Confucianism in Xoan singing

Saturday, November 09, 2019 4:28:34 PM

As far as we are concerned, the Confucianism entered our country at the beginning of the Christian era. In the fifteenth century, the Vietnamese feudal government elevated this religion as the national religion. Since this time, the Confucianism has widely penetrated into many different aspects of the Vietnamese people’s life, one of which is music. The Confucianism also influences Xoan singing of Việt people.

What are the Confucian factors in Xoan singing? This writing will try to find the answer through investigating worship singing of Xoan.
1. Confucian factors in Xoan singing
Preliminarily investigating the repertoires and the performance in Xoan worship singing, we recognize that the manifestations of the penetration of Confucian factors in Xoan singing are some conceptions about the relation between the King and servants, studying, competition, social classes, and the male position in the society.
Below is the content of the above conceptions.
1.1. Relation between the King and servants
 The Confucian conception is “the proper behavior is leading a life with moral principles, which means the King and servants should have sentimental attachment; fathers and children should have affection; husbands and wives should have their individual space; younger brothers should respect older ones; friends should trust each other. If we can keep those relations, the society will live in harmony and the family life will be peaceful and happy” . They are the moral code considered as the essence of the Confucianism .
The above Confucian spirit is partly reflected in Xoan lyrics. It is honoring the beautiful relation between the King and common people through the villagers’ best wishes to the King, their praise of the King for his merits, their praise of dynasty’s powerfulness in unifying nation.

… Vua vạn vạn tuế
Chúa vạn vạn niên
(in the songs Bợm gái, Nhàn ngâm cách)
... Đệ nhất pháo mừng tuổi vua
… Đệ nhị pháo mừng tuổi chúa
… Đệ tam pháo mừng chúa ông
Nhà Lê nước đại anh hùng
Là đã dẹp hết
Đông Tây Nam Bắc
Là đã thu về
Dẹp Bắc đánh Đông
Thu về bốn cõi

( in the song Giáo pháo)

1.2. Conception about the human classes in the society
In the Vietnamese feudal society, under the spiritual influence of the pervasive Confucianism, people were classified into four classes: Scholars, Farmers, Craftsmen and Merchants. The acknowledgement about the classes of people also reflected into repertoires of Xoan singing. It is proved by a specific song “Tứ dân cách”. Furthermore, two words “tứ dân” had also seen in some sentences or four classes of these people were described as below:

… Tứ thời dân ta phú quý
(in the song Giáo pháo)
… Sự nhân tình chung kỷ tứ dân
(in the song Tứ mùa cách)
… Sĩ làng đây một khoa một đậu
... Nông làng đây đầy đồng lúa tốt
… Công làng đây tài hay luyện lạc
… Thương làng đây một vốn nghìn lãi

(in the song Đối dãy cách)

By Confucian opinion, among these classes of people, scholars - the literate people – were most respected. The lyric below reflected clearly this opinion:

… Tứ dân nhường sĩ ở đầu
Một mai thi đỗ vinh quy rước về

(in the song Tứ dân cách)

Honoring scholars was one of the feudal government’s policies connected with the policy of paying much importance to education, which will be mentioned in the next part. Scholars mean Confucian scholars. Scholars could be excused from tax and hard labor. If they passed competitions and they did not become mandarins, villages would present them with common fields. Moreover, the feudal government also had the policy of dignifying good students and choosing moral and talented people to be mandarins through competitions as lyric below:

… Con thời đi thi
Ra khoa đỗ thi
Thái lai đồ công
Vua ban chức trọng
(in the song Giáo pháo)
... Gắng học cho hay
Mà đi thi tài
Nhà vua phân đất
Cày bừa ruộng Lê

(in the song Giáo pháo)

In short, in the family and the society, scholars kept the higher position than other classes. Scholars’ hard studying to reach glory was the wish and the ideal image in the feudal government. In Xoan singing, the dream was reflected by many wishes:

… Nay tôi kính chúc
Mừng làng chằm chặp
Cho được chữ thăng quan
(in the song Đối dãy cách)
Tôi chúc phe tây nổi tiếng quận công
Tôi chúc phe nam chiếm bảng đề
… Đi về võng giá nghênh ngang
Làm quan nhất phẩm tam công đổi

