Ah Bing and “Reflection of the Moon”

October 26, 2011

To understand another country’s history and culture, one should listen to the music, read that country’s novels and watch its films.

This summer, my wife and daughter returned from China with dozens of original Chinese films on DVD.

Then I saw Reflection of the Moon, (ISBN: 7-88054-168-3), which is about Ah Bing (1893 – 1950), a famous master of the Chinese Erhu, who overnight—in 1950 shortly before his death—became a national sensation as radios throughout China played his music.

Fortunate for me, Ah Bing’s story had English subtitles, which were not of the best quality and true to form for a Chinese movie filmed in 1979 (shortly after the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1976), the plot was melodramatic with traces of propaganda that favored the Chinese Communists.

However, to be fair, in 1950, the Civil War was over and the Communists, with support from several hundred million peasants, had won.

Mao’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution would not begin for years and for those that survived the purges in 1949 and 1950 (mostly abusive land owners and drug dealers accused of crimes by the people they may have abused and victimized), Mao fulfilled his promises of land reforms.

To understand the era of Ah Bing’s life, much of China (including Tibet) was still feudal in nature, and the upper classes often took advantage of the peasants and workers as if they were beasts of burden treated as slaves.


This is one of Ah Bing’s masterpieces for the Erhu—Moon Reflected in the Second Spring (二泉映月)

Ah Bing’s real name was Hua Yanjun. His knowledge of traditional Chinese music and his talent as a musician went mostly unnoticed until the last year of his life in 1950, shortly after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China.

In 1950, two musicologists were sent to his hometown of Wuxi to record and preserve his music. At the time, he was ill and hadn’t performed for about two years. Six of his compositions were recorded that are considered masterpieces. It is said that he knew more than 700 pieces—and most were his compositions.

As “Reflection of the Moon” shows, the lyrics of some of his music criticized the KMT (Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government), and he was often punished for speaking out through his music. If you have read of The Long March, you know that the peasants did not trust the KMT, but they did trust the Communists and that trust was earned between 1926 and 1949—a period covering twenty-three years, and most rural Chinese of that era still think of Mao as China’s George Washington.

Before the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, China’s Communist Party treated the peasants and workers with respect while the KMT did not earn that trust.

In fact, Ah Bing’s story and music is still so popular that the Performing Arts Company of China’s Air Force performed Er Quan Yin, an original Western-style Chinese opera, in 2010. Source: China Daily

To discover more of the time-period that Ah Bing lived, see The Roots of Madness.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of The Concubine Saga. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Erhu

March 22, 2010

An erhu is a Chinese two-stringed instrument similar to a fiddle. The erhu has a thin, slightly reedy sound. Since the erhu is so widely used, foreigners see it as an example of Chinese music.

The erhu

However, once you recognize the sound of an erhu, it can usually be readily picked out from other musical instruments, because it is unique. The history of the erhu spans thousands of years. The first erhus were heard during the Tang Dynasty. Since the traditional Chinese character for “erhu” indicates it has two strings, the erhu has probably changed little over the centuries. Alternate names for the erhu include huqin or hu, and Westerners sometimes call the instrument a “Chinese violin”. 

If you enjoyed learning about and listening to the erhu, you may enjoy Mao Wei-Tao’s Chinese Yu Opera

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Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of the concubine saga, My Splendid Concubine & Our Hart. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. 

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