Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 11 months 1 week ago

During Phase 0 and Phase 1, I have found a topic I will be researching about. I also have some prior knowledge about my subject Bai Music. During Phase 0, I chose Bai Minority Music, something I want to spend 28 days in Xizhou studying. Phase 1 was about my prior knowledge of the topic of Bai Music. During Phase 3, I will be doing some background research about Bai Music as well as digging deeper into the matter.

Background Information (from Phase 1):

Bai music mainly consists of solo or small ensemble instrumental music, folk songs, and traditional dances. One of the most popular dance is called the Lion Dance which is said to be originated from the NanZhou Kindom.[1] Bai Music dates back to the Qing and Ming dynasties of Ancient China, developing a rich culture over the years.[6] The music in Xizhou is based on the worship of Daoism, Confucianism, and Buddhism.[2] Although Bai Music has been influenced by outside cultures over the years, Bai songs are always sung in the local Bai language.[7] The music is a guide for the way to live.[2] Bai Opera, also known as Chuichui, is the combination of folk music and dancing.[1] The ancient Bai people had a mix of music and dance. Many Bai people are known for their music. Yang Qiwei's "On the Road," Yang Yizhong's "Temple Medicine" and "Dong Yun Ge" is known as "masters." The famous Lion Dance was introduced in the Tang dynasty.[3]

The lyric structure of Bai folk songs consists of 7 or 8 sentences. When a song has eight sentences, all sentences have seven words with the exception of the 4th and the 8th. The 4th and the 8th sentence have five words. When a song has only seven sentences, all sentences except the last have seven words. The last sentence has five words. This type of lyric structure is called 山花体 (mountain flower body)[3]

Chinese traditional instruments are grouped into eight categories known as bayin (八音). The eight types are silk, bamboo, wood, metal, clay, gourd, and skin.[4] The most popular instruments are the Erhu (二胡), Guzheng (古筝), and the Dizi (笛子).[5] The Erhu is a two-string, violin-like instrument that is played with a bow. It has a small sound box with a  snakeskin cover, so it is quieter than a violin. The Erhu covers 3 octaves and is used to imitate singing birds. The Guzheng is played sitting on a chair and in front of the guzheng desk. It is often performed solo. The Dizi is generally made of bamboo, and they usually have six or more finger holes. The Dizi have a range of about two and a half octaves. Since the Qing dynasty, the Dizi was typically played for theatrical performances.[5]

Salaries that the musical performers are directly based on who they are performing to. This does not have to be money, but could also be dinner. Musicians usually open a shop to make a living and play music for the joy of it. The only part of playing bai music is about making money to survive. Musicians find an alternative job and try to make life better.[6]

Information From 3-to5's:

Although 3-5s are meant to help us gather resources, they are also a way for us to understand our topic at a deeper level. Mr. Yang and Ms. Wang have given me some useful information. After having a conversation with them, I know that there are three types of music in Dali. 大本曲 (Da ben music), 大经古曲 (Da jing gu music), and monk/temple music. 大本曲 is usually played with an instrument or with singing. It is specific to the Bai minority group. 大经古曲 is traditionally performed in a small ensemble where most players are old men. Monk/temple music is when the monks chant and sing in the temple.

Information From Local Contacts:

Before I arrived at Xizhou, I thought the place was going to be full of Bai minority music. This is not the case though. Through my 3-5s, I realized that only a few people played instruments or sang and danced. The streets were not filled with Bai minority music. Instead, western pop music filled the streets. Even though this was the case, I still managed to find a few people who connected with Bai music and culture.[8]

Ms. Su (March 13. 2019)[9]

Ms. Su is a dancer who organized a group for performances.

  • She started to dance when she was 16 and has danced for over 30 years.
  • She learned from a teacher for half a year then self-learned from television.
  • She organized a dancing group and performed with them in the city garden.
  • She works with other music players such as Mr. Yang.

Mr. Zhang (March 14. 2019)[10]

Today Ms. Yang and I went to visit Mr. Zhang. Mr. Zhang is retired and plays the Erhu with an ensemble.

