Acousmatic listening and beyond: hearing nationalistic and cosmopolitan negotiations in China’s symphonic music

Helan H L Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


Anyone listening to China’s soundscape notices its multiplicity—one filled with indigenous and imported, traditional and contemporary musical sounds. What is “Chinese” about these sounds and how does one hear “Chineseness” in Chinese music? This article addresses these two questions by positing acousmatic questions on sonic agency of China—who is it or what is it that is deemed apt to sonically articulate China and who is the one doing the listening? Is it the composer who produced the sonic product? Is it the audience who went to the premiere? Is it the critic who reviewed the work? Is it the scholar who analysed the music? By looking into three case studies of Chinese symphonic music, an imported genre often infused with nationalism: Huang Zi’s Overture ‘In Memoriam’ (1929), the communist song and dance epic The East is Red (1964); and Wang Xilin’s Violin Concerto (Op. 29/39) (1995), I argue that the relationship between sound and listening is intricate, complex, and always changing as the act of listening is burdened by many factors, the body, race, ethnicity, ideological dogma, and even politics, to name just some. Therefore, I further, it is crucial to demystify the following assumptions: (1) the existence of a music that can stand for the nation in all times; (2) the presence of an authority who can decide on what a nation’s soundscape should be; (3) the availability of only one method that a listener can rely on to listen to the sound of a nation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)85-100
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Communication of Chinese Culture
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2020

User-Defined Keywords

  • Acousmatic listening
  • Huang Zi
  • Cosmopolitanism
  • Composition
  • Chineseness


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