Change and Continuity of Chinese Yayue in Korea


    Chi Fengzhi


      Department of Musicology, Shanghai Conservatory of Music, China


    Abstract: Chinese Yayue, which originated from ceremonial music system of West-Zhou Dynasty, disappeared after several thousand years along with the decline of the court stage. However, in the early 12th Century, the emperor, Song-huizong presented the Yayue instruments to Koryo Dynasty, thus the culture of Yayue began to be inherited in Korea and was preserved in relatively integrated form. It is main point that the Yayue instruments have been lost in China are inherited in Korea and it has been played up to now. . Therefore, it is very important field to study on Chinese music history. This paper attempts to achieve a comprehensive analysis and perception of the history, continuity, change of Korean Aak, and Korea’s attitude, stance, and capability regarding accepting the Chinese music culture by means of the investigation of the historical documents and the full, overall examination of the inheritance of Aak in Yi Dynasty of the Korea. Particularly, it is discussed from the following three parts. The first part deals with the production and development of Chinese Yayue. The second part discusses the change and continuity of Yayue in Koryo and Yi dynasty. The third part deals with the causes of the change and continuity. The paper presents a comprehensive and deep contrastive study of instrument compilation and orchestra organization between Korean aak and Chinese yayue on the basis of the historical documents of the same period between China and Korea, thus revealing the evidence and cause of history-culture through the analysis of concrete music forms.

    Key words: Chinese Yayue, Korean Aak, change, continuity.


    Chinese yayue, which began with the establishment of ceremonial music system of West-Zhou Dynasty, had persisted for thousands of years in court culture, had intense impact the East-Asian countries during the different historical periods. However, the sound and form of yayue vanished along with the decline of the court stage of Qing Dynasty. In the early 12th Century, Da-sheng yue in Song dynasty was transmitted to Koryo and became the main part of Korean music. And it has been performed till today. I have discussed in this paper that the development of the Chinese yayue and what the appearance is which has changed after it introduced to the Korea, and merged with its national culture? As well as what is the attitude of Korean culture accepter to treat Chinese culture at that time?To relieve it, the paper starts with the performing form of Chinese yayue and Korean aak, reviews the change and continuity of Chinese yayue in Korea by contrast to ascertain the degree of influence by China, and then analyze the cultural background.


    The Production and Development of Chinese Yayue

    Yayue is the music which is performed in the sacrificial rites, such as Heaven and EarthRoyal ancestor and Royal audiences. It was originated from ceremonial music system of West-Zhou Dynasty, but there was not the term “yayue” at that time. At first "Yayue" appeared in The Confucian Analects. The Confucian Analects .yanghuo writes:" The Master said: detests the purple seizes the red, popular music disorders yayue, bad words overthrows the country". So, in order to distinguish from the music of Zhengwei, Confucius put forward the name "Yayue" on the basis of the thought of ceremonial-music of the Confucianism. Thereby, the connotation of yayue was shortened and mainly referred to the music used in the situation of the Royal Ancestral Shrines and Sacrificial Ceremony by the ruling classes, but its basic form had been established in West-zhou dynasty.

    There was no specific records about the form of Yayue. But from the scattered words in the historical materials, we can find the performance form of yayue already had been taken its shape in the Zhou dynasty. It was played in the form of Terrace Ensemble, Courtyard Ensemble, Civil dance and Military dance.

       Terrace Ensemble also calls "dengge",  that the main task is singing and mainly accompanied by the instruments: Qin, Se, bell, chime, Sheng[1]. Courtyard Ensemble also calls "yuexuan",  which the main task is instrumental performance without singing[2], and specially, accompanied by the set of bronze bell, sets of stone chime, wind instrument and drum instrument. Zhouli, chunguan, xiaoxu has written:" yuexuan, emperor holds gongxuan, vassal holds xuanxuan, qingdafu holds panxuan, soldier holds texuan." It appears that there’re four ways of arrangement for the yuexuan of Yayue. About yuexuan, the people who different ranks have different sizes. Emperor's size is arranged in four sides of east, south, west, and north; vassal has three directions; qingdafu has two; soldier one. Dance also has the rule of ranks. Zuozhuan, luyingongwunian records:" Emperor takes eight rows; vassal takes six rows; qingdafu takes four rows; soldier takes two rows”. All these numbers refer to "line”. Each line has eight persons according to the explanation of the ancient. Namely the maximum is sixty-four persons. For the civil dance, a flute()is kept on the left hand and a beautiful feather of bird()is kept on the right. The military dancer holds a shield() in his left hand and a battleaxe() in his right[3].

