The Emperor’s New Music

The high stakes of popular music in ancient China

Dancer and musicians, earthenware with pigment, Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220) via the Metropolitan Museum of Art/Charlotte C. and John C. Weber Collection, Gift of Charlotte C. and John C. Weber, 1994

By Xiaofei Tian

n 1984 the filmmaker Chen Kaige released his directorial debut, Yellow Earth, generally credited with changing the face of Chinese cinema. Set in the northwestern province of Shaanxi in the spring of 1939, the film depicts a soldier from the Communist Party’s propaganda department tasked with…