Nanyin is a traditional genre of music that’s central to the culture of people from Minnan on China’s southeast coast. This “living fossil” is one of the four oldest forms of Chinese music that’s still preserved in its original state. The slow, simple and elegant melodies are performed on a mixture of traditional and more commonplace instruments. These include a bamboo flute called a dongxiao, and a pipa – a crook-necked lute played horizontally – as well as various wind, string and percussion instruments. 

Nanyin’s rich repertoire of songs and scores is a repository of the ancient folk music and poems of the Minnan region, where it has influenced opera, puppet theater and other performing art traditions. Nanyin is deeply rooted in the social life of the Minnan region. It’s performed during ceremonies in spring and autumn to honor Meng Chang, the god of music, as well as at weddings and funerals. At these and other celebrations, it’s played in courtyards, markets and the streets. For people in China and across Southeast Asia whose families hail from Minnan, Nanyin is the sound of home.

In this episode, “Inheritors” visits Su Shiyong, a master of Nanyin; Zhuang Lifen, director of the Nanyin Orchestra; and Zheng Mingming, a young Nanyin artist. They will help us discover the beauty of Nanyin.

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