻爱情生活。北方男女对婚姻爱情直率、大胆、开放的态度,与南朝民歌的情调缠绵婉转形成鲜明的对照。如《折杨柳枝歌》其二:“门前一株枣,岁岁不知老。阿婆不嫁女,那得孙儿抱?”《地驱歌乐辞》其二:“驱羊入谷,白羊在前。老女不嫁,蹋地呼天!”The Ballad of Mulan

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