Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance

The “Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance” is a folk drumming and dancing art form passed down in the northern villages of Liangzhou District, Wuwei City, Gansu Province, especially in the Siba Town area. This art form has a history of nearly 2000 years and is considered to be a remnant of ancient military expeditions. According to legend, the Attacking Drum Dance was created by King Miaozhuang. During a critical moment when he was besieged by enemies, he used weapons hidden inside drums, disguised himself as a festive fire performer, and escaped from the castle. Seizing the opportunity, he retrieved the weapons and successfully attacked the enemy, ultimately achieving a great victory. To commemorate this triumph, people named this drum dance “Attacking Drum Dance,” symbolizing the notion of attacking the enemy by surprise.

The performance of the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance is characterized by a strong and imposing lineup, typically performed by drum teams consisting of dozens to hundreds of people. The drumbeats are lively and passionate, and the dance moves in harmony with the drumbeats, creating a majestic and thunderous atmosphere. The footsteps are steady and harmonious, with movements resembling galloping warhorses and soaring eagles, all expressing the valor of ancient warriors. Moreover, the drumming technique is also exquisite, requiring graceful and precise movements.

Additionally, the formations of the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance are diverse, including “Two Factions Confronting Each Other,” “Displaying Three Armies,” “Four Gates Battling Enemies,” and many more, fully embodying the bravery and forward momentum of ancient warriors. This art form is not just a combination of drumming and dancing but also a deepening of human and spiritual connection, hailed as the “soul of drums” in the western region.

History of the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance

The Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance, deeply rooted in the folk drumming and dancing culture of Yangjiazhai in Siba Town, Liangzhou District, Wuwei City, Gansu Province, carries rich historical and cultural connotations. It is not only an art form but also a memory of history and a fusion of cultures.

Siba Town, a small town located at the intersection of Han culture and Western Region culture, has been a gathering place for multiple ethnic groups since ancient times. From the early Han Dynasty to the Tang and Five Dynasties period, it was the homeland of many ethnic minorities in the north. Since the Ming Dynasty, there have been migrations of Han people from Shanxi, Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and other places. Such a historical background has made the cultural heritage of Siba Town extremely profound and provided fertile ground for the birth of the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance.

The Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance, this unique western drumming and dancing art, is the crystallization of the integration and accumulation of Western Region music and Central Plains music on this land. Its origin is closely related to a tumultuous history. In Siba Town, there are several legends about the origin of the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance.

One version of the story is related to two kings in the Xiongnu tribes in the Hexi region during the reign of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty: King Hunxie and King Xiutu. They respectively ruled the eastern and western parts of Hexi, and King Xiutu’s residence, “Xiutu City,” was located in today’s Sanchaobao in Siba Town. In the second year of Yuan Shou (121 BC), Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty sent General Huo Qubing to launch the famous “Battle of Qilian Mountains” and successfully defeated King Hunxie. However, in the subsequent battles, General Huo Qubing’s army encountered difficulties when attacking King Xiutu’s castle. In the critical moment when they were short of food and trapped, a general in the Han army came up with a clever idea. He selected a group of elite soldiers, disguised them as drummers of the folk “festive fire” team, and hid short weapons in the drums, infiltrating the city. In the end, with internal and external cooperation, they successfully broke through the city. To commemorate this victory, people named this kind of drum “Attacking Drum.”

Another version of the story is related to the army of King Miaozhuang. It is said that during a battle, the army of King Miaozhuang faced consecutive defeats and was trapped in a fortress, facing the danger of total annihilation. In order to break through the siege, they hid weapons in the drum and disguised themselves as members of the folk “festive fire” team to perform outside the city. When the enemy was distracted by the performance, they launched a sudden attack and achieved a stunning turnaround. Therefore, the drum was named “Attacking Drum” to commemorate this victory.

According to “Historical Tales of Wuwei” edited by Guo Chenglu, the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance originated during the Dali period of the Tang Dynasty. Judging from the attire of the drummers in the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance, the black felt hats they wore were typical headwear for men in the Tang Dynasty. This detail not only reveals the close connection between the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance and Tang Dynasty culture but also further confirms it as a historical tradition.

Regardless of which version is more accurate, the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance, as a unique folk art form, has won acclaim for its majestic momentum, exquisite skills, and profound cultural heritage. It is not only an important part of the culture of Wuwei region but also a brilliant pearl in the treasure trove of Chinese folk art.

