Chinese deity music is an integral part of the traditional Chinese spiritual culture. It is not just a calming sound for the mind. The music is also designed to satiate our short attention spans, deliver instant gratification, and be search engine optimized. In fact, the top hit from singer Yunmao, for example, made almost 10 million yuan ($1.5 million) in 2018. The popularity of god songs is such that they often outperform the releases of big-name pop artists. And with more listeners comes more money.
The Chinese deity music, dachengyue, is a collection of musical compositions played during Shidian rites. The term dachengyue comes from the Confucian term dachengmiao, which means dacheng temple. This repertory has evolved over the centuries. The most recent version, commissioned in 1742 by Qian Long, contained six compositions.
The music is primarily composed for a limited audience and contains instrumental elements that have been acculturated through fusion of Korean and Chinese music. The pieces include vocal pieces in Chinese with orchestral accompaniment, and are often played in suites. The music is played by two orchestras, one for the a-ak and one for the t u ngga deities.
Guqin is a Chinese instrument that was first played in the Han Dynasty. This ancient instrument has seven strings and 13 batches of harmonic marks. It plays 91 different tones. Its design is shaped like a dragon or phoenix, representing the harmony of Yin and Yang. Its two holes are different sizes, and the sound it produces is deep and resonant.
A piece known as Liu Shui, performed by Guan Pinghu, has even been heard in outer space. It was included in the Voyager Golden Record, a gold-plated LP recording that features music from all over the world. NASA sent these recordings into space on its Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts. It is the longest excerpt on the disc.
The Yin tone is a form of Chinese deity music that focuses on appeasing the masses. Typically, it is performed at the outer altars. It is livelier than the Yang tone. The two tone forms are complementary and are intended to create harmony. Both Yang and Yin tones have a deep meaning for the Taoists.
The Yin tone Chinese deity music consists of three priests chanting a mono syllabic phrase in a pentatonic style chord in a stepwise motion. Typically, the tonic is the last note in the musical passage. Most melodic phrases end in descending tones for balance and harmony.
Chinese religious practices include jiao rituals, which involve the worship of Chinese deities and are performed by priests. Modern orthodox Daoist priests perform jiao rituals as their sole function. Both kinds of priests conduct these rituals on different occasions in temples and are frequently consulted for family rites.
Chinese deities are not physical beings, but are images of the divine. These spirits have a special role as intermediaries between the two worlds. They are not possessed or deified by humans, and their worship is centered on the practitioner, who becomes a focus of their divine representation.
Daoist priests deliver memorials or statements to the gods, announcing a ceremony performed in their honor. These statements state the purpose of the ceremony and name the sponsors. The priests also trace talismans on graphs or paper in a language humans can understand.
In Chinese mythology, the Pangu is a primordial being that created the earth and heaven. His voice is considered the sound of creation and his breath is the sound of thunder. He is credited with forming the mountains, bushes, and rivers, and his body was transformed into land, trees, and other geographical features.
Pangu is the first corporeal creature in the pantheon of Chinese gods, and his story is similar to the story of Genesis. He waited until the yin and yang of the universe were balanced before emerging from an egg. He then separated the two with a giant axe. The axe sent the heavy Yin flying into the air, while the Yang remained on top.
The a-ak ensemble plays Chinese deity and court music. The genre was first introduced in 1116 AD during the reign of King Yejong of the Sung Dynasty. Its musical form was influenced by Confucian philosophy. Later on, it was expanded to include banquet music and royal ancestral shrine music. Nowadays, the genre can be heard in special concert performances, temple ceremonies, and other occasions.
The ensemble is known for its performances, and the ensemble plays both traditional and modern pieces. The first piece, ‘Sujech’on,’ is a fifteen-minute banquet piece played by a group of musicians. The lead instruments are the p’iri, a loud oboe-like instrument, and the ajaeng, a seven-stringed zither bowed with a rosined stick. The ensemble also performs the Ch’wit’a, a regular-paced piece of music with the help of a zither and stringed instruments.
Pak Yon has reconstructed the Chinese deity music for a-ak ensemble, incorporating his interpretation of Chinese tunings and musical concepts. His compositions are Confucian in spirit and have remained popular for centuries. A-ak performances have been held continuously since the fifteenth century, and the genre shows no sign of decline.
In China, jiao is the performance of music for a Chinese deity during religious festivals. It can be a recurrent rite for community renewal or to avert disasters. It is also used as an occasion for large-scale offerings to the god.
Jiao has a long history in the Chinese culture. In ancient times, it was associated with a crocodile and was considered a river deity. It is present throughout Central and southern China. Jiao is also the name of a subgroup of the Tan and Tanka people, who lived near the coast.
Guanyin was the new deity in China, and she was considered a very useful deity, offering help to those who needed it. She was a powerful goddess who did not discriminate against anyone, regardless of their status or gender. She offered both worldly and spiritual benefits, and she filled a huge gap in China’s religious system.
Guanyin has various names in Chinese, including Avalokitesvara (Avatar of Compassion). Her name is also used by the Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese, among others. In many of her works of art, she is depicted as a mother, representing compassion. Her portraits in art show a loving exchange with a child, transcending cultural and religious differences.