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Primitive Nuo Dance


Nuodance, which once was used to exorcise evil, has now become an entertainment.

China'sNuodance, which originated in the primeval age as a means of exorcising demons and worshiping gods, is the oldest dance form known in the country. TheNuodance used to be performed in most parts of China, by Han people as well as by some ethnic minority groups in Southeast China.

TheNuodance takes on diverse forms, with certain parts of the choreography adjusted to best suit different audiences in different areas. There areNuodances specially designed for various purposes, such as to ward off evil and plague, to entertain and thank deities, to pray for fortune and good luck, and to bring to life favorite legends and myths, which represent the wide range of cultural norms in China.

Emerging in feudal times, when ancient Chinese were transforming from barbarism to civilization, theNuodance served as a talisman against the perceived evils of life. During this period, natural disasters and diseases, especially plagues, often wiped out huge segments of the population and livestock. Desperate for an explanation of such abnormal occurrences, primitive Chinese assumed that demons and ghosts were behind these inexplicable events, which was in fact the beginning of primeval worship of nature, totems, ancestors, and deities.

During the Shang and Zhou dynasties (16th century-3th century B.C.), farming gradually spread as the primary occupation throughout theYellow River valley, and local people developed a better understanding of seasonal changes and the harshness of Mother Nature. That time also marked the development of ancient Chinesephilosophy, which held that all changes in nature were the outcome ofqi(the energy of life).Qifalls into two categories:yin(negative) andyang(positive). When there was harmony betweenyinandyang,everything would prosper, while discord between them often led to disease and disaster. In order to bring peace, sacrificial rites such as theNuodance to exorcise evils appeared.In theZhou Dynasty,Nuobecame a major rite of the court. To secure harmony betweenyinandyangand to safeguard their rule, Zhou emperors held differentNuorites in spring, summer and winter.

People hostedNuorites because they wanted to ward off evil and disease, and for general protection from harm in everyday life. For most periods in feudal China,Nuowas an important part of life. To some extent, it gave people courage to face the unknown. As the society evolved with a growing economy and more advanced technology, theNuodance began to lose popularity in most parts of China. Now it is only performed in remote townships and ethnic minority areas as a form of ancient sorcery. And in some areas,Nuohas been transformed into a folk dance simply for entertainment, replacing solemnity and mystery with artistic expression.

Author: Liang Lisheng

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