Characteristics of Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance

Performance Format

The Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance takes place annually from the 13th to the 15th day of the first lunar month. During this period, the head of the “Yang Family Association” (the Yang Family Association is an organization spontaneously established by the Yang family in Yangjiazhai, and the head is elected by the association from respected elders and successors of the drum dance) raises funds, organizes rehearsals, and leads the Attacking Drum Dance team to visit every household, offering New Year’s greetings. This activity symbolizes warding off evil spirits and praying for prosperity and peace in the village.

When performing with the festive fire team, the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance is called “crossing the streets.” There are generally no fewer than sixteen drummers. The performance begins with the “wax flower” (a man dressed as a woman) of the festive fire team creating an atmosphere, followed by the “worshiping the seal” ceremony. “Worshiping the seal” is an essential formality before the performance. A respected elder from the Yang Family Association leads the way by drumming, while another elder carries a tray (containing a “seal” wrapped in red cloth, said to be bestowed by the government) into the venue, standing facing the audience. The head of the association then enters and performs three bows to the seal. After worshiping the seal, the head of the association gives the command, and the performance begins.

In addition to performing with the festive fire team, the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance mainly performs solo acts, with many routines and varied scenes. The traditional Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance performance begins with a leap into the “single drum,” followed by the “bright formation.” It then transitions from the “four-square formation” and “confrontation of two armies” to the “four-door encirclement formation” and “flowering formation of four doors,” quickly forming the “Eight Diagrams formation,” and finally concluding with the “displaying of three armies.” The entire performance is diverse and grandiose. In the later development of the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance, formations such as the “long snake formation,” “tiger coming out of the mountains formation,” “duel of two generals formation,” “four dragons formation,” “chain formation,” “lotus flower formation,” and “breaking through with three arrows formation” have been incorporated.

Sometimes, the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance holds drumming performances, called “drumming gatherings.” These gatherings are grand and spectacular, with each drum team led by a conductor. Dozens or even hundreds of drum teams gather together, coordinating rhythms with dozens of large drums accompanied by gongs and cymbals to set the atmosphere. Hundreds of people drumming together, moving and changing, coordinating seamlessly, advancing and retreating, creating a harmonious and unified performance.

Movement Characteristics

The Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance features large amplitude movements, including leaps, jumps, shakes, swings, turns, flicks, jumps, strikes, and lifts, with repeated use of movements such as “arrow steps,” focusing on the body’s stability. Additionally, there are many coordinated movements between two performers, including back-to-back and side-by-side coordination, as well as high and low coordination. During the performance, drummers need to be agile and attentive, demonstrating vigorous, clean, graceful, and steady movements between flicks, turns, and jumps. The Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance includes movements such as “disorderly warhorses,” “eagles spreading their wings,” “phoenix nodding three times,” and “gazing into the distance from a high place.” Among these, “eagle spreading its wings” is a personalized movement of the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance. Performers strike the drum with both hands, then lift it up from the side of the body, followed by a high jump, resembling an eagle soaring with its wings spread high, or a spring swallow swooping through the air, demonstrating characteristics of western ethnic minority dances.

Costume Characteristics

Performers of the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance wear red drums around their waists and hold drumsticks in both hands. They wear black felt hats with holes at the top, each adorned with a pheasant feather, and tie black and silver embroidered headbands around the hats. Three bundles of white fan-shaped paper flowers are inserted into the headbands on the left, middle, and right. They wear black jackets, black lantern pants, and black boots. A piece of white cloth, about 2 meters long and 20 centimeters wide, is worn with an open collar, draped from the back of the neck and crossed in front of the chest, tied inside the waistband.

Performance Props

The main props for the Liangzhou Attacking Drum Dance are drums and drumsticks. The drums are barrel-shaped, 34 centimeters long, painted red, with cowhide drumheads and black Tai Chi patterns painted on them. Iron rings are attached to the edges of the drums with drum straps measuring 240 centimeters made of silk or cloth. The drumsticks are made of red willow wood locally produced in Liangzhou, with good weight and flexibility, producing powerful, elastic, and dynamic drum sounds. Drumsticks can also be made of jujube wood, with red and yellow silk ribbons attached to the base of the drumsticks.


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