Music of Taiwan

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Apo Hsu and the NTNU Symphony Orchestra on stage in the National Concert Hall in Taipei Taiwan.nch.ntnu.apo-hsu.2005-10a.altonthompson.jpg
Apo Hsu and the NTNU Symphony Orchestra on stage in the National Concert Hall in Taipei

The music of Taiwan reflects the diverse culture of Taiwanese people. Taiwan has undergone several economic, social and political changes through its cultural history and Taiwanese music reflects those issues in their own way. The music of this administrative region has adopted a mixed style. As an administrative region rich in Chinese folk culture and with many indigenous tribes with their own distinct artistic identity, various styles of folk music are appreciated in Taiwan. In addition, Western classical music and pop music in various forms are highly appreciated by the Taiwanese population. Taiwan is an important Mandopop (Mandarin pop music) hub. [1]

Taiwan state in East Asia

Taiwan, officially the Republic of China (ROC), is a state in East Asia. Neighbouring states include the People's Republic of China (PRC) to the west, Japan to the northeast, and the Philippines to the south. The island of Taiwan has an area of 35,808 square kilometres (13,826 sq mi), with mountain ranges dominating the eastern two thirds and plains in the western third, where its highly urbanised population is concentrated. Taipei is the capital and largest metropolitan area. Other major cities include Kaohsiung, Taichung, Tainan and Taoyuan. With 23.5 million inhabitants, Taiwan is among the most densely populated states, and is the most populous state and largest economy that is not a member of the United Nations (UN).

Taiwanese people are people from Taiwan who share a common Taiwanese culture and speak Mandarin Chinese, Hokkien, Hakka, or Aboriginal languages as a mother tongue. Taiwanese people may also refer to individuals who either claim or are imputed cultural identity focused on Taiwan or areas under the control of the Government of the Republic of China since 1945, including Penghu, Kinmen, and Matsu islands. At least three competing paradigms are used to identify someone as a Taiwanese person: nationalist criteria, self-identification criteria, and socio-cultural criteria. These standards are fluid, and result from evolving social and political issues. The complexity resulting from competing and evolving standards is compounded by a larger dispute regarding Taiwan's identity, the political status of Taiwan, and its potential de jure Taiwan independence or Cross-Strait Unification.

Cultural history of Taiwan

The cultural history of Taiwan can be traced back to prehistoric Stone Age. Later the development of written languages made it easier to maintain traditions of the Taiwanese culture.



With the arrival of the Kuomintang-led Republic of China government in 1949, native Taiwanese culture was suppressed, and Standard Chinese (Mandarin) was promoted as the official language. This led to a break in tradition in parts of the island, and ended in 1987, when martial law was lifted and a revival of traditional culture began. (See Taiwanese localization movement .)

Kuomintang Political party in the Republic of China

The Kuomintang of China, also spelled as Guomindang and often alternatively translated as the Nationalist Party of China (NPC) or the Chinese Nationalist Party (CNP), is a major political party in the Republic of China based in Taipei that was founded in 1911. The KMT is currently an opposition political party in the Legislative Yuan.

The culture of Taiwan is a blend of Confucianist Han Chinese and indigenous Taiwanese cultures. Japanese and Korean have influenced Taiwanese culture as well. The common socio-political experience in Taiwan gradually developed into a sense of Taiwanese cultural identity and a feeling of Taiwanese cultural awareness, which has been widely debated domestically.

Standard Chinese, also known as Modern Standard Mandarin, Standard Mandarin, Modern Standard Mandarin Chinese (MSMC), or simply Mandarin, is a standard variety of Chinese that is the sole official language of China, a national language of Taiwan and one of the four official languages of Singapore. Its pronunciation is based on the Beijing dialect, its vocabulary on the Mandarin dialects, and its grammar is based on written vernacular Chinese.

Instrumental music includes multiple genres, such as beiguan and nanguan . Nanguan originally hails from Quanzhou, while it is now most common in Lukang and is found across much of the island.

Beiguan is a type of traditional music, melody and theatrical performance between the 17th and mid-20th centuries. It was widespread in Zhangzhou and Taiwan. By the early 21st century its popularity had declined precipitously.

Nanguan music

Nanguan is a style of Chinese classical music originating in the southern Chinese province of Fujian, and is also now highly popular in Taiwan, particularly Lukang on west coast, as well as among Overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia.

Quanzhou Prefecture-level city in Fujian, Peoples Republic of China

Quanzhou, formerly known as Chinchew, is a prefecture-level port city on the north bank of the Jin River, beside the Taiwan Strait in Fujian Province, People's Republic of China. It is Fujian's largest metropolitan region, with an area of 11,245 square kilometers (4,342 sq mi) and, as of 2010, a population of 8,128,530. Its built-up area is home to 6,107,475 inhabitants, encompassing the Licheng, Fengze, and Luojiang urban districts; Jinjiang, Nan'an, and Shishi cities; Hui'an County; and the Quanzhou District for Taiwanese Investment. Quanzhou was China's 12th-largest extended metropolitan area in 2010.

