Twentieth Century Impressions of Hongkong, Shanghai, and other Treaty Ports of China/Ceremonies/Music and Games




No Chinese festivity is complete without music. According to popular tradition, the Emperor Fu, a contemporary of Tubal, invented "the divine art," and taught his people its rudimentary rules some four thousand years ago. There are now numerous examples of the three main classes of musical instruments—stringed, wind, and percussion. Of operatic airs, used in theatrical performances, there are, perhaps, not more than a dozen, but there are numbers of tuneful melodies to which songs are set. Chinese music can, of course, be rendered on the violin or other instrument of the viol tribe, upon the trombone, or by the human voice, but it cannot be exactly reproduced on a piano or other keyed instrument, or upon a European fretted stringed instrument, as there is a slight difference between the intervals of the Chinese scale and that used in the West. The inattentive ear will not readily distinguish any tune in music played by a Chinese band, and will probably receive an impression of melancholy and monotonous discords, but the careful listener may identify the various tunes, and will, without doubt, be surprised at the skill displayed by the musicians in performing upon most primitive instruments.

Of games there is an infinite variety, from games of chance, which gratify the almost universal love of gambling, to games comparable only to chess in the demands they make upon the skill of the exponent. Elephant kee, as it is called, is, in fact, very similar to the great scientitic game played by Western nations, in that the checkmating of the king, or commander, decides the issue. The Chinese game is based on military tactics, and, for the reason that women are not supposed to go to war, there is no queen. For hundreds of years this has been a favourite pastime of the educated classes, and its origin is lost in antiquity.