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As far back as the first century B.C., more than 80 kinds of musical instruments are known to have been played in China. In the long course of development, the five categories of traditional music have come to be recognized : songs, dance music, ballads, operas and instrumental pieces. In 1978, the excavation of an early Warring States tomb in Hubei's Suixian County from more than 2,400 years ago uncovered a large musical instrument consisting of 64 bells arrayed on a rack. Tests have shown that each bell can produce two different high-pitched notes (a major third and a minor third) depending on where they are struck. The instrument has a range of five octaves. The beautiful pitch produced can be modulated, giving some idea of the musical complexity available even at this early day. During the feudal society's long history musical culture flourished as it passed through many different periods. Treasured musical pieces from former times include Eighteen Airs for the Fife and Guangling Verse (for the qin, a Chinese zither), Ambush on AII Sides (for the pipa, a plucked stringed instrument), and Evening by a River in Spring (for instrumental ensemble). China has also made great contributions to music theory. In 1584, Zhu Zaiyu was the first in the world to systematically calculate the equal temperament of the music scale. His book, New Rule of Equal Temperament, explains a system using 12 equal intervals that is identical with that used around the world today.

In the wake of the May 4th Movement in 1919, Chinese composers began to adopt the expressive forms of European music. During he l930s and l940s, many progressive musicians enthusiastically joined the ranks of the masses and created many outstanding works fresh in style and profound in content. These have been loved by the broad masses of the people. One example, March of the volunteers, with music by Nie Er and words by Tian Han, is now the national anthem of the People's Republic of China. The birth of the modern opera White-haired Girl opened a new stage for the development of Chinese opera.

Progress in music performance is closely related to the establishment of various professional music organizations and the popularization of their performances. After the founding of New China, cultural departments at all levels from the central government to the local authorities organized song and dance ensembles, opera theaters, and orchestras with both Western and traditional instrumentation, and many famous composers, conductors, singers and instrumental musicians have emerged. The Central Philharmonic holds regular concerts of both Chinese and foreign music ranging from classical and romantic to modern. The Chinese people very much enjoy European classical music. At one point, the Central Philharmonic delivered a series of performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with crowded houses at every performance. Many Chinese also enjoy Western operas such as Camille, Carmen, Madame butterfly, Figaro's Wedding and Onegin. Large-scale music festivals are regularly held throughout China. Regular annual festivals include "Shanghai Spring," "Guangzhou Music and Flower Party," "Beijing Chorus Festival," "Northeast China Music Week," "North China Music Week," "Northwest China Music Week," "Spring City Concert," "Harbin Summer," and "Jinan Autumn." Performances by amateurs are also very popular. Beijing's "May Flowers," Shanghai's "October Song Festival," Fujian's "School Concert" and Guangzhou's "Student Choral Festival" are held every year.

As China increases its international cultural exchanges, more and more Chinese musicians are participating in a wide variety of international musical contests with gratifying results. Individual Chinese musicians and Chinese music troupes have visited many countries and regions in the world and many famous foreign musicians and musical organizations have performed in China, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Boston Symphony, the Berlin Philharmonic, the Vienna Philharmonic and the British Broadcasting Symphony Orchestra and violinist Yehudi Menuhin, famous singers Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo and Julio Iglesias.

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