  • Mr. Zhang plays the Erhu with many other people including Mr. Zhao
  • Their ensemble was created after 1980 and included about 18 people.
  • The ensemble consists mostly of elders, the youngest member in there that is a little over 50.
  • Mr. Zhang told me that people in our generation don't learn traditional Chinese instruments because they are either not interested or don't have time.
  • Most people in this generation prefer pop music and don't consider learning instruments such as the Erhu.
  • Music in Xizhou is not something to make money from so most people who play instruments are retired or as a hobby.
  • Mr. Zhang usually performs during festivals and competitions.
  • One specific festival he plays in is a big Muslim gathering on 三月街 in mid-April.

Mr. Yang (March 17. 2019)[11]

Mr. Yang is a musician who I talked to today. He was very welcoming when I asked questions.

  • Mr. Yang plays the SanXian, Yueqing, and many other traditional Chinese instruments.
  • Mr. Yang's string instruments have dragon designs on them
  • The dragon is the most important animal in Bai Minority Culture.
  • The SanXian Mr. Yang plays called Dragon head SanXian
  • Instruments from other minority groups have different animal designs based on what they believe in.
  • The instruments are carved with Bai minority designs.
  • Their ideas are carved onto the instruments to express themselves.
  • Mr. Yang plays mostly as a soloist and sometimes plays with one or two others.
  • When playing as a soloist, Mr. Yang sings while he plays.
  • He is playing at a wedding on March 26th.
  • He learned to play all the instruments by himself.
  • Mr. Yang believes that the culture of Bai music should be passed down to the next generation.
  • He wants to get the leadership involved with teaching Bai music.
  • Mr. Yang is willing to teach for free to pass down the knowledge and culture to the next generation.
  • He teaches most of his students for free.
  • Mr. Yang thinks that tutor fees in the city are too expensive.
  • Mr. Yang says that fewer people want to learn Bai music but not too less.

Mr. Yang (March 18. 2019)[12]

Mr. Yang showed me his instrument that a Spanish person made him while sharing information about music a few years ago. He met the person sleeping by his doorstep and offered him a chance to learn Bai instruments. Later, the Spanish person made this instrument as a parting gift. He played the instrument for us. He is already 73 years old and still active and playing his instruments.

  • The most common instruments in the village are Sanqian, Suona, and Dizi
  • Mr. Zhang does not play wind instruments but plays many string instruments.
  • Bai music has many different types.
  • Some are played for happy times such as weddings, others for sad times for funerals. 
  • The Suona is best for expressing feelings.
  • A group of musicians usually consist of wind instruments, drums, and cymbals.
  • String instruments are played in ensembles as well with wind instruments and percussions.
  • The Sanxian is mostly for harmony rather than melody.
  • Usually played in DaBenQu.
  • Sometimes, Mr. Yang sings while playing the Sanxian during festivals or in temples.
  • The music played in Temples are usually for relaxing, festive or to entertain the gods.
  • Mr. Yang does not care about money when playing instruments.
  • "Music is worth more than money" - Mr. Yang
  • "When you have money, you can't buy music. When you have music, you don't need money" - Mr. Yang
  • Mr. Yang always plays his instruments by the lake in the morning.
  • He plays through 10 pieces before moving on to his daily activities.
  • He finds playing music enjoyable.
  • Mr. Yang believes that sickness cannot find you when you play music.
  • Mr. Yang likes to play traditional pieces rather than modern pieces.
  • He likes the spirit and feeling of playing traditional pieces and finds most modern pieces annoying and unpleasant.
  • He has memorized most traditional Bai pieces and doesn't need music to play anymore.
  • He does not believe in writing Bai music; he thinks the feeling changes when you rewrite it.
  • Mr. Yang does not find playing the same pieces boring, only focuses on making it better.
  • Mr. Yang thinks that a new instrument is not as good as one played for many years.
  • If you practice an instrument well, it sounds better. If you practice an instrument unprofessionally, it will be ruined.
  • When Mr. Yang was young, the Cultural Revolution made buying and practicing an instrument very difficult.
  • He begged one of his wealthier friends to lend him an Erhu to play and soon fell in love with it.
  • He joined an ensemble during the Cultural Revolution and played music for celebrations.
  • Mr. Yang does not think that the Five Golden Flowers portrays Bai culture well.