Taiwanese puppetry (hand-puppet theater) and Taiwanese opera, two genres of spectacle that are strongly related to music, are very popular, while the latter is often considered the only truly indigenous Han form of music still extant today. [2]

Taiwanese opera form of traditional drama originating in Taiwan

Taiwanese opera commonly known as Ke-Tse opera or Hokkien opera, is the traditional drama form originated in Taiwan. The language used is a stylised combination of both literary and colloquial registers of Taiwanese Hokkien. Its earliest form adopted elements of folk songs from Zhangzhou, Fujian, China. The story elements are traditionally based on folk tales of the southern Fujian region, though in recent years stories are increasingly set in Taiwan locales. Taiwanese opera was later exported to other Hokkien-speaking areas.

Holo folk music is most common today on the Hengchun Peninsula in the southernmost part of the island, where performers sing accompanied by yueqin (moon lute), which is a type of two-stringed lute. [3] While the Hengchun yueqin plays only five tones, the pentatonic music can become diverse and complex when combined with the seven tones of Taiwanese Hokkien. Famous folk singers include Chen Da and Yang Hsiuching.

Yueqin a traditional Chinese string instrument

The yueqin or yue qin, formerly romanized as yüeh-ch‘in and also known as the moon guitar, moon zither, gekkin, laqin, or la-ch‘in, is a traditional Chinese string instrument. It is a lute with a round, hollow wooden body which gives it the nickname moon guitar. It has a short fretted neck and four strings tuned in courses of two, generally tuned to the interval of a perfect fifth. Occasionally, the body of the yueqin may be octagonal in shape. It is an important instrument in the Peking opera orchestra, often taking the role of main melodic instrument in lieu of the bowed string section. The frets on all Chinese lutes are high so that the fingers never touch the actual body—distinctively different from western fretted instruments. This allows for a greater control over timbre and intonation than their western counterparts, but makes chordal playing more difficult.

Lute musical instrument

A lute is any plucked string instrument with a neck and a deep round back enclosing a hollow cavity, usually with a sound hole or opening in the body. More specifically, the term "lute" can refer to an instrument from the family of European lutes. The term also refers generally to any string instrument having the strings running in a plane parallel to the sound table. The strings are attached to pegs or posts at the end of the neck, which have some type of turning mechanism to enable the player to tighten the tension on the string or loosen the tension before playing, so that each string is tuned to a specific pitch. The lute is plucked or strummed with one hand while the other hand "frets" the strings on the neck's fingerboard. By pressing the strings on different places of the fingerboard, the player can shorten or lengthen the part of the string that is vibrating, thus producing higher or lower pitches (notes).

Taiwanese Hokkien language

Taiwanese Hokkien, also known simply as Taiwanese, is a variety of Hokkien Chinese spoken natively by about 70% of the population of Taiwan. It is spoken by the Taiwanese Hoklo people, who descended from immigrants from southern Fujian during the Qing dynasty. The Pe̍h-ōe-jī (POJ) romanization is a popular orthography for this variant of Hokkien.



Taiwanese opera is popular among the Hakka, and has influenced the tea-picking opera genre. The most distinctive form of Hakka music are mountain songs, or shan'ge, which are similar to Hengchun folk music. Bayin instrumental music is also popular.

A Tea-picking opera is a form of musical entertainment.

Shan'ge is a genre of Chinese folk song. They are commonly sung in rural provinces; the word "Shan'ge" means "mountain song".

Aboriginal music

A-mei A-Mei World Tour in Taipei Arena 20100319.jpg

Of the two broad divisions of Taiwanese aborigines, the plains-dwellers have been largely assimilated into Han culture, while the mountain-dwelling tribes remain distinct. The Amis, Bunun, Paiwan, Rukai and Tsou are known for their polyphonic vocals, [4] of which each has a unique variety.

Once dying, aboriginal culture has undergone a renaissance since the late 20th century. A full-time aboriginal radio station, "Ho-hi-yan" was launched in 2005 [5] with the help of the Executive Yuan, to focus on issues of interest to the indigenous community. [Listen to Ho-hi-yan ; requires Windows Media Player 9]. This came on the heels of a "New wave of Indigenous Pop," [6] as aboriginal artists such as A-mei (Puyuma tribe), Difang (Amis tribe), Pur-dur and Samingad (Puyuma) became international pop stars.

