January 24, 2009, 2:21 pm
Filed under: Instrumental



The Guzheng, and the Guqin, are both descended from the ancient Chinese “Se”, the archetype of all Asian zithers. The instrument spread throughout Asia, carrying it’s pentatonic scale and wobbly vibrato wherever it went. More than the 2000 years old, the Guzheng and it’s relatives have undergone constant modification in terms of construction and number of strings.

One of the main differences between the Guzheng and the Guqin is that Guzheng, like most other Asian zithers, has movable bridges. This allows the player to create the characteristic vibrato by plucking the string with one hand and pressing on the same string but on the other side of the bridge thereby bending the pitch of the note.

Some other Asian zithers, past and present:


Okinawa: KUTU


Monglolia: YATGA




Here’s a Guzheng piece on the Zhonggou Changpian label, probably from the 1940’s. This label featured a wide array of Chinese music styles, from Folk to Classical to Opera. Interestingly, this label, and the related Art Tune, seem to have been the first to seriously record Chinese music other than opera. The labels I’ve been featuring so far recorded Opera almost exclusively.

Even so, I’ve heard very few Guzheng solos on 78 rpm. This one is titled “Fang Zhi Mang” (Busy with Weaving) and was the only Guzheng piece by composer Liu Tian-Yi, a Cantonese composer and Gaohu player. Here he is playing his own composition.


Special thanks to Bei Bei He, a GuZheng player and teacher in southern California (www.beibeizheng.com) and Hong Wang for their help translating and information about Liu Tian-Yi.


October 3, 2008, 1:38 pm
Filed under: cantonese opera

The 42000-43000 Victor series contains some of the most incredible Chinese music ever recorded. Predominately Cantonese, many of these recordings are reissues from the one sided 8000 series which were recorded in New York City and San Francisco as early as 1902. Because these were sold in the United States they are easier to find here, sometimes in great condition as leftover store stock.

This one has the classic Cantonese fiddle-banjo sound, that is, gaohu-sanxian sound.

>VICTOR 42126 A1

A beautiful recording featuring the end blown Chinese flute called Xiao, reminiscent of Vietnamese and other Southeast Asian flute music.

>VICTOR 42178 B2

Here’s another classic sounding Cantonese recording from the early 20th Century. This is a good example of the typical record from this Victor series.

>VICTOR 43246 A3

I had decided not to post this recording because it’s pretty scratchy, but because it’s one of my all time favorite Victor records and I because you must be an intrepid bunch of music lovers to be here in the first place, I figured what the hell. Enjoy.

>VICTOR 43337 B3

August 12, 2008, 8:08 pm
Filed under: cantonese opera

I’m always amazed at how cacophonous these Chinese records can be and here’s a perfect example. A  Cantonese instrumental played on the suona. The suona is a type of shawm that originated in Northern China and eventually spread across China for use in military, wedding, folk and opera music. It’s similar to the Turkish zurna and the Indian shennai, among  others.

After World War II, local entrepreneurs around the world started setting up their own record companies. Tsing Ping is one of the many Chinese-owned labels that emerged in this period, many of which were based in Chinese immigrant communities throughout Southeast Asia. Tsing Ping and Num Sing (see below) were based in San Francisco.


July 13, 2008, 1:21 am
Filed under: cantonese opera

Welcome to any visitors from Excavated Shellac! Have a look around, I’m sure you’ll find something you haven’t heard before!

I’ve already posted something from Oriental Records and quite a few Cantonese records, but I just couldn’t resist sharing this recent find. Otherworldly!

(see COMMENTS for title/performer translations).


Num Sing
June 28, 2008, 1:01 pm
Filed under: cantonese opera

Hello, Dear Listener, I’m back after a busy few months of Real Life and ready to present some more obscure Chinese Opera records! I figure the hardcore Haji Maji listeners have probably worn out all my previous postings through repeated daily listenings, so today I will be posting THREE different records from some small independent labels of the 1940’s and 50’s. Stay tuned, there will be a few surprises in July…

First up is a record on the Num Sing label, This one is for fans of chaotic percussion and players of trash can lids!  The title is roughly General Zhao Tzi Lung, on Horseback, Saves his Master. Thanks to Patrick for adding these details via the comments section.

>NUM SING 2003c

June 28, 2008, 12:32 pm
Filed under: cantonese opera

Here’s another one I’ve never seen before….Golden Star Records from Hong Kong. This Cantonese record is most likely from the 1940’s or early 1950’s. It’s interesting to compare the way the Cantonese musical style has changed from the earlier records I’ve posted…listen to the Beka, Columbia dragon, Hindenburg, etc.

(ps-See COMMENTS for title and artist info)


Amoy Instrumental
June 28, 2008, 10:44 am
Filed under: Amoy Opera, Instrumental | Tags: , , , ,

Amoy is in the Southeastern province of Fujian, across the strait from Taiwan. The language and culture are closely related to that of Taiwan. Here’s an Amoy Opera instrumental on a label I’ve never seen before. The name of the label translates as something like “Country Love Company”, or maybe more accurately “Patriotsim”, as one commentor has noted below . The music sounds very much like Taiwanese Opera (coming soon in a future post).

>Ai-Guo (Patriotic) 5318a

April 1, 2008, 8:51 pm
Filed under: China | Tags:


According to the WordPress Blog statistics, the most common search term that brings people to this blog is “Teochew Opera”. So here’s another one for the Teochew fans out there.

A common complaint is that all Teochew Opera sounds the same (which has some truth to it) but this record certainly stands out …I’m not sure what to say except that this is a very unusual sounding record!

The title is Tio Mou Seng Tong Sok (Man Trapped in Snow).

UPDATE: Reader Javier Li Yong-En (and her Mom!) informs us that the trumpet sound here is a Har To (or Hao Tou) which is commonly used to accompany onstage action in military or court scenes. She adds that this is a recording by a defunct opera troupe from Singapore called Lao Gek Chuong Hiang. She also sends a photo he took of the Har To. She disagrees that this is an uncommon sounding recording, but I have at least 50 Teochew 78’s but not a single one sounds like this. Thanks Javier!

>ODEON 227136a

March 1, 2008, 1:50 pm
Filed under: cantonese opera | Tags: , ,


Possibly my favorite Chinese recordings can be found in the Columbia 57000 series. With their red or green labels and iconic dragon, these records are full of beautiful old time Cantonese opera. The only problem is finding them in decent condition, they are quite old and always seem to have been played to death. This recording features some really amazing singing.

(note: The “G” side of this record had a destroyed label, so I’m showing the filpside label)


February 16, 2008, 4:08 pm
Filed under: cantonese opera


Another rare label associated with Deutsche-Grammophon, Polyphon uses the same numbering as Hindenburg and Pagoda.
Typically wonderful Cantonese style singing here by Lum Kwun San. (Thanks to Patrick Lau)

The first recordings in China took place in 1903 in Shanghai and were supervised by Fred Gaisberg. His observations on the first recording session:

“Their idea of music is a tremdous clash and bang: with the assistance of a drum, three pairs of huge gongs, a pair of slappers, a sort of banjo, some reed instruments which sound like bagpipes, and the yelling of the singer, their so-called music was recorded on Gramophone.”
“On the first day, after making ten records we had to stop. The din had so paralyzed my wits I could not think.”
Gaisberg went to make over 300 hundred recordings in China.
(From Gaisberg’s autobiography as quoted in the notes to the Rounder cd “Rain Dropping on the Banana Tree“)