According to legends, the founder of music in Chinese mythology was Ling Lun who, at the request of the Yellow Emperor to create a system of music, made bamboo pipes tuned to the sounds of birds including the phoenix. A twelve-tone musical system was created based on the pitches of the bamboo pipes, the first of these pipes produced the "yellow bell" (黃鐘) pitch, and a set of tuned bells were then created from the pipes.
Archaeological evidence indicates that music culture developed in China from a very early period. Excavations in Jiahu Village in Wuyang County, Henan found bone flutes dated to 8,000 years ago, and clay music instruments called Xun thought to be 6,000 years old have been found in the Hemudu sites in Zhejiang and Banpo in Xi'an.
During the Zhou Dynasty, a formal system of court and ceremonial music later termed yayue (meaning "elegant music") was established. Note that the word music (樂, yue) in ancient China can also refer to dance as music and dance were considered integral part of the whole, and its meaning can also be further extended to poetry as well as other art forms and rituals. The word "dance" (舞) similarly also referred to music, and every dance would have had a piece of music associated with it. The most important set of music of the period was the Six-dynasty Music Dance (六代樂舞) performed in rituals in the royal court. Music in the Zhou Dynasty was conceived as a cosmological manifestation of the sound of nature integrated into the binary universal order of yin and yang, and this concept has enduring influence later Chinese thinking on music. "Correct" music according to Zhou concept would involve instruments correlating to the five elements of nature and would bring harmony to nature. Around or before the 7th century BC, a system of pitch generation and pentatonic scale was derived from a cycle-of-fifths theory.
Chinese philosophers took varying approaches to music. To Confucius, a correct form of music is important for the cultivation and refinement of the individual, and the Confucian system considers the formal music yayue to be morally uplifting and the symbol of a good ruler and stable government. Some popular forms of music, however, were considered corrupting in the Confucian view. Mozi on the other hand condemned making music, and argued in Against Music (非樂) that music is an extravagance and indulgence that serves no useful purpose and may be harmful. According to Mencius, a powerful ruler once asked him whether it was moral if he preferred popular music to the classics. The answer was that it only mattered that the ruler loved his subjects.
In ancient China the social status of musicians was much lower than that of painters, though music was seen as central to the harmony and longevity of the state. Almost every emperor took folk songs seriously, sending officers to collect songs to record the popular culture. One of the Confucianist Classics, Shi Jing 詩經 (The Classic of Poetry), contained many folk songs dating from 800 BC to about 400 BC.
Qin to Qing dynasty
The Imperial Music Bureau, first established in the Qin Dynasty (221–207 BC), was greatly expanded under the emperor Han Wu Di 汉武帝 (140–87 BC) and charged with supervising court music and military music and determining what folk music would be officially recognized. In subsequent dynasties, the development of Chinese music was influenced by the musical traditions of Central Asia which also introduced elements of Indian music. Instruments of Central Asian origin such as pipa were adopted in China, the Indian Heptatonic scale was introduced in the 6th century by a musician from Kucha named Sujiva, although the heptatonic scale was later abandoned.
The oldest extant written Chinese music is "Youlan" (幽蘭) or the Solitary Orchid, composed during the 6th or 7th century, but has also been attributed to Confucius. The first major well-documented flowering of Chinese music was for the qin during the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD), though the qin is known to have been played since before the Han Dynasty. This is based on the conjecture that because the recorded examples of Chinese music are ceremonial, and the ceremonies in which they were employed are thought to have existed "perhaps more than one thousand years before Christ", the musical compositions themselves were performed, even in 1000 BC, in precisely the manner prescribed by the sources that were written down in the seventh century AD. (It is based on this conjecture that Van Aalst dates the "Entrance Hymn for the Emperor" to c. 1000 BC.)
Yangguan Sandie [Three Refrains on the Yang Pass Theme], one of the great Tang masterpieces found in the Qinxue Rumen (1867) played on qin.
Through succeeding dynasties over thousands of years, Chinese musicians developed a large assortment of different instruments and playing styles. A wide variety of these instruments, such as guzheng and dizi are indigenous, although many popular traditional musical instruments were introduced from Central Asia, such as the erhu and pipa.
The presence of European music in China appeared as early as 1601 when the Jesuit priest Matteo Ricci presented a Harpsichord to the Ming imperial court, and trained four eunuchs to play it. During the late Qing Dynasty era, the influence of Western music began to be felt.
