Casual Tunes

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'Causal Tunes' ( 散曲 Sanqu ), also known as 'Pure Tunes' ( 清曲 Qingqu ) and yuefu ( 樂府 Yuefu ), consist of Little Tunes ( 小令 Xiaoling ) and Serial Tunes ( 套曲 Taoqu ). Little Tunes refer to single tunes, which include Transitional Tunes ( 帶過曲 Daiguo Qu ), which comprise less than three tunes from a same musical unit sharing the same rhyme, and Repetitive Little Tunes ( 重頭小令 Chongtou Xiaoling ), which consist of a few Little Tunes with the same contents and structure, but having different rhymes. In contrast, Serial Tunes include three elements: the same rhyme throughout; a concluding tune; and at least two Single Tunes out of the same musical unit. Because of their considerable length, Serial Tunes are normally used to target complex themes by either narrative or lyrical skills.


Casual tunes and plays share many similarities, although they are considered to be different forms of literature. Wang Shizhen, a literary critic in the Ming dynasty, referred to Casual tunes as the transformation of Ci poetry. In his opinion, the ethnic regimes of Jin and Yuan brought forth the prosperity of ethnic musical tunes in China. These featured a higher volume of sound and an unstable rhyme, which used to be considered incompatible with Ci poetry. Under this circumstance, the birth of a new tune became inevitable. It's obvious that the invasion of northern nomadic tribes had become an impetus to the birth of Casual tunes. They became popular, first among city residents, and later period among literati, who ultimately transformed them into a form of literature.


'Casual tunes' deal with many themes, among which were ideas of philosophical Daoism and religious Daoism. In works on pastoral life we find the spirit of 'Dao models after nature'. In this way, objective landscapes became the mirror of personal feelings and inner world. In ancient China, this was also known as the marriage of inner nature and outer nature. 'Casual tunes' also directly targeted human feelings. In this case, a series of metaphors were employed to express the author's admiration for immortals and their desirable life. In works on historical stories, the author used to base the personal inclination for a peaceful life on Daoist stories and anecdotes, highlighting the special taste and feeling associated with Daoism. In terms of artistic styles, 'casual tunes' featured simplicity and plainness, which were in accordance with the void and emptiness, the taste pursued by all Daoist arts.