(in the song Tứ dân thời cách)

1.3. Conception about studying and competitions
As mentioned in the above part, honoring scholars and education was the policy of the feudal government.
The feudal government identified the purpose of studying clearly as doing good things, helping the King, and helping the country. As a result, honoring studying and competitions became the principal political task of the governing class.
The contents related to studying, competitions and the wish of successfulness on the studying way are reflected in quite a lot of Xoan repertoires. There are some lyrics related to this content as below:
Khuyên anh có chí học cho hay

… Bút nghiêng đèn sách xin anh chớ rời tay
(in Đúm singing)
… Tám mừng tiến sĩ trạng nguyên
Thám khoa bảng nhãn đỗ liền ba khoa
(in the song Tứ dân cách)
… Tam thanh một cảnh huê si
Đôi ta thi đỗ vinh quy mới về

(in the song Gài hoa)

1.4. Conception about the male position in the society
Under the influence of the pervasive Confucianism, the feudality honored the women’s responsibilities towards men with the method “tam tòng” (three principles): at home, women have to follow their fathers; getting married, women have to follow their husbands; if their husbands die, women have to follow their sons. In this way, at least in families, men played more important role than women did. This conception seems to be reflected in Xoan singing through the role of leading people in Xoan guilds and through the choice of performers.
As many senior researchers mentioned, in the framework of Xoan guilds, leading people are always the men, who are old and prestigious, can read Nôm characters, and have joined in Xoan performances for a long time. Those people are called ông trùm (leading people). In the meantime, in some musical genres similar with Xoan singing, leading people can be men or women (quan họ - ông trùm/bà trùm) (quan họ - male leading person/female leading person) or sometimes they are only women (hát dậm – cụ trùm, hát chèo tầu – chúa tàu).
Each Xoan guild has the participants of both men (kép) and women (đào). The requirements for đào are being unmarried and beautiful, possessing a beautiful singing voice and being from 15 to 20 years old. Meanwhile, the requirements for men are not as strict as that. Except from one to two young kép (10-15 years old), other kép can be young, old, or even married.
Above are some Confucian conceptions reflected in lyrics and Xoan performance style, which we investigate preliminarily.
Why could those Confucian conceptions penetrate into Xoan singing? In other words, how could the Confucianism influence Xoan singing? That will be mentioned in the next part.
2. Penetration way of the Confucianism into Xoan singing
As mentioned in the introduction part, the Confucianism appeared in Vietnam very long time ago. However, in many first centuries, the Confucianism did not make remarkable influence in the human life and the Vietnamese society in general. Gradually, the Vietnamese governors more and more found the opinion of three moral bonds and five constant virtues in the Confucianism as the solid mainstay guaranteeing the order in the feudal society. For this reason, the Confucianism was received as the important position in the society gradually. As we mentioned in the introduction part, in Lê dynasty, this religion really gained the principal position in the society when the Vietnamese feudal government recognized it as the national religion. With this highest position, how did the Confucianism affect other aspects, specifically Xoan singing?
Firstly, we investigate one of the important factors of Xoan singing; that is the belief of worshipping the guardian spirit of villages. It can be said that this belief reveals the strong penetration of the Confucianism. Its evidence is making the Confucianism spread in the worship rites of the village guardian spirits at communal houses with the purpose of using the theocracy to reinforce the position of the feudal government. Yearly, the King deified the guardian spirits of villages, proposed the sacrifice rites at the communal houses of villages, etc. Village communal houses became “the small royal court”, in which village guardian spirits can enjoy the sacrifice done in royal rites . In this way, the infiltration way of the Confucianism into the belief of worshiping village guardian spirits is influencing the ideology of the feudal government.