Republic of China era (1912–1949)
Blind Chinese Street Musician - Beijing (1930)
The New Culture Movement of the 1910s and 1920s produced a great deal of lasting interest in Western music. A number of Chinese musicians returned from studying abroad to perform Western classical music, composing work hits on Western musical notation system. The Kuomintang tried to sponsor modern music adoptions via the Shanghai Conservatory of Music despite the ongoing political crisis. Twentieth-century cultural philosophers like Xiao Youmei, Cai Yuanpei, Feng Zikai and Wang Guangqi wanted to see Chinese music adopted to the best standard possible. There were many different opinions regarding the best standard.
Symphony orchestras were formed in most major cities and performed to a wide audience in the concert halls and on radio. Many of the performers added jazz influences to traditional music, adding xylophones, saxophones and violins, among other instruments. Lü Wencheng, Qui Hechou, Yin Zizhong and
He Dasha were among the most notable performers and composers of this period.
In Shanghai, a popular genre of music called shidaiqu emerged in the 1920s. Shidaiqu is a fusion of Chinese and Western popular music, and Li Jinhui is considered to be founder of the genre. Popular singers in this genre in the 1930s and 1940s included Zhou Xuan, Li Xianglan and Yao Lee.
After the 1942 Yan'an Forum on Literature and Art, a large-scale campaign was launched in the Communist controlled areas to adapt folk music to create revolutionary songs to educate the largely illiterate rural population on party goals. Musical forms considered superstitious or anti-revolutionary were repressed, and harmonies and bass lines were added to traditional songs. One example is The East Is Red, a folksong from northern Shaanxi which was adapted into a nationalist hymn. Of particular note is the composer, Xian Xinghai, who was active during this period, and composed the Yellow River Cantata which is the most well-known of all of his works.
The golden age of shidaiqu and the Seven great singing stars would come to an end when the Communist party denounced Chinese popular music as yellow music (pornography). Maoists considered pop music as a decline to the art form in mainland China. In 1949 the Kuomintang relocated to Taiwan, and the People's Republic of China was established. Revolutionary songs would become heavily promoted by the state. The Maoists, during the Cultural Revolution, pushed revolutionary music as the only acceptable genre; because of propaganda, this genre largely overshadowed all others and came almost to define mainland Chinese music. This is still, in some ways, an ongoing process, but some scholars and musicians (Chinese and otherwise) are trying to revive old music.
After the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, a new fast tempo Northwest Wind (xibeifeng, 西北風) style was launched by protesters to counter the government. The music would progress into Chinese rock, which remained popular in the 1990s. However, music in China is very much state-owned as the TV, media, and major concert halls are all controlled by the Communist party. The government mainly chose not to support Chinese rock by limiting its exposure and airtime. As a result, the genre never reached the mainstream in its entirety.
Annual events such as the Midi Modern Music Festival in Beijing attracts tens of thousands of visitors. There was also the "Snow Mountain Music Festival" in Yunnan province 2002.
Today, rock music is centered on almost exclusively in Beijing and Shanghai, and has very limited influence over Chinese society. Wuhan and Sichuan are sometimes considered pockets of rock music culture as well. It points to a significant cultural, political and social difference that exist between China, the West, or even different parts within China. While rock has existed in China for decades, the milestone that put the genre on the international map is when Cui Jian played with The Rolling Stones in 2003, at the age of 42.
Several American acts have done overseas tours in China and multiple concerts including Beyonce, Eric Clapton, Nine Inch Nails, and Avril Lavigne. With such a wealthy and large populated economy, it is a hothead for Western Culture acts to come and perform. Even acts like Linkin Park and Talib Kweli have done shows in China.
Mainland China has a high piracy rate along with issues of intellectual properties. Normally there is some delay before the products are released into mainland China, with occasional exceptions, such as the work of Cui Jian who was released in Taiwan, Hong Kong and mainland China simultaneously. Consequently, a delay in release time is also the biggest driver of piracy, since individuals would rather pirate from the outside. The modern market is not only hindered by rights issues, as there are many other factors such as profit margin, income and other economical questions.
In 2015, the digital music market in China was expected to be worth US$2.1 billion. In 2015 China had the 14th largest music market in the world, with revenues of US$170 million. As of 2016 there were 213 music charts in China. Also as of 2016, the three largest music streaming and download services in China are KuGou, with a 28% share of the market, QQ Music with 15% and Kuwo with 13%. China is expected to become one of the largest music markets in the world by 2020.