    The performance form of yayue was established in the West-Zhou Dynasty and played an important role in the royal court culture. But the basic content and form of the yayue was modified along with the replace of the dynasty. In Han Dynasty, dengge has been sung but not string instrument[4], and no one knew the usage of gongxuan [5]; the matter of dance followed the ancient only altering the name. The Yayue in Sui Dynasty was added singer and string instrument in the yuexuan[6]. It was different from West-Zhou's structure and was inherited by Tang and Song dynasty. Yayue in Tang Dynasty appended the component of popular music, but it didn’t influence the development of “twelve-he” yayue.

    In Song dynasty Yayue experienced another climax of development after Zhou dynasty. In this period, whether the mode, melody and instrument or the performance form and size of yayue made great progress and surpassed any of the foregoing dynasties. In 1113, the royal court was promulgated the rules of terrace ensemble in which singer, bell, chime, zhu, yu, wind and gourd instruments were included, summing to fifty-three people; courtyard ensemble comprised sets of bells and chime, all sorts of string, wind instruments, drum and singers, adding up to four hundred and two people; civil and military dance had eight rows of eight each.[7]. Furthermore, musician produced "twelve-an" movements[1]. Went without saying, every aspects of yayue in Song Dynasty presented an ascending trend, and achieved the resplendence on history of yayue whether the quantity of the instruments or organization of the orchestra and the working division of labor were very careful. During this period,yayue was transmitted to the Korea and became an important part of Korean music.

    In the early 12th Century, Song-huizong presented a series of instruments, score and dance to Korea. Since then  Korea continued Chinese yayue system and formed three kinds music——yayue, tangak, hyangak. How is the Chinese yayue after entering the Korea ? What change takes place in yayue's condition in the three kinds music? Let's look at the things in the Korea.


    Change and Continuity of Yayue in Koryo and Yi Dynasty

    In Korea, the term "aak" has the difference of broad sense and narrow sense. Broad sense is the court music, which includes aak, tangak and hyangak. Aak comes form Da-cheng yue of Song dynasty; tangak is the court music it was introduced to Korea during the Chinese Tang and Song dynasty; hyangak is Korean native folk music and Chinese popular music it was introduced to Korea before Tang dynasty. Its narrow sense refers to the ritual music used in ancestral shrine and Confucius shrine.

    Korean aak formed from the instruments presenting of Song-huizong. In 1116, envoy came  from Song dynasty with 428 instruments, and costumes and dance properties, all of them use in aak[8]. This fact proves, Chinese yayue was introduced to the Korea. In contrast with yayue of Song, instruments which introduced to Koryo have the difference of natural tone and medium tone in the bell, chime, xiao, chi[9] It was mentioned in Songshi,yuezhi.It is noticeable to point that, in order to keep consistent with Yayue of Song, the natural tone and medium tone in above instruments was canceled. The performance pattern was basically same with Song dynasty. Just because Korea belonged to the conferring country of China that was equal to the status of vassals, so there’s only the three-side arrangement in the usage of yuexuan. The following table shows the difference between the Song yayue and Koryo aak.


    Yayue in Song Dynasty(Songshi,volume 129)

    Aak in Koryo Dynasty(Koryoshi,volume 70)



    director2,singer4,bronzebell1,jadechime1,zhu 1,yu1,bofu 2,one string of qin 2,three strings of qin 2,five strings of qin 2,seven strings of qin 2,nine strings of qin 2,se 8,di4,chi2,chaosheng 5,hesheng 4,xun 2,xiao 2,runyu gourd 1,seven stars gourd 1,nine stars gourd 1,commander1

    director 2,singer 4, bronze bell 1,jade chime 1,zhu1,

    yu 1, bofu 2,one string of qin 1,three strings of qin 1,five strings of qin 1,seven strings of qin 1,nine strings of qin 1,se 2, di4,chi2, chaosheng2, hesheng2




