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January 30, 2009


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Remember when I told you about using traditional Japanese music to clear pests out of my dorm room in college? I didn't know it at the time but it was gagaku music. I loved it & i imagine that many folks would not find it so unpleasant now (we're more accustomed to the sound of eastern music nowadays) but in 1969 it could clear a room in five minutes… Here's a good quality YouTube performance.


Of course, I remember. I believe I congratulated you too as I have been looking for a similar technique to use for people who never take a hint and go home after the millionth cup of green tea! You know, I think I will try the gagaku method next time! It is ethereal though, isn't it?

The music is so old and it is just amazing to me that the music, instruments, and other elements have been preserved for long.

I had written at the bottom of this post about the NHK team's visit to the Kizil cave back in the 1980's where,

"The NHK team is incredulous looking at the murals in Cave 38, which have the famous paintings devoted to scenes of music. They are stunned because for every single instrument they find in the murals has its exact counterpart in the gagaku tradition preserved at the Japanese Court.

An article that I linked to in the said post said that "it was found out that looking closely into the gestures and position of the musicians' hands on the instrument, all stopped at the same meter!"

Have you ever heard the music of the noh theater ? Well, noh is usually considered the less accessible art form so when it came time for Adonis to see his first theater performance, I avoided noh and brought him to see kabuki-- once when he was 4 and then again when he was 5.

Well, just like his absolute hatred of Mozart-- he hates kabuki more than anything. So, I thought, he will never like noh. But I borrowed this video from the library and put it on as he was falling asleep (telling him, don't bother to watch if you don't want to).... well the moment the music started, he sits bolt upright in bed and glares at me: "What is this music? And why have you never played it for me before?" For 2 hours he sat there mezmerized by it. I just cannot figure it out!

So now, of course, I really want to take him to noh-- however, little does he know that next month I am planning to take him to kabuki one more time for my birthday! :)

It seems that the famed kabuki-za theater in Tokyo is is closing its doors at the end of March . I guess they will be demolishing the building (which is hard to believe).... so, I definitely want to go one last time.

Here is the wiki article on the theater

The Sogdian Whirl has often been depicted in Chinese art. It is not the dance being performed by the ceramic ladies shown in your post: that is a native Chinese sleeve dance. The genuine Sogdian Whirl, executed most often by males, involved the raising of the arms above the head and the joining of the hands. There were many sinuous movements, bending of the knees and, of course, vigorous whirls. An Lushan was certainly stout, but he could have hardly have weighed 400 pounds, otherwise how could he have skilfully performed the Sogdian Whirl, at which he was said to be an expert?

The dances of the Whirling Dervishes may derive from the Sogdian Whirl.

Thank you, Mary for a wonderful comment!!! I found this wonderful image, shall I swap the top picture?

I have found this a very informative article, and thank you. I thought the 400 pound man dancing this to be unlikely (but still cool), but certainly the images on the Sogdian base in Tibet indicates a solid 250-300 pound man could dance this:

I also have put together a grouping of pictures that claim to represent women dancing Tang Dynasty Court dances, that resemble the Tibetan images. I'm curious to know if the resemblance is superficial. http://pin.it/eu05GRo

Hello Peony,

Thank you for responding to my post.

I love Tang Dynasty Times, and read all your articles about classical China with great interest. May I contribute articles and opinions? Currently I'm doing some intensive research about the tragic Emperor Xuanzong, Lady Yang Guifei and all the fascinating personages who graced their fabulous court...I am also exploring, with delight, the Chuanqi stories and Tang poetry...The Song of Endless Sorrow is so poignant, it cannot fail to move us to tears.

Please post lots of articles about these subjects...Especially about the melancholy romance of Lady Yang,one of the most misunderstood women in all Chinese history (as Xuanzong is one of the most misunderstood men).You have such a lovely literary style, bright and vivid, which captures and holds the attention of your readers.

Have you published books or long essays on Tang China? If so, I'd love to obtain them!

Best wishes and sweet dreams of Tang China...You make that beautiful era come alive again for us.


Hi Mary,

Thank you so much!! I was having trouble getting your wonderful comments to post... but I think things are back to normal. Lately, I have been writing for 3Quarks not on the Tang stuff at all. I am hoping to get back to this blog next year and will email you when i do so we can talk more. Have you ever seen the NHK documentary series from the 70s and 80s on the silk road? I was really inspired by that a lot. I hope we can be in touch again soon.

And love Yasushi Inoue's novels so much!

Thank you!!!!!! (I have your email address so will drop a note to you directly when I get back to this blog and the tang times!)

Hello Peony, I've been offline for ages and just found your latest reply. It's really wonderful to hear from you again. I eagerly look forward to your next e-mail and to your continuing participation in Tang Dynasty discussions.

Hello Jack,

I think that a big muscular man, exceptionally tall but well-proportioned, could have done the Sogdian Whirl, even with grace and agility. An Lushan is usually described as being grossly fat. One can only wonder how this successful general could have heaved himself onto his saddle, let alone executed a dance which requires swift, flexible movement. Perhaps the ancient Chinese word translated as "stout" did not have the same connotations as the modern one. Lady Wang, too, was referred to as being "stout"; yet none of her portraits show her in that way. Possibly we should translate Old Chinese "stout, fat" as "pleasantly plump" or, in the case of ladies, "statuesque,with curves in all the right places".

Hello everyone,

It's interesting to know that under the modern Chinese city of Xian rest the remains of the glorious T'ang capital, Chang'an. We are fortunate to possess ancient maps of this huge city, and know precisely where the principal buildings and quarters were located. All the different neighbourhoods are clearly indicated on these maps; so we can see where the aristocratic mansions, temples, schools,gardens, and markets were.There were at least two Persian/Sogdian open-air bazaars in Chang'an, filled with all sorts of delightful imported goods and fragrant spices. An Lushan had a luxurious mansion in the city; this had been given to him as a gift by the Emperor. How fascinating it would be to unearth the remains of ancient Chang'an! Of course a lot was destroyed or stolen in the course of China's frequent wars, invasions and rebellions; but without doubt much of the Tang treasures still remain, awaiting the archaeologists' shovels. Ah, but the problem resides in excavation itself: how can Chang'an's marvels be dug up without dislocating or demolishing a large part of the modern city?

As an archaeologist, I could recommend shaft (vertical) excavation in some of the less populated areas of Xian, or tunnelling exploration under the foundations of the modern city.These methods are not easy, but anything else would involve bulldozing the buildings of Xian.

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