On the bullet train from Shanghai to the ancient Chinese capital, Huangzhou, we met a couple and their child who had travelled down from the northernmost province of Liaoning, formerly known as Manchuria.
The father’s weather-beaten face suggested that he worked in farming or construction. The mother could have been an office worker. When we asked where they were going, they said to enter the boy in a piano competition.
I wondered what he played. They muttered some Chinese words of which ‘Alice’ was the only one I caught. ‘Fuer Elise?’ I asked the kid. His eyes lit up.
I began to sing the tune. He danced around. Then he said, through the interpretation of my Chinese friends, ‘you sang a wrong note!’
‘Which one?’ I demanded. He shrugged and announced: ‘always prepare and listen carefully before you begin’ – clearly something a teacher was drumming into him.
This was China’s piano explosion in action. We hear much talk of 40, 50 even 60 million Chinese children learning to play the piano, but to encounter an infant from the country’s poorest and most remote province being taught so well that he can enter a competition and argue music with adults – that’s a cultural revolution of immeasurable proportions. I feel privileged to have encountered it in a cheeky smile and an irrepressible joie de vivre. Lang Lang, watch your back. The Manchurian candidate is on his way.