Yantian Folksongs

Located in the south-east part of Shenzhen, the Yantian District is very diverse when it comes to folk music. Some notable examples include the Hakka Folksong, the JiuLong Folksong, the Fishing Folksong, the Marriage-cry Folksong, which, along with many others, are all well known among the locals. These vibrant folksongs have a history of more than 300 years and they are sung in various tones and languages including Hakka, Cantonese, and Hoklo. The Yantian Folksongs were the most popular from the late forties up until the sixties, sang regularly by both men and women of all ages.

At the peak of this style’s popularity, many new popular singers emerged. In 1958, an adaption of the Hakka folksong opera, Sister Liu, was created by a Yantian villager named Guandai Bi. Bi recruited villagers as actors, and starred as the main character of his adaption. They later performed at the Guangdong folk art festival, earning the Excellence Award. At this point, the influence and importance of the folksongs was manifest. A decade later, Bi made the wise decision of moving with another villager to Hong Kong, where he became known as the “King of Folksongs”.

The movement was stunted however, by the cultural revolution during which much of the previously acquired know-how of the Yantian folksongs was lost, and those who loved singing them became afraid to sing. It wasn’t until the economic reform — gai ge kai fang, or reform and opening up — of 1978 that the folksongs regained their popularity. In 1991, when the Shenzhen Folksongs Compilation was created, it included over 200 folksongs, over half of which were from Yantian. An enduring regional specialty, Yantian Folk-music is without a doubt an artistic and cultural treasure of Southern China.

This piece is a translated work, translated from Chinese to English as part of the Shenzhen Nonmaterial Heritage Project of Shenzhen Polytechnic University and Shenzhen Museum.

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