Army Art in Beijing

Xibaipo-1949, Qin Wenqing, Navy

The August 1st, 1927 founding of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is an anniversary marked each year by a host of commemorative events.  Because the People’s Liberation Army is one of the most important arts organizations in the country, most of the celebratory activities are cultural. Events held in Beijing this year included several performances of the model revolutionary ballet “The Red Detachment of Women;” an opera (based on an old movie) called “The Eternal Radio Signal” (which was about as good as it sounds); and a major art … [Read more...]

“Sea of Blood” in China (again)


North Korea’s “Sea of Blood” Opera Company has just completed its multi-city China tour, now a regular summer event.  This year’s show was the ever-popular revolutionary opera “Flower Girl,” which debuted in Pyongyang in 1972. The “immortal opera,” as it is known in North Korea, is said to have been initiated by deceased North Korean leader Kim Il Sung back in 1930, after a visit to Wujiazi Village in Northeast China.  It was brought to fruition decades later by his son, Kim Jong Il, who gave “detailed guidance” for every scene and … [Read more...]

Song Dong: Worldly Joys and Sorrows

Waste Not photo

Li Shutong (1880-1942) was a renowned poet, artist, musician, calligrapher, and educator who concluded his life as a Buddhist monk.  The last words he wrote were these: 悲欣 交集, beixin jiaoji. '’That means, ‘Worldly joys and sorrows are intertwined’,” the artist Song Dong told me as I toured his sprawling studio in the shadow of the Great Wall last year. Song – whose “Waste Not” is on at the Barbican until June 12 – has taken those words to heart.  Indeed, while he lives an apparently joyous life as a successful, globe-trotting artist, and … [Read more...]

The Philadelphia Orchestra in China: Now and Then


The Philadelphia Orchestra has arrived in Beijing and taken up its unusual ten day China “residency,” which will consist of concerts in Beijing, Tianjin, Shanghai and Guangzhou; master classes; small break-out performances at important cultural sites; and numerous musical exchanges.   The Orchestra will travel to China for a longer, three-week residency in 2013 and reportedly hopes to sign a deal extending this arrangement for at least five years. This rather remarkable undertaking – begun as the Philadelphia Orchestra strives to emerge from … [Read more...]

Socialist Masterpiece, Capitalist Lawsuit


China’s potent mix of socialism and capitalism - frequently synergetic and ceaselessly fascinating – is also the root of countless unresolved problems, most having to do with ownership.  Land, of course, is the big one – but there are issues in the arts, too. One such problem is the legacy of collectively-created art from the socialist era that has considerable economic value in these state-capitalist times.   Several years back there was a lawsuit threatened over the New York-based artist Cai Guoqiang’s appropriation of “The Rent Collection … [Read more...]

Commemorating Mao’s “Yan’an Talks”


China’s Ministry of Culture has announced a month of celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of Chairman Mao Zedong’s “Talks at the Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art.” The “Yan’an Talks,” as they are known, are Mao’s seminal statement on the role of art in revolution; their influence on cultural policy remains powerful to this day.   Events to mark the anniversary will include a major exhibition of art from the Yan’an era at the National Art Museum of China; a May 23rd performance at the Great Hall of the People of the ballet version of … [Read more...]

Remembering Ma Sicong


Beijing’s National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) will mark the centennial of violinist and composer Ma Sicong’s birth with a May 12th commemorative concert. This is another of those bittersweet occasions honoring an esteemed, then persecuted, then once again esteemed Chinese artist/intellectual.  Ma’s story, however, is particularly dramatic – almost the stuff of Hollywood. Born into a prosperous intellectual family in Guangdong Province – his father was treasurer for the provincial government - Ma was smitten by the violin as a … [Read more...]

The Poetry of Chinese Politics


  To those interested in Chinese politics, the past several months have produced two tales so gripping – and so outlandish – that they almost seem the stuff of (bad) fiction. First the Communist Party turns on one of its own “princelings,” Bo Xilai, removing him from office and accusing his wife, Gu Kailai, of murdering a Briton by poisoning him in a hillside resort.  Then a blind human rights lawyer, Chen Guangcheng, who has been illegally and unconscionably imprisoned in his own home in rural Shandong province for eighteen months, … [Read more...]

Can Less Etiquette “Save” Classical Music?

Audience at the Guangzhou Opera House

  The growth of Western classical music in China has been widely reported on for some years now – indeed, we ourselves wrote a book on the subject, “Rhapsody in Red: How Western Classical Music Became Chinese.” But one interesting aspect of this phenomenon that has received little coverage is the extent to which Western listening habits have also taken root in China– a fact that many would cheer, but which perhaps should give us all pause. This thought came to us during the recent “Reaction to the Record” conference at Stanford … [Read more...]

“Nixon (isn’t) in China (yet)”


(UPDATE: The Chatelet production of "Nixon in China" can be viewed here: On a cold, blustery day in February of 1972, Jindong’s middle school walked three miles through falling snow and icy streets to reach the Forbidden City.  Though it was a scheduled field trip, when they arrived at the back entrance of the palace, near Jingshan Park, they found the gates barred tight. “There’s an important political personage inside,” they were told.  “You can’t … [Read more...]