Xoan singing, one of the musical genres associated with worshipping the village guardian spirits at communal houses, may be influenced by the phenomenon of making the Confucianism pervade the belief of worshiping the village guardian spirits. The appearance of some Confucian factors in Xoan singing, which we mentioned in the part 1, is the evidence. Furthermore, we can show some more proofs. In Xoan lyrics, there are some parts identifying village guardian spirits with Kings. This phenomenon proves that considering the village guardian spirits as Kings stayed in the residents’ consciousness. In the prayers in accordance with the traditional custom, people should pray the god. However, instead of praying the god, people pray the King through the songs that residents performed in festivals. It is another proof. In this way, the role of gods were respected as same as that of Kings. The reality proves that “people called the guardian spirits at Xoan villages “Kings” respectfully” . This is the success manifestation of using theocracy to strengthen the power of the feudal government as mentioned above. The King wanted to take advantage of the power of gods to rule common people for him and residents followed that design. From another angle, this is the expression of dignifying the idea of “being loyal to the King” in the Confucianism.
The conclusion is the Confucianism penetrates into Xoan singing through worship rites. The people transmitting Confucian factors to Xoan singing are Confucians. They are the people joining in composing Xoan songs. Using Hán script or the words originating from China in Xoan lyrics is the evidence.
Next, we will study some other aspects.
3. Scope, content, and level of penetration of the Confucianism into Xoan singing
3.1. About the scope of penetration
As many researchers mentioned, a Xoan performance for worship is divided into two stages: the stage of worship singing (including four opening items and 14 quả cách) and the stage of festival singing (including six items). We can recognize the Confucian factor in two of these stages. In other words, the Confucianism penetrated into Xoan singing on the large scale including the stage of worship singing and that of festival singing. Twenty songs out of 24 songs (corresponding with 24 items of two stages in Xoan worship singing) contain the Confucian factors that we have found in Xoan lyrics, which partly prove the above evaluation.
3.2. About the content and level of penetration
Combining the contents from some Confucian conceptions in the part 1 and others from Xoan lyrics, we have found four contents in the Confucianism reflected in Xoan singing; they are sending the best wishes to the King, honoring scholars, studying, competitions, dignifying social order, and elevating wealth.
In terms of lyrics, the penetration level of four above contents in Xoan singing happens at different levels:
The most prevalent content is honoring scholars, studying, and competitions (occupying 45.83% with 11 out of 24 songs).
The second most prevalent content is sending the best wishes to the King (occupying 29.16% with 7 out of 24 songs).
The third popular content is dignifying wealth (occupying 25% with 6 out of 24 songs).
The most vague content is elevating social order (occupying under 8.33% with 2 out of 24 songs)
What’s more, each above content has the different infiltration level in each stage of a Xoan performance; namely as follows:
The stage of worship singing has 8 out of 18 songs reflecting the content of honoring scholars, studying, and competitions, 5 out of 18 songs expressing the content of sending the best wishes to the King, 5 out of 18 songs demonstrating the content of dignifying wealth, and 2 out of 18 songs reflecting the content of elevating social order.
The stage of festival singing includes 3 out of 6 songs reflecting the content of honoring scholars, studying, and competitions, 2 out of 6 songs with the content of sending the best wishes to the King, 1 out of 6 songs elevating wealth, and no songs with the content of dignifying social order.
There are some following conclusions:
Firstly, all four Confucian contents are reflected concentratively and clearly, especially in the stage of worship singing.
Secondly, three out of four Confucian contents are profoundly mentioned in Xoan singing (dignifying scholars, studying, and competitions, sending the best wishes to the King, and elevating wealth).
Thirdly, among three of those contents, honoring scholars is the most prevalent. Two of the rest contents are equivalent, but the content of sending the best wishes to the King is partly more popular than that of dignifying wealth.
After investigating the Confucian factors in Xoan singing and some related aspects, we can propose some following remarks:
Xoan is the product of folk culture and exists in the folk environment, but we can find the evidence proving the influence of royal culture on folk culture in the feudal times. That is the appearance of the Confucian factors in Xoan singing that this writing mentions. Does the deep penetration of the Confucianism into Xoan performance, especially into the stage of worship singing – the most important stage – reveal that the Confucianism seems indispensable in this religious ritual music? If it is true, are the reasons the feudal government’s policies and role in orienting artistic and cultural activities in general and musical ones in particular? I hope that we can find satisfactory answers to this unclear issue.

Institute of Cultural Studies


Add a Comment