The 1991 formation of the Formosa Aboriginal Dance Troupe was another major contributor to this trend, while the surprise mainstream success of "Return to Innocence", the theme song to the 1996 Olympic Games, further popularized native musics. "Return to Innocence" was made by Enigma, a popular musical project and sampled the voices of an elderly Amis couple, Kuo Ying-nan and Kuo Hsiu-chu. When the couple found out that their recording had become part of an international hit, they filed suit and, in 1999, settled out of court for an unidentified amount. [7]


The Bunun's original home was on Taiwan's west coast, in the central and northern plains, but some have more recently settled in the area around Taitung and Hualien.

Unlike the other indigenous peoples of Taiwan, the Bunun have very little dance music. The best-studied element of traditional Bunun music is improvised polyphonic song. Folk instruments include pestles, five-stringed zithers and the jaw harp.

In modern times, David Darling, an American cellist, created a project to combine cello and Bunun traditional music, resulting in an album titled Mudanin Kata. The Bunun Cultural and Educational Foundation, founded in 1995, was the first organization established to help promote and sustain Taiwanese aboriginal culture.

Pop and rock

In the mid 1970s a genre of popular music known as Taiwanese campus folk song appeared in the music scene of Taiwan. This music consisted of a fusion of elements from American folk rock and Chinese folk music, and was very popular throughout East Asia. Until the 1987 lifting of martial law, Taiwanese pop fell into two distinct categories. [7] Hokkien pop was sung in a native dialect and was popular among older and working-class listeners; it was strongly influenced by Japanese enka. In contrast, Mandarin pop, due to the assimilation policy of the authoritarian Kuomintang regime (1945–1996) that suppressed Taiwanese languages and culture, appealed to younger listeners. Asian superstar Teresa Teng originated from Taiwan and enjoys immense popularity amongst the Sinophone world and beyond.

With the resurgence of interest in native cultural identities starting in the late 1980s, a more distinct and modern form of Taiwanese pop formed. In 1989, a group of musicians called the Blacklist Studio released Song of Madness on Rock Records. Blending hip hop, rock and other styles, the album focused on the issues concerning everyday, modern people. Building on Song of Madness' success, the following year saw Lin Chiang release Marching Forward , which kickstarted what became known as New Taiwanese Song. Pop stars of the 1990s included Wu Bai, Chang Chen-yue, Jimmy Lin, Emil Wakin Chau (Zhoū Huájiàn) and so on. aMEI, who is renowned for her technically skilled and powerful vocals, is acclaimed to be the pop diva in Mandopop, and pop idols like Show Lo, Jay Chou, aMEI, Jolin Tsai and girl group S.H.E have now become the most famous and popular singers of Mandopop. For rock and band music, Mayday is said to have pioneered rock music in Taiwan for the generation of youth. For latest generation of pop music in Taiwan, singing reality shows such as One Million Star and Super idol have brought many ordinary people to fame, such as Jam Hsiao, Yoga Lin, Aska Yang, Lala Hsu, William Wei and so on.

The 1990s and early 2000s also saw the emergence of bands and artists of more diverse genres, such as Sodagreen, Deserts Chang, Cheer Chen, who have achieved commercial success and brought the new "indie" era of Taiwanese pop music. Other indie bands include Labor Exchange Band, Chairman, Sugar Plum Ferry, Backquarter, Fire EX, 8mm Sky, Seraphim, and ChthoniC. The annual Formoz Festival, Spring Scream, and Hohaiyan Rock Festival are representative gatherings within Taiwan's indie scene. Of these, Formoz Festival is notable for its international draw, with foreign artists such as Yo La Tengo, Moby, Explosions in the Sky, and Caribou headlining the event, while Spring Scream is the largest local band event, and Hohaiyan draws a mixed crowd of beach side party-goers and music appreciators alike.

Other Taiwanese popular singers/bands include Rainie Yang, Da Mouth, Amber Kuo, A-Lin, Magic Power and much more. The popular culture of the Taiwanese people has also influenced Chinese-speaking populations in other places such as Mainland China, Malaysia and Singapore.


Chthonic Chthonic.jpg

There are hundreds of metal bands active in Taiwan. Bands such as Chthonic and Seraphim have drawn more attention to the metal scene in Taiwan, with Chthonic in particular attracting attention overseas, performing at European festivals such as Bloodstock Open Air.

See also

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  1. Andrew Khan (5 January 2012). "Pop musik: the sound of the charts in … Taiwan". the Guardian. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  2. Wang (2000), p. 236.
  3. Wang (2000), p. 235.
  4. Wang (2000), p. 237.
  5. "Ho Hi Yan Hits the Airwaves" . Taipei City Government, May 5, 2005. Accessed 8/19/06.
  6. "New wave of Indigenous Pop" . Taiwan Headlines, Thursday, August 24, 2000. Accessed 8/19/06.
  7. 1 2 Wang (2000), p. 238.