Asia House to echo to the haunting music of the Zhihua Temple

Zhihua Temple Musicians

Zhihua Temple Musicians

Asia House to echo to the haunting music of the Zhihua Temple

04 November 2014

By David Cowell

Asia House is offering a rare opportunity to listen to the music of the Zhihua Temple, the exquisite and plaintive instrumental accompaniment to Buddhist and Daoist rituals throughout northern China for centuries.

For over twenty generations until the 1950s, the monks of the Zhihua temple (‘Temple of Wisdom Attained’) were the most prestigious transmitters of shengguan music in Beijing.

The current six musicians who will perform at Asia House on Thursday 6 November at 18.45  learnt the ritual music from the last generation of elderly former monks. The performance will feature guanzi (oboe), sheng (mouth organ), dizi (bamboo flute) and yunluo (ten small pitched gongs mounted in a frame).

The Zhihua Temple in Beijing was first built in the ninth year of the Zhengtong Period of the Ming Dynasty (1444 AD) and is one of the most important original building complexes from the period.

It is also the home of Beijing Music which is one of the five oldest known genres in China based on pentatonic scales.

The musicians will be dressed in sumptuous saffron-coloured monastic robes and will be accompanied during the performance by traditional Buddhist chants.

This performance is a collaboration with the British Museum and coincides with the spectacular Ming: 50 Years that changed China exhibition which is being staged until January 5 2015.

David Cowell is a freelance journalist working for Asia House.