In Macedonian Folk Ballads (1983), Penushliski talks about the following elements of the ballad: “A ballad is a song made for singing (the lyrical element). (2) A ballad is a song that describes an action (the epic element). (3) A ballad is a song where the action has a point of tension or conflict in certain scenes or occurrences (the dramatic element). (4) A ballad lives mostly within the oral tradition, being adjoined to it through its spoken and musical aspects (the element of tradition)“ (Пенушлиски, 1983:12). Konstantin Miladinov in the Collection of Folk Songs states that the songs are divided into: fairy, sacral, heroic, pastoral, mournful, romantic, funny, wedding, Lazarus and harvest songs. He further explains that “certain songs contain a deep echo of the ancient tradition and beliefs, even going as far back as pre-Christian times; in other songs they are combined with more recent ideas; so, one part of a song refers to the olden times, while another to the new time; moreover, in other songs we can see the old dressed in new garments”. With regards to the thematic features of the songs in the Collection, we can also take advantage of the insights by Penushliski who claims that “for the creation of certain ballad motifs, a key factor was the way of life and the essential activities of the people, thus reflecting very often events from life and realistic themes”. Moreover, we shouldn’t forget that they had been created and sung most often with music and accompanied by folk dancing, which additionally shaped their structure as stylistic features. Penushliski points out that “the foundation in folk dancing and collective singing has contributed to their preservation” (Пенушлиски, 1983:21-22). What interested us when we selected the songs for analysis is the manner in which the relationship man-nature has been depicted, a relationship which is an “indelible part of folklore which is expressed through a variety of motifs” (Пенушлиски, 1983:54). For the benefit of greater precision, we shall focus only on a small number of motifs expressing this relation to nature, such as the motifs of metamorphosis, love, marriage and patriarchal values, which will then serve us in our comparative analysis of the selected Chinese folk songs from the Book of Songs.
As Radev points out, the Book of Songs is ”one of the most important achievements of Chinese literature with far reaching impact on its further development, as well as having an honorary position within the Confucian literary cannon “ (Радев, 2014: 255). There are even claims in Chinese tradition that Confucius himself had edited them, though this is only a matter of speculation without any facts to back up that claim. The Book of Songs contained 311 songs, but only 305 of them have been preserved today, all of which date to the period from the 11th to the 6th century B.C.E. They cover a long period of history starting from the Western Zhou Dynasty (11th century B.C.E.) through the mid-Spring and Autumn period (6th century B.C.E.) during which China underwent a transition from a slave-owning to a feudal society. During the said period, China covered a geographically vast territory reaching down the Yellow River valley and the valley of the Yangzi and Hanshui rivers.
The Book of Songs is comprised of three main sections: Folk ballads, Odes and Hymns, though this does not reflect the chronological order of the creation of the songs. Based on the content and the style, it is surmised that the oldest songs are the hymns, followed by the odes, while folk ballads are the most recent. Each of the songs in the Book of Songs was originally sung accompanied by music, but the melodies have been lost. This division into Folk ballads, Odes and Hymns was carried out according to the original categorization of music genres. Folk ballads (Feng 风) are signified by the Chinese ideogram for “wind” which also denotes melody. Due to the fact that the wind blowing produces different sounds, both loud and quiet, high and low, with voices or without, long and short similar to the performance of music, ancient people compared the folk ballads (Feng) with melody (Wang, 2007: 45). Most of the folk ballads come from the period of the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770 – 256 B.C.E.) and reflect life in the society of that time. As Wang Rongpei says,” the composition of the folk ballads is very complex, consisting of people from all walks of life, from aristocrats to civilians. Except a small portion of the poems that bear the authors’ names, most of the other poems are anonymous” (Wang, 2007: 37).
Odes (Ya 雅 ) have the meaning of an “orthodox music genre, referring to music played at the court of the Emperor “(Yao, 2010: 9), which is not a genre which reflected the music of a specific region like the folk ballads. The Ya music genre was considered to be sophisticated, as well as “standard and official”. The songs in this section are concerned primarily with the then current political or statehood events, whereas dominant themes are those where the ruler is praised and celebrated. Hymns (Song 颂) refer to music performed in ancient temples during ceremonies when the court aristocracy sacrificed to the gods, extolling the virtues and successes of the ruler. These songs of praise were usually long and with a slow rhythm, sung accompanied by a ritual dance.
What is of interest to us and will be the focus of our analysis are the folk ballads. In their section, most of the folk ballads are representative of the oral folklore from 15 different Chinese feudal states and regions. Folk Ballads include love, harvest, heroic and labour songs. They have the structure of the so-called classical songs Xi (诗) characterized by equal number of syllables in a verse, while the verses are organized in stanzas with the four syllable verse predominating. “In these songs, sincere feelings are expressed in a direct, natural and unforced manner. They truly depict the real life of that time without the need to use artificial language” (Li, 2016:41). As we mentioned previously, we shall focus in our analysis on the motifs of nature, metamorphosis, love, marriage and the patriarchal community.