Shingaku (Qing-era Chinese music) (清楽)

"Shingaku" is a group of music that is centered on "minyo" (traditional folk songs) and "zokkyoku" (folk songs), introduced from Qing. Combined with "Mingaku" (Ming-era Chinese music), it is also called "Minshingaku" (Ming and Qing-era Chinese music). Mingaku was on the decline in the middle of the Edo period, so Minshingaku substantially means - in many cases - Shingaku.


Shingaku was introduced to Japan in the Kyoho era (1716 - 1735). After the Qing dynasty began in China, many Qing merchants came to Nagasaki for trade and they introduced the people's music, such as Qing plays and minyo. These music spread via "totsuji" (Chinese translators), "jige yakunin" (lower-ranking officers of the Tokugawa shogunate) and officers of Nagasaki Magistrate's Office, and in addition, via "yujo" (prostitutes) in Maruyama. By the final years of the Tokugawa shogunate, Shingaku spread nationwide, except for some areas including Satsuma Domain and Ryukyu. Further, "Shingaku-fu," on which the words and score of Shingaku (called "gongchepu") were written, was often issued mainly in Edo and Osaka. The oldest extent Shingaku-fu is "Kagetsu Kinpu" that was issued around 1831, and it was compiled by Toen KIREIKEN (also called Toen KUZUO).

There were some known "iemoto" (the head of a school) of Minshingaku musician, including Renzan HIRAI, a female player who died in May 1886 at the age of eighty-eight. Ryoma SAKAMOTO and his wife 'Ryo NARASAKI' were both experts of "gekkin" (a moon harp) used in Shingaku.

The popularity of Shingaku was overwhelmingly high from the Edo period to the Meiji period, but after the Sino-Japanese War, its popularity declined rapidly. However, Shingaku made a huge impact on Japanese popular music. Kankan no' (Kankan dance), 'Hokaibushi' and 'Enka' (Japanese ballad) all derived from Shingaku. Incidentally, 'Kankan no' was a popular tune from the Edo period to the Meiji period, and 'Hokaibushi' was the tune that Freedom and People's Rights Movement's desperadoes and others in the Meiji period sang to accompany their gekkin. And various parodies, changed versions of the same melody as the original Shingaku song, continued to be sung by the early Showa period even after Shingaku itself went into decline.


Mingaku contained much more elements of the Chinese court music and gagaku than any other music introduced from China. In contrast, the important factor of Shingaku was folk songs and the content of the song's words (in Chinese) was also accessible for ordinary people in Japan. The song's words were written in Chinese, so Japanese during the Edo period noted down the pronunciation of the southern Chinese in "Katakana" (a square form of "kana" [Japanese syllabaries]) - the notes were called "toon" at that time - and they sang according to these notes. As modern Japanese sing an English song to their own accompaniment of a ukulele or a guitar, so did Japanese from the Edo period to the Meiji period, singing Chinese words in 'toon' while playing the instrument of Shingaku (mainly, gekkin).

The music culture in the Edo period was, as a whole, rigid as it was bound to the class system and to the monopolized system of licensing of teaching art. In the Edo period, warriors were not allowed to play "shamisen" (a three-stringed Japanese banjo), which was the instrument for ordinary people, and peasants and merchants were not allowed to play "shakuhachi" (a vertical bamboo flute), which was a Buddhist ritual vessel of "komuso" (a mendicant Zen priest of the Fuke sect). But Shingaku, contemporary music introduced from China, was exclusively free from the class system in the Edo period. Merchants and warriors, and men and women could enjoy an ensemble and a chorus together without regard of class and gender.

Typical Shingaku songs are 'Sanminkyo,' 'Kyurenkan' (cf. the upper right photograph of the score), 'Matsurika' (folk song), 'Shiki', 'Saso,' 'Baikyakugyo,' 'Hahacho,' 'Man Jiang Hong' and 'Jiang Jun Ling.'
Most of these songs keep their vitality as classical popular music even in today's China; the words, the style of arrangement and others are, in many cases, quite different from those of Shingaku in Japan.

The instruments used in Shingaku included various kinds of string instruments, such as "gekkin" (Moon guitar), "karabiwa" (Chinese lute), "shinteki" (Qing flute), "charamela" (Suona), "sangenshi" (three-stringed Chinese instrument played with fingers) and "kokin" (Chinese string instrument played with a bow) (cf. the right photograph). These instruments were relatively easy for Japanese amateurs to learn. Besides, most Shingaku melodies were so clear and simple that they were easy to learn by heart. In addition, the performance style of Shingaku music was so flexible that players could choose their own style to their tastes, such as the two or three people's ensemble with using just gekkin and kokin, and a solo performance of singing to its own accompaniment of gekkin - even when the tune was just the same. In and after the Meiji period, Shingaku music was performed by Japanese instruments and by Western instruments as well.
In the Meiji period, instruction books were issued about "minteki" (Ming flute), shakuhachi, accordion and harmonica, and these books often include the Japanese songs at that time as well as the Shingaku songs, such as 'Kyurenkan,' 'Sanminkyo' and 'Matsurika.'

Present situation

From the Edo period to the Meiji period, many music collections of Shingaku, written in Chinese with Japanese leading marks, were issued in Japan. And Chinese instruments used in performances of Shingaku were imported via Nagasaki, and they were also made in Japan in imitation of the Chinese imports. Therefore, music collections of Shingaku, which are written in gongchepu in general, and Chinese instruments such as gekkin are often seen at an used bookstore and an antique shop.

In present-day Japan, there are some groups that perform Shingaku music, such as the Association of the Study of Ming and Qing-era Chinese Music (in Tokyo), Nagasaki Association of the Preservation of the Ming and Qing-era Chinese Music (in Nagasaki City) and the gekkin section of Yokosuka Association of Ryoma (in Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture). Besides, there exist some record albums and CDs in Japan that contain the performances of Shingaku.

[Original Japanese]