The Kennedy Center - 2005 Festival of China
  Yunnan Yuansheng Indigenous Music and Dance Studio

Who created the earth and the sky? Why is there a night and day? What is the meaning of life and death? Why does one year bring good rains and a bountiful harvest, while another brings massive flooding, yet another brings drought and yields no harvest?

In distant eras long past, men's hearts were filled with these mysteries, and the world was a maze of unanswerable questions. It was impossible for one individual to grasp to complexities of fate, and this lead to the belief in living spirits among the myriad things of nature and the worship of ancestors. Set rituals began to emerge, and there were prayers, offerings and shamanic rites for every problem, every triumph and every issue that faced the people. The people believed that these rituals could effect the omnipotent gods and bestow them with legitimacy.

The ancient Yunnan plateau was one of the early breadbaskets of humankind; it nurtured early primitive human cultures. It has been recognized as the original birthplace of tea, and as one of the sites for the development of grain cultivation. Japanese academics have labeled it as the distribution center for continental Asia's water cycle, the "cistern of Asia". It was a center for the migration and interaction of ancient peoples. The unique geographical position and rich cultures ensured it a central role among surrounding regions.

There are 25 distinct indigenous peoples in Yunnan with hundreds of sub-branches. Each of these peoples has their own unique social structures, ways of life, historical developments, customs and cultural arts. The socioeconomic development histories of these peoples are also unbalanced, making it a "living history of societal development". They each have their own religious beliefs, presenting a rich tapestry of religious phenomena, covering the whole spectrum from animist and shamanistic religions on to more organized ones such as Daoism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity.

Because of the barriers created by tall mountains and raging rivers, the changing forces of time lose their intensity when they reach Yunnan. Many ancient rituals, chants and dances have been remarkably preserved here, glimmering with the brilliance of ancient cultures and exposing the flavors of more barbarous times.

  Introduction to Programs

1 Sea Grass Melody (Yi, Sandao Hong Branch)

Of the twenty five ethnic groups in Yunnan, all have rich traditions of song and dance. The Yi people are one of the most prolific. Their population in Southwest China is in excess of 5 million; they possess their own writing script and a rich culture. The "Sea Grass Melody" developed along Yilong Lake in Yunnan's Shiping County. The Yi youth there sing as they row their fishing boats. The tune emulates the waving of the lake's sea grass, for which it takes its name. The song is extremely complex and moving; it is the most difficult of the "Four Great Melodies" of Shiping County.
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