Mr. Yang (March 19. 2019)[13]

Today, Mr. Yang taught Emily Z and I a section from a basic Bai piece on the Sanxian. It was interesting because I also got my first glance at Bai music, which is very different from a normal staff which I am used to reading. The music is much easier than western music and I hope to return to him during the weekends to learn more.

  • Mr. Yang started to play music at the age of 16.
  • He was also in Calligraphy and different forms of art.
  • His first instrument was the Erhu.
  • 1966, Mr. Yang joined an ensemble and got a job.
  • During the Cultural Revolution, he played many songs dedicated to Mao.
  • Not many pieces were played about Bai.
  • According to Mr. Yang, they were allowed to play Bai music but didn't want to.
  • He continues to play these pieces, even today.
  • He finds them very interesting, equivalent to Bai music.
  • Mr. Yang thinks that important people such as Mao will be remembered forever.
  • At the age of 60, he returned to Bai music.
  • He wrote a book to the local leadership about Bai music and culture.
  • He thinks that to continue a minority group two things need to be passed down: Language and Culture.
  • He cannot forgive himself if he doesn't pass down the culture to the next generation.
  • People like to hear Mr. Yang play music.
  • When he has time and the mood, he will play music for people, even if he doesn't know them.
  • He isn't professional, but he has gained respect from the villagers, and that is enough.
  • He thinks that the people who don't share their experiences are stupid.
  • Bai music is very different from Western music.
  • Instead of a 5 line staff, it uses numbers to represent the notes and symbols to represent note lengths.
  • The music is usually played in 2-3 octaves.
  • Some symbols are the same as Western music such as "pp" or time signatures.
  • Most Bai pieces are played in 4,2

Mrs. Duan (March 20. 2019)[14]

Today, I had a conversation about music with Mrs. Duan. Mrs. Duan plays various instruments; her husband does as well.

  • The most common instrument is the Sanxian and Erhu
  • This is because it is easy to play and small.
  • Bigger instruments such as Guqing are harder to carry around.
  • She can play many instruments including the Sanxian and Yueqing
  • Mrs. Duan self-taught herself all the instruments.
  • She would teach herself and told me that there weren't any challenges.
  • She taught her grandson how to play various instruments.
  • He grandfather shared his knowledge of DaBenQu to her.
  • She could play for 2-3 hours every night without being bored.
  • Sometimes she practices at her friend's house.
  • She considers music as a hobby.
  • The ensemble makes about 800RMB for one performance.
  • The ensemble has about 20 people.
  • Mrs. Duan and her husband have gone to Shanghai to perform.
  • They go to many places often to perform.
  • Mrs. Duan says that people should smile and look at their audience when performing.
  • She does not think closing her eyes to enjoy the music is appropriate during a performance.
  • Bai music is very respectful.
  • It is easier to learn something while you are still young.
  • When she was older, she can't remember as well.

Festival at ChenDong village. (March 21. 2019)[15]

Today, I went to a festival in ChenDong village. The festival was to celebrate the birthday of one of the buddhas.

  • The festival is a birthday celebration for Taishan Laojun, the god that saved all the Bai people.
  • Legend says that all the gods wanted to burn all the humans on Earth except one.
  • That one god didn't want the people to die and tried to save them, he eventually did and sacrificed his own life along the way.
  • Younger people don't attend the celebration because of work or study.
  • Elders who want to gather together and play music as a hobby join the festival.
  • All the musicians are volunteers, and no money is given to them.
  • Dancers usually don't come to the festival because they need to be paid.
  • Festival music has many percussion instruments.

Ms. Yang (March 21. 2019)[16]

Ms. Yang is a percussionist that plays music as a hobby.

  • Ms. Yang plays a percussion instrument.
  • The percussion instrument she plays is called the Yueyao which is a series of cymbals attached to a wooden stand.
  • Ms. Yang is a farmer but plays music as a hobby.
  • Ms. Yang is very happy when her group gets invited to the temple every year to celebrate.

