No longer a tool of war, battle drums have since become a form of folk art; their powerful, resounding beat still rouses an exhilarating heroic spirit. These Chinese drums are played with straightforward rhythms and clearly defined dynamics. They are essentially used to express the spirit of the Chinese people.
The shell of Chinese drums is often made of wood, and the drumhead of animal-skin. Generally, the larger the diameter of the drum, the lower its pitch. For various sound effects, drummers will strike different parts of the drum, such as the rim, where the skin meets the wood, the drum sides, or even the metal studs used to keep the leather in place.
Other drums that are not confined to the battlefield are waist drums and octagonal hand drums.
The waist drum, hourglass in shape, is played in front of the abdomen and strapped to the waist by colorful silk ribbons, allowing the drummers great mobility as they dance.
The waist drum, hourglass in shape, is played in front of the abdomen and strapped to the waist by colorful silk ribbons, allowing the drummers great mobility as they dance. These Chinese drums mostly play upbeat rhythms, especially around harvest time.
The eight sides of the octagonal hand drum represent the eight flags used by the ruling Manchu ethnicity during the Qing Dynasty and are especially popular in the Chinese Northeast.
Aside from drums, what set warriors apart are, of course, weapons. Chinese military weaponry is a vast category with hundreds of types of weapons, many of which do not have a Western counterpart. In Shen Yun programs, historical and mythological stories sometimes feature a traditional weapon, and famous heroes usually possess a particularly powerful weapon—often associated with magical powers.
For example, the Monkey King (from Journey to the West) has a cudgel with a magical ability to transform from the size of a needle to a towering column. The Green Dragon Crescent Blade of Guan Yu (from Romance of the Three Kingdoms) can slash anything, helping the mighty general win countless battles.
Common people or warriors have more familiar weapons, such as sabers, straight swords, bows, spears, and staffs.
Shen Yun devises countless props to bring to life the tropes in Chinese culture, and each draws on the rich traditions of the Han people. Yet Shen Yun also features dances that originate from minority ethnic groups in China.
For instance, the Mongolian Bowl Dance (2007) shows the way Mongolian women greet guests by balancing bowls on top of their heads as they dance. Chopsticks Zest (2008) transforms ordinary bundles of chopsticks into rhythmic instruments, following the Mongolian custom wherein men strike the chopsticks-turned-percussion instruments against their bodies, producing a distinctive, vigorous beat.
Compiled with permission from Shenyunpreformingarts.com/learn.
The Epoch Times is a proud sponsor of Shen Yun Performing Arts, which will perform an all-new 2012 program at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater January 11–15. To learn more about Shen Yun Performing Arts and Chinese culture, view a calendar of Shen Yun’s 2012 world tour, and for ticket information, please visit www.shenyunperformingarts.org.