Sunday, December 27, 2009

music in revolutionanry China

If we can broaden Western music to all kinds of arts, Mao gave a famous talk at Yan’an (在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话) long before the Communist took power, which decided the tone that art should serve the people. Since then, arts and politics have connected each other. It has remained as a goal or constrain for Chinese artists today.

During the Cultural Revolution, most Western composers and instruments were banned as they represented Western culture and bourgeoisie. But people still loved music and wouldn’t bother to use Western instruments in propaganda. As written in the book “Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress,” a local cadre finds that a sent-down youth brings his violin, which should be confiscated. The young man lies that he can play a piece called “Mozart Miss Chairman Mao” (it’s actually a Mozart sonata), thus he keeps the violin and plays whenever he’s free.
I recommend the documentary “From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China” ( shot in 1980 after the Cultural Revolution. It records Stern’s visit to China when he gave lessons to Chinese music students and performed in a concert. Besides music, the documentary presents more about the tragic influence of the Cultural Revolution to Chinese, especially Chinese musicians and music education.

Everything seems the opposite today. Many Chinese parents in the city send their kids to learn piano, no matter whether they like it. It’s not only for cultivating interests, but students can gain extra scores for school entrance if they pass certain degrees of piano playing. In the conservatories in the States, piano and violin are almost “Asian instruments,” as most Chinese students here in the Conservatory play piano.


XENIA said...

You are so productive this month! I remember this documentary on your syllabus. Just reserved the DVD in the library:) Thanks!

Yidi Wu (Woody) said...

well, I've done these comments for my politics class over the semester, but I just posted them here at one time