Mr. Zhang (March 26. 2019)[17]

  • Mr. Zhang started to play the Erhu during the Cultural Revolution
  • The instruments and music back then were very inexpensive.
  • He joined an ensemble.
  • Nowadays, he plays for fun and gathering with friends.
  • He says that musicians make money by tutoring and performing.
  • Tutoring can make more money than setting up a stand on the streets.
  • Performing can make a little money but not enough for making a living.
  • This is why most musicians have another job.
  • Mr. Zhang does not tutor anyone, he rather plays with his friends.

Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1):

What types of instruments are played in the village of Xizhou?

There are many types of instruments in the village; all are traditional Chinese instruments. The ones I have encountered are SanXian, Dragon Head Erhu, XiaoYuan, DaYuan, Dizi, Guqing, YueYao, and countless other percussion instruments.

What is the most popular instrument in Xizhou?

The two most popular instruments in the village are the Erhu and the Sanxian. Almost every musician in the village plays it along with some other instrument.

How are the instruments made in the village? Who makes them?

Most of the instruments in the village are made outside of the village in a factory. This is because not everyone in the village plays a musical instrument and making instruments does not make much money. Mr. Yang, a good friend of mine, has many instruments made from factories but others are made by his visitors who want to give him a gift.

How do the musicians express themselves through music and when?

I have not gathered enough information about this question.

Are there any stories or meanings in the music?

Some of the music of Bai are dedicated to a higher power or a god. Others are for a celebration or for a loss. From my interviews, no one had said anything about specific stories in Bai music.

How have the music and the musical instruments evolved throughout the years?

Western Music of influenced Xizhou a lot. From conversations, I know that there use to be a Bai music CD store in SiFangJie. Now, it is a restaurant. This is because most of the younger people don't want to learn traditional Bai music and are influenced more by 21st-century pop music. The elders in the village still play Bai music as a hobby but there are no careers based on it.

How are the traditions and knowledge of music passed down?

Some musicians feel that their knowledge of music is not passed down as much as before. Others think differently and say that they are teaching the next generation Bai music.

Is Bai music in Xizhou still very popular or is it slowly forgotten?

People who I have had conversations with have different opinions on whether Bai music is being slowly forgotten. Some say that fewer and fewer people are learning Bai music and think that it will fade away in the next 50 years. Others are more optimistic about it and say that 

How many people see playing music as a career or just for recreational time?

Most people who play musical instruments in the village are elders who play it as a hobby rather than a trade. One great example is the big ensemble in the village. The ensemble only consists of people older than 50 and most are 60-70 years old already.  The reason young people don't play the instrument is that they are busy studying or making money to support their families.

Are there other ways to receive an income for a musician? How?

Most musicians in the village are already retired so they don't need to get paid in order to play. They go to festivals and play music for others voluntarily, just for gathering with friends and the community.


1. Facts and Details, Bai Minority Culture and Life:, accessed 17 January 2019.
2. Ethan T, Inquiry Project:, accessed 17 January 2019
3. Baidu Baike, 白族音乐:白族音乐/3572503?fr=aladdin, Accessed 17 January 2019.
4. Wikipedia, List of Chinese musical instruments:, accessed 18 January 2019.
5. China Highlights, Chinese Musical Instruments:, accessed 18 January 2019.
6. Prezi, Bai Minority Folk Music:, accessed 23 January 2019
7. Brandon Q, Inquiry Project:, accessed 24 January 2019
8. Ms. Wang and Mr. Yang. 3-5s conducted by Evan S., March 12, 2019
9. Su. Personal Interview conducted by Evan S., March 13, 2019
10. Zhang. Personal Interview conducted by Evan S., March 14, 2019
11.Yang. Personal Interview conducted by Evan S., March 17, 2019
12.Yang. Personal Interview conducted by Evan S., March 18, 2019
13. Yang. Personal Interview conducted by Evan S. and Emily Z., March 19, 2019
14. Duan. Personal Interview conducted by Evan S., March 20, 2019
15. Music Festival Attended by Evan S., March 21. 2019
16. Yang. Personal Interview conducted by Evan S., March 21, 2019

My name is Lifan S, but I prefer Evan. I am part of the Wildfires microcampus group which traveled to Xizhou for 28 days in 2019. I loved the trip, all the challenges, and the easy parts as well. I encourage others to attend the program because it is truly a once in a lifetime experience.