Geographic Location

Nanyin is practised in China and among overseas Chinese communities in Southeast Asia including Singapore.
Communities Involved
The Chinese community in Singapore is involved in the practice of nanyin. The most prominent local association credited with raising awareness on nanyin is the Siong Leng Musical Association, founded in 1941. 
Associated Social and Cultural Practices

Nanyin is played on traditional Chinese instruments by an ensemble. The instruments are called the paiban (拍板, clappers used to control the rhythm), the chiba (尺八) or dongxiao (洞箫, a flute), a pipa (琵琶, Chinese lute) and plucked string instruments called sanxian (三弦) or erxian (二弦).

In Singapore, nanyin has evolved and incorporated the musical practices of other communities, and reflects the multicultural setting of the society. Traditional Malay and Indian instruments like the kompang (drum) and sitar (plucked stringed instrument) respectively have been added to the ensemble, along with the keyboard and tabla (pair of drums). Traditional songs are rewritten to be performed by these instruments with modernised lyrics, and they may even be performed by a capella singers.

Viability and Future Outlook

The President of Siong Leng Musical Association, Mr Teng Mah Seng is credited with restructuring the ensemble, collaborating with Chinese orchestras and adding theatrical elements to performances in the late 1970s in order to combat declining interest in nanyin. The association has since been actively involving and educating youths on nanyin through classes and workshops. 

Nanyin has developed in a way that reflects Singapore’s multicultural, modern society. The Siong Leng Musical Association has taken part in various nanyin symposiums in Asia and continues to ensure that it remains relevant to youths.


Reference No.: ICH-012

Date of Inclusion: April 2018; Updated March 2019


Huang, X. Xinjiapo Nanyin Chutan. Singapore: Chinese Opera Institute, 2010.

Lee, Tong Soon. Chinese Street Opera in Singapore. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.

Mathews, Mathew. The Singapore Ethnic Mosaic: Many Cultures, One People. Singapore: World Scientific, 2017

Sardinha Joao and Campos Ricardo, Transglobal Sounds: Music, Youth and Migration. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2016.

Siong Leng Musical Association, “Nanyin”, Accessed 15 May 2017

The Straits Times, “Going fusion to draw music lovers to nanyin”, The Straits Times. May 6 2016.

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