    gongxuan:arrangement of four-side,

    deputy director2, musican4,singer 32,score holder2,b'zhong12,p'zhong12,p'qing12,t'qing12,jiangu4,pigu4,yinggu4,jingu1,leigu2,leitao2,zhu1,yu1,one strings qin7,three

    strings qin18,five strings qin18,seven strings qin23,nine strings qin23,se52,chao


    xuanxuan:arrangement of three-side,director1,


    one string qin7,three strings qin10,five strings qin

    12,seven strings qin14,nine strings qin14,se14,chao




    civil dance:dancer of holding flute and beautiful feather of bird 64,eight rows of eight each, director2,armybanner holder2, amount to68

    military dance:dancer of holding shield and

    battleaxe64,eight rows of eight each,there

    are other members behind it:flag holder2,tao player4,shuangduo player2,danduo player2,

    nao player2,jinchun holder4,jinchun player2

    ,zheng player2,xiang player2,ya player2,

    amount to88

    civil dance: dancer of holding flute and beautiful feather of bird 48,six rows of eight each,director holding army banner2,amount to 50

    military dance: dancer of holding shield and battleaxe48, six rows of eight each,flag holder2,

    tao2,danduo2,shuangduo2,jinchun holder2,jinchun

    player2,nao2,zheng2,xiang2,ya2,amout to72


    ancestral shrine,Confucius shrine,royal

    audiences and other ceremonies

    Confucius shrine,ancestral shrine,royal audiences,

    Sheji and other ceremonies

    By contrast, we can find Korean aak had almost inherited Chinese yayue completely, and were basically consistent in instrument complication; orchestra organization and site except that there’s a little shrinking in its size. But there’re some small distinctions. e.g., there’s not gourd instrument in dengge, substituted "ligu" for "jiangu" in xuanxuan, pigu and yinggu which were introduced from song had not been used.

    Aak had been absorbed into Korean court music immediately after it was entered the Korea and stood independently with the intrinsic tangak and hyangak, and there’s a strict require in the use of instruments. Aak instruments came from Chinese Song dynasty; tangak instruments used fangxiang dongxiao bili and so on;hyangak instruments used xuanqin jiayeqin xiangpipa and so on. According to the Koryoshi,yuezhi, the instruments and compositions of tangak and hyangak are as follows:









    zhanggu  jiaofanggu



    Dance music :

    xianxiantao shouyanchang wuyangxian

    paoqiuyue lianhuatai

    Ci music:

    xinujiao wannianhuan yichuixiao luoyangchun

    yuehuaqing zhuanhuazhi zuitaiping xiayunfeng

    zuipenglai huangheqing huangongyue qingbeiyue

    lizidan shuilongyin qingbeiyue taipngnian

    jindianyue anpingyue aiyueyechimian

    xihuachunzaoqi ditaichun qianqiusui

    fengzhongliu hangongchun huaxindong yulinling

    xingxiangzi yuzhonghua yingchunyue langtaosha

    yujiexing xijiangyue youyuegong shaonianyou

    guizhixiang qingjinzhi baishizhuan

    mangchaohuan tianxaiyue gangenduo

    linjiangxian jiepei

    add up to 47





    jiayeqin(12string)dacen(12hole)zhanggu     yapai(6)wugu

    xiqin(2string) bili(7hole) zhongcen(12hole) xiaocen (7hole)


    Dance music:

    Wugu dongdogn wuxun

    Ge music:

    xijing datongjiang wuguanshan yangzhou

    yuejinghua changtuan dingshan faguniao

    yuanxing jingangcheng changshengpu

    congshiting jushilian churong shalihua

    changyan jiweibao andongziqing songshan

    lichengjiang dongbaishu hangsongting

    zhengguating fengrusong yeshenci

    hanglinbiequ sancang shelong zixiadong


    add up to 32 compositions



    Sanguo hyangak





    Dongjing muzhou yunashan changhancheng

    Lijiantai chanyunshan wudengshan

    Fangdengshan jingyi zhiyishan laiyuancheng yanyang mingzhou


    add up to 13


    According to the above table tangak composition’s are 47;hyagak composition ,suyue and sanguo hyangak add up to 45.So,we can draw a conclusion that tangak quantity are more than half in the whole court popupar music. Moreover, the instruments, tangak and hyangak are different. For example, pipa, is four strings in tangak and is five strings in hyangak.

