Daoist Lyrics

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The "Daoist Lyric" ( 道情 Daoqing ) is a category of folk art forms. Its origin can be traced back to immortals songs and Daoist tunes, but it is different from common Daoist music after all. If the creation of Daoist music serves the purpose of worshiping and eulogizing spirits and immortals, and severs the ritual activities of fasts and offerings and becomes an integrant of the whole ritual, then the Daoist lyric is comparatively independent.

Daoist lyrics must first of all have rich feeling elements, which are not ordinary worldly feelings, but feelings that transcend the worldly feelings and reflect the sublimation of the essence of "Dao". Therefore, in order to convert people with the noble feelings of "Dao", writers must strengthen the artistic effects through liveliness. This liveliness is reflected not only in content, but also in style. The acting of certain motions can make the content more specific and sensible, and at the same time, spoken parts inserted can make it easier to comprehend. Both of them lead to the shift from the music nature of Daoist lyrics to their drama nature. Consequently, in many dramas of ancient China, plots are developed often by means of Daoist lyrics.

It is difficult now to ascertain the original appearance of Daoist lyrics. But some traces can be found in "boards-clapping songs " by Lan Caihe, one of the Eight Immortals ( 八仙 Baxing ) . In the Song dynasty, Daoist lyrics were not only fashionable among the people, but also welcome by the imperial court. According to volume 7 of Past Tales of Wulin ( 武林舊事 Wulin Jiushi ) by Zhou Mi, Daoist lyrics at that time were the same as Guzici (i.e. versified story sung to the accompaniment of a small drum and other instruments) in form. In the Southern Song dynasty, singing Daoist lyrics was accompanied by a percussion instrument made of bamboo, known as the Yugu, and the Jianban, a musical instrument used in Chinese opera. Therefore, Daoist lyrics are also called "Yugu".

Since Daoist lyrics are terse and can be sung independently, some Daoists or literary men throughout history who believed in Daoism took delight in "illustrating Dao and expressing emotions" by means of them. Zhang Sanfeng was one of the authors of Daoist lyrics who can be affirmed today. Anthology of Zhang Sanfeng collects many Daoist lyrics, such as Ballad of Daoist Lyrics. As far as artistic means are concerned, the Daoist lyrics by Zhang Sanfeng are closely related to Ci (i.e. poetry written to certain tunes with strict tonal patterns and rhyme schemes, in fixed numbers of lines and words) of the Tang and Song dynasties, and some of them are even written according to relative Cipai (i.e. names of the tunes to which Ci poems are composed) of the Song dynasty. Zhang Sanfeng makes some changes while using Ci of the Song dynasty for reference. This manifests the unified spirit of inheritance and creation.

The Daoist lyric is not only a good style for Daoists to relate techniques of cultivation of Dao and express feeling of worshiping Dao, but also spread widely among the people. Not less than several dozen types of Daoist lyrics appear in different places since the Ming and Qing dynasties, and local features are formed moreover. So there are Daoist lyrics of Wenzhou, Yiwu, Dongyang, Hongqiao, Shenchi, Linxian, etc. Local Daoist lyrics are generally all combined with local folk songs and minor tunes, or they absorb the tunes of operas, so there emerge different styles. This is also because of literary men's adoption and spread. Making a comprehensive survey of the Ming and Qing dynasties, we find that although there are not too many Daoist lyrics created by men of letters, but there are really some that are praised by the world. For example, Huixi Daoist Lyric by Xu Dachun in the late Ming dynasty has good fame in the academic circle, and Zhehu Daoist Lyric by Yuan Xuelan also evokes fine repercussion.

Singing and playing artisans also benefit from the art of Daoist lyrics. For example, Pearl Tower told orally by Zhang Huinong contains the rich content of singing Daoist lyrics. The Daoist Lyric sung by the hero of the story Fang Qing expresses of his experience of his ten-year assiduous study by means of metaphors. Moreover, it contains profound Daoist teachings. For instance, "perfect merits" and "free and unfettered" reflect the glory of Daoist thought. Besides, an aesthetic "distance" is produced by means of exaggeration and the like, thus having good artistic effects.