Folk Songs

Traditional Chinese folk songs are divided into three main categories:

Haozi (workmen’s melodies)

Sung while at work, haozi is thought to have originated from simple, loud calls of workers working in a group and were meant to regulate breathing, establish a rhythm while performing heavy work and alleviate the pressure of work. These calls evolved into more complicated lyrics and interwoven melodies. Despite their simple musical structure, their content is powerful and energetic.

Shange (songs of the mountains)

Originally meant for communication over large distances, shange has been dispersed over large areas from the mountains of south China and tells stories of inner feelings, typically expressing love or bitterness. These songs are relatively short with varying rhythms, and are sung outdoors at a high pitch and in many variations.

Xiaodiao (folk tunes)

Lively rhythms and melodies for entertainment, these folk tunes are sung at festivals or even during breaks at work. They are the most widely spread and well-known all over China. In the countryside, men, women and even children who are not working in the fields sing these melodies which tell of love, sad goodbye, traditions, legends, historical events and even current affairs.

All the different ethnic minorities in China have their own work songs, mountain songs, dance songs, ritual songs and children songs.


Chinese opera evolved from folk songs, dances, talking, anti-masque as well as the especially distinctive dialectical music. In time opera combines music, art and literature into one performance on the stage. Accompanied by traditional musical instruments such as the erhu, dizi xiao and gong, the actors sing and converse in songs and dialogues that are elegantly written and of high literary value.


Chinese pop, an abbreviation for Chinese popular music, is a modern form of music popular mostly with the younger generations who fill concert performances and buy up  recorded music. Many pop idols from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and China have fueled the growth of the Chinese pop market in the region.