    From the above data, we can summarize that proportion of aak in three kinds of court music is the most, tangak takes second place and hyangak third. In Yi Dynasty (1392-1910), it was changed. The general trend was that aak, tangak, hyangak began to amalgamate with each other gradually. And the proportion changed too. With the rising of hyangak, tangak was digested by hyangak in a great measure. The division of instruments was not very clear and aak also went through some variance that was reflected in the use of instruments and mixing of aak and hyangak of the performance content, more important, the status and proportion of aak descended little by little along with the development of hyangak. The following paragraphs are proved the concrete process of change.

    Aak, in the early Yi dynasty, mostly followed the music of late Koryo dynasty where instruments was destroyed, dance disordered[10], and content was mixed up popular music[11]and differed from the state of early Koryo. Thereupon, in the Shizong period (1418-1450), the musician Pak Yon reconstructed the aak according to the basic research on the Chinese documents such as Zhouli, Yueshu. Aak has been got relatively intact recovery . As well as,Pak Yon modified position and order of the dance in the light of ancient picture[12]. It is clear that the form and size of aak had been closed to yayue of Song dynasty through rectification.About melody of aak, he revised Dacheng Yuepu according to directions of Zhou li and used in performance. With dengge of the ancestral temple as example, the following graph is the arrangement of dengge instrument in Shizong King fourteen years(1431). It still use strictly the instrument of 8 kinds of material that is the requirement of Chinese ancient yayue. [13]


    jiegu                           jiegu

    teqing        zhu    yu         tezhong

    qin    qin    qin   qin    qin    qin

    se     se     se    se     se     se

    west         ge ge ge ge ge ge ge ge ge ge ge ge       east

    bianqing ge ge ge ge ge ge ge ge ge ge ge ge  bianzhong

    sheng yu he yue guan   guan yue he yu sheng

    sui chi xun xiao      xiao xun chi sui


    In Shizu period(1455-1468),the condition of yayue has occurred change, began to arise the phenomenon of “yayue and hyangak melt”. Not only it’s added plenty of tangak instruments and hyangak instruments in the organization of yayue instruments, but also the compositions of performance were baotaiping dingdaye etc.which had been composed by the nation. Gradually, Yayue tangak and hangak were mixed together.Yayue instrument arrangement chart in Shizu period as follow:


    teqing                                          tezhong


    yu       dazheng      yazheng     zhu

                          ge   ge   ge   ge   ge   ge

    bianqing   jiayeqin      fangxiang      xuanqin     bianzhong

    sheng  zhanggu  yueqin  tangpipa  jiegu  tangpippa  xiangpipa  zhanggu  he              

    chi  tangdi  dacen  dongxiao  bili  bili  xiqin  dacen  tangdi  xun


    For distinct, I will divide into list the instruments of yayue tangak and hyangak for comparision, which appeared in the above chart.

    Yayue instruments:

          tezhong1,teqing1,bianzhong1,bianqing1,zhu1,yu1,jiegu1,sheng1,he1,chi1,xun1,add up to 11.

    Tangak instruments:

           pai1,dazheng1,yazheng1,fangxiang1,zhanggu2,yueqin1,tangpipa2,tangdi2,bili2,dongxiao1,add up to14.

    Hytangak instruments:

           jiayeqin1,xiangpipa1,xuanqin1,xiqin1,dacen2,add up to 6.

    From the above, it is obviously that yayue and court popular music were melt at the ancestral temple in Shizu  period.It is not only broken the tradition of using the instrument of 8 kinds material, but also mixed plenty of tangak and hyangak instruments. Furthermore, tangak instruments were taken the position of main stream. According to the amount of each kind instrument, the proportion from ascending order such: tangak14: yayue11: hyangak6.

