Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Keeping Tang Culture Alive

A small group of musicians in Xi'an have taken it upon themselves to preserve the music from the most prosperous, both in riches and in culture, time period China's history.

From AFP:

XIAN, China (AFP) — An obsessive passion to revive a nearly forgotten music enjoyed by China's elite more than a thousand years ago has cost Li Kai his wife, his job and most of his savings.

But the energetic, ever-smiling 57-year-old insists he has no regrets.

"When I play the music, I'm happy -- I don't feel tired, I don't feel hungry, and I'm not bored," he said as he introduced the ensemble he set up almost a decade ago.

"I've been doing this for years, and I've never been ill. I'm happy."

The group plays every week in a pagoda in Xian in the northern province of Shaanxi, once known as Chang'an, grand capital of China during the Tang Dynasty (618-907), which is widely regarded as a high point in Chinese civilisation.

"I realised that this ancient music was going to disappear as no one was playing it, so I set up this group," said Li, the ensemble's drummer.

"My aim is to revive, transmit, protect and develop Tang Dynasty music. As a Chinese person, I have this responsibility," he said, wearing a green and yellow tunic like those worn by musicians who played this music for Tang emperors.

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Here's a video I took of a Tang-style music performance from Xi'an's Bell Tower when I first got to China is 2006:

video

Xi'an is famous for its history. Its history goes back very far. The terracotta warriors were built around 200BC. But the greatest period of Xi'an's history is not its oldest. It is the Tang Dynasty from about 600 - 900AD.

The Tang Dynasty is known as being a period where arts and culture flourished. During this time when Xi'an (known as Chang'an at the time) was the capitol of the kingdom, Chang'an was the largest and most cosmopolitan city in the world. Considering a large majority of people in western countries have never heard of Xi'an, this is a cool factoid.

My ancient Chinese history is severely lacking, but from the limited amount I know, it sounds like the Tang Dynasty is a time period which should celebrated and preserved. It, more than other more warring and tragic periods, has a myriad of treasures worth preserving.

2 comments:

China Business Success said...

I totally agree with you. Ancient culture and history should be preserved. Of course many people that have relatives who have experienced bad things in the past or have experienced it themselves, it must be something they would like to forget or are fine with putting this part of the history to rest.

But even if something terrible happened in the past, it still is something to hold on to or keep in mind for other people in the future. Especially this part of culture, music, Li Kai is still performing. I think he has the right attitude. He is very brave and a positive person to look up to.

litalex said...

another factoid: Cantonese people usually call "Chinatowns" tang ren je -- streets of the Tang people