    At the beginning of the Chengzong(1469-1494),period, tangak was absorbed in hyangak. Instruments of tangak were not only used in hyangak gradually but also improved in term of pattern of it. According to the record of "Picture and illustration for instruments of tangak" in volume 7 of Yuexue guifan: yueqin "only used in hyangak"; zhanggu "used both tangak and hyangak"; tangpipa had two methods of tuning that were ping key and jiemian key, which adapting to hyangak; for keeping up with xiangbili, the number of hole in tangbili became eight in stead of nine, etc. It was obvious that hyangak gained the sufficient development and absorbed the tangak .So the music of tangak must lost its original style.

    At the late in Yi dynasty, aak was renovated in 15th century had not been maintained completely. Owing to chaos caused by war in 17th century, the number of instruments in terrace ensemble began to cut down, and singer and string instrument disappeared slowly. In 1785, the number of performers in courtyard ensemble dropped from 124 to 21 persons and orchestra organization of three-side also disappeared. In 1910, sacrificial rites such as yuanqiu and sheji were abolished, only the ceremony of Confucius shrine and ancestral shrine were reserved. Lifeline of aak was maintained and continues to these days[14].


    The Reason of Change and Continuity of Chinese Yayue in Korea

    According to the above mentioned facts, we can realize how to change in historical process of Korean aak from transverse (yayue and aak) and lengthways (aak, tangak, hyangak) angles, deduce the Korean stance how to  accept Chinese yayue, and the progress, of variational extent about aak, how the Korea assimilate foreign culture into owe culture systems.

    From the analysis of the second part, we can draw the conclusion the development direction of yayue tangak and hangak has been appeared the change of proportion and status of yayue, which came from China. This kind change is mainly in the scope of “court music” on broad sense. The period of king Ruizong In Koryo dynasty, Chinese yayue had been come into the court, developed in the equal condition with the original tangak and hyangak. And the using frequency and status is different. Yayue is the main , tangak is the second and hyangak is the third. In Li Dynasty, with nation consciousness strengthen gradually, the tendency of three kinds of music were changed. In court music, hyangak had been got develop and appeared plenty of compositions. Some hyangak instruments, such as xuanqin jiayeqin xiangpipa, had been used in yayue. Yayue tangak hyangak had been mixed together and their proportion in court music changed step by step. The proportion of yayue was dropped, the status of hyangak was gone up, and tangak began to appear obvious hyangak trend.

    But as a whole, Korea had accepted Chinese yayue completely. This could be testified from the recordation in Koryoshi,yuezhi. In history, Chinese culture had intensively influenced the East-Asian countries , but in different countries were effected different consequences. Actually, Japanese yayue, is yanyue that came from Chinese Tang dynasty[15].

     Why the Korean stance to Chinese yayue was willing and the Korea turned it into own tradition. As time went by, aak has been experienced the flourishing and decline in different historical periods, but the essential of yayue hadn't been altered, its form still retains terrace ensemble, courtyard ensemble and dance. In order to explain it, let's seek after the reasons about history and culture.

    Korea abuts China and its intercourse is close from ancient. In West-Zhou dynasty, wu emperor dispatched the jizi to Korea. In Han dynasty, wu emperor set up four counties in Korea and founded reigning system. Chinese administration and institutions had been imported to Korea. Chinese culture was impacted on Korea very deeply. From Zhan guo period to the early of Xi-Han, Chinese characters were introduced to Korea with the Confucianism. So the ceremonial music system from Confucianism was accepted following a rational line. In fact, it became the Korean traditional thought since then.

    Korea is an oceanic island. Its three-side are surrounded by sea and one connected to China. Such special geographical circumstance brings up strong enterprising spirit and avocations to civilization. In past years, the people in peninsula were attracted by Chinese civilization and took an active attitude to incept it to reinforce native scarcity. In Gao ju li period(B.C37-668), taixue had been founded after the Confucianism imported the Korea. After Xin luo unified the three countries(668-935), Confucian book and Chinese characters had been comprehensively used. In Koryo dynasty(918-1392), Korean attached importance to the outstanding Chinese culture all the more. They sent students to Chinese Song dynasty and requested presenting or buying books from China. Confucianism study became state study formally of Korea and Buddhism from China became their state religion, too. Imperial examination system and custom were identical to China. By this token, they aspired after gaining knowledge and admired Chinese civilization in the extreme. Consequently, when Song-huizong presented Da cheng yayue originated from Confucian ceremonial-music system to them, Korea  put the music to use in state sacrificial rites and other court ceremonies as soon as possible.. They observed procedure and orders in yayue performance and the use of instruments as same as China. Even though in turbulence, they did their best to study dance ,buy instrument from China in order to keep its original pattern to continue to inherit. In the early of Yi dynasty, the Korean ruling class, who took Confucianism as state ideology and thought much of Chinese culture completely. Everything followed Chinese. Politically, Korea was willing to cling to China and its state name "Chao xian" was chosen by Chinese Ming dynasty emperor, Zhu-yuanzhang[16].Based on such background and aak, which inherited from the late of Koryo, mixed popular music, instrument had been destroyed by convulsion. In the reign of Shizong, which is often considered a golden age of Korean culture, aak revived. To retrieve the perceived ideal practices of antiquity, Pak Yon removed bad practices that had been accumulated in the meantime, based on research in Chinese book. Aak in that time took on blossoming.

    “Tradition is flowing”, however, any culture will more or less come through evolution in the process of the inheritance on account of the influence of geographical circumstance, social vicissitude and ethical consciousness. Aak is the outcome of ceremonial-music system, which has the direct relationship with the court culture. Thus, aak is bound to fluctuate with the gerentocratic notion. In Koryo dynasty, the condition of aak, tangak, hyangak were tripartite confrontation and balanceable. In Yi dynasty, the time of Shizong, proportion changed. The status of aak was from the most to the least and the status of hyangak was from the least to the most. After Shizu period, hyangak was thriving step by step and its status in three kinds of court music ascended along with the rising of ethical consciousness. Tangak was assimilated by hyangak and many hyangak instruments such as xuanqin, jiayeqin, xiangpipa were used in terrace ensemble and courtyard ensemble in ancestral shrine[17]. This shows that the substance and soul of aak were not changed, but its content was transferred towards the Korean explanation.

        From above analysis, we can see what is happening about change and continuity of Chinese yayue in Korea and the acceptance posture of the Korea to Chinese yayue culture. We can discover it is relative not only to political system of East Asia but also to the thought consistency of “Confucianism culture cycle”. It is inevitable that, with the growth and maturity of native culture, the Korean assimilated Chinese culture and came into being ethical tradition on the basis of modifying foreign tradition according to the order of nature in culture inheritation.



    [1]Zhou li, chun guan, xiao shi:"Dengge should knock on the fu when going on sacrifice,and courtyard ensemble should beat drum and wind instrument, no singing"; Da dai li ji:"Terrace ensemble should suspend a bell and chime."

    [2] Zhou li, chun guan, da si yue:" Yuexuan should be displayed and played in any important sacrifice." See endnote 1,too.

    [3] Li ji, ming tang wei:"Military dance should be performed in courtyard and dancer holds red shield and jade battleaxe"

      Zhou li, chun guan, yue shi:"Yue shi should teach civil dance to students and dancer holds flute and staff with feather".

    [4] Han shu, li yue zhi:"Dengge hadn't wind and string instrument lest disturbing the singing."

    [5] Tong dian, yue si:"Courtyard ensemble was in practice in Han dynasty, but no one knew its usage".

    [6] Sui shu, yin yue xia, volume15 :"There are singer2,qin1,se1,zheng1 and zhu1 in the courtyard ensemble."

    [7] See Song shi, yue si,volume129.

    [8] Koryo shi, volume14,volume 70.

    [9] Koryo shi, yue zhi, volume70.

    [10] Koryo shi, yue zhi:"In 1161,minister made bold to change the order of dance."

    [11] Koryo shi, yue zhi:"In 1188, first wine offering of Da cheng yue performed civil dance, middle and final wind offering performed military dance ,and native melody and dance was added."

    [12] Shizong shilu, volume 55,17a

    [13] Shizong shilu, volume 57

    [14] R.C.Provine "State Sacrificial Music and Korea Identity"

    [15] See Zhao Weiping:"Research about Chinese music culture inpour into Japan" , in"Art of Music" 2000, 3.

    [16] Taizu shilu, volume 3,3a~4b

    [17] Yuexue guifan, volume 2,5ab


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