In Memory of Fou Ts’ong

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Guangchen Chen’s tribute to Fou Ts’ong (1934-2020), “The Sufferings and Greatness of a Vulnerable Artist: In Memory of Fou Ts’ong.” To read the whole essay, which includes images and video clips, click here. A teaser appears below. My thanks to Guangchen Chen for sharing with us his memories of Fou Ts’ong.

Kirk Denton, editor

The Sufferings and Greatness of a Vulnerable Artist:
In Memory of Fou Ts’ong

By Guangchen Chen


MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright March 2021)


Fu Ts’ong program note from a performance in New York in the 1965-66 season.

As if 2020 were not bad enough: about a week before Christmas, I received an email from the pianist Patsy Toh; I assumed it was her usual kind holiday greetings. Instead, it was to inform me that both she and her husband and musical partner Fou Ts’ong 傅聰 tested positive of COVID-19. Patsy seemed to be doing OK and was out of hospital already. Ts’ong would stay on for a few more days, and was expected back home for Christmas. I was shocked, knowing how reclusive they were. And I was worried: Ts’ong was 86 and a lifelong lover of pipe smoking. But I was also hopeful, because he had, until recently, always been bursting with vitality and had weathered one challenge after another through his dramatic life. But 2020 proved, right up to the end, deadly: he passed away on December 28.

Fou Ts’ong was a pianist of rare musical sensitivity and formidable cultural sophistication. Born in Shanghai in 1934, he was raised in an atmosphere steeped in learning, both East and West. He was tutored at home by his father, the eminent translator of French literature and art critic Fu Lei 傅雷,[1] who spent his formative years in Europe. Fou Ts’ong grew up in the company of old recordings made by Wilhelm Furtwängler, Edwin Fischer, and the Capet Quartet, among others. With relatively scant formal training, he debuted with the Shanghai Symphony at the age of 17. In 1953, he won the third prize at the George Enescu Competition in Romania, and then the third prize and best mazurka performance at the 1955 Chopin Competition in Poland. Subsequently, he had an international performing career that spanned almost six decades. But what distinguished him as a unique artist was his ability to combine the aesthetics of two distinctively different traditions—the Chinese and the European. Furthermore, he and his family were victims of Mao Zedong’s communism, and the pain he suffered his whole adult life can be heard in a palpable way in his music. [continue reading]

Veteran pianist Fou Ts’ong dies at 86 (3)

Fou Ts’ong was a very dear friend of mine. His passing is a great personal loss. I have been in regular contact with Fou Ts’ong’s family and a few close friends around the world since he was hospitalized. It is a huge loss for us all. And we should remember him in the proper context, though I must say China Daily‘s tone did not in the least surprise me. We are planning a commemorative issue in the forthcoming Mingpao Monthly 明報月刊. I have previously written a chapter on him and his father Fu Lei in A New Literary History of Modern China (Harvard UP, 2017, 650-656). I am also in discussion with a record company to release some of his concert performances.

Guangchen Chen <guangchen.chen@emory.edu>

Veteran pianist Fu Ts’ong dies at 86 (2)

As Magnus Fiskejö was, I was taken aback by how little was in China Daily‘s notice on Fou Ts’ong’s death and even more by the terse sentence on his famed translator father, Fu Lei. For an expansion on Fiskejö’s comment, see Richard Kraus’s chapter on Fou Ts’ong in his Pianos and Politics in China, Oxford University Press, 1989, pp. 70-99.

Sincerely,

Eva Chou

Veteran pianist Fou Ts’ong dies at 86 (1)

As regards China Daily‘s report and how they try to claim him and even his father, “… His father Fu Lei was a prominent writer and translator … ” … Melissa Chan today commented on Twitter, on how Chinese state media reports consistently leave out that Fou’s (Fu’s) parents were in fact tormented to death in Mao’s ‘cultural revolution.’ It’s another reminder that Chinese state media cannot be relied upon. Chan also brings up the hypocrisy of Chinese ultranationalists now berating Fou Ts’ong for living in the UK.

They probably don’t like that Fou called a spade a spade, with a very clear analysis of how its communism is really a form of fascism. See: “Fou Tsong : I wept for China.” — The hell with China. That’s the attitude!’ The famous pianist talks about the tragedy of a country led by ‘gangsters’ …

On a different note, see the tributes by Fou’s colleagues, and a clip of Fou Ts’ong playing as a young pianist:

Magnus Fiskesjö <nf42@cornell.edu>

Veteran pianist Fou Ts’ong dies at 86

Source: China Daily (12/29/20)
Veteran pianist Fou Ts’ong, 86, dies from COVID-19
By chinadaily.com.cn/CGTN

Fou Ts’ong. [Photo/VCG]

Veteran pianist Fou Ts’ong died on Monday from COVID-19 at the age of 86, according to media reports.

Fou Ts’ong was battling COVID-19 in the UK, his student Kong Jianing confirmed on Sunday.

Fou Ts’ong was born in Shanghai on March 10, 1934. He won the third prize and the special “Mazurka Prize” at the 1955 International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw. Since settling in London in 1958, he has performed throughout the world, earning himself the title of “Piano Poet”. Continue reading

Chinese songs that say ‘me too’

Source: SupChina (12/16/20)
Chinese songs that say ‘Me Too’
A powerful, heartbreaking anthem, the song explicitly highlights the pervasive problem of violence against women in China.
By Jiayun Feng

Few opening lines in Mandopop history pack the same punch like “Our names are not Xiao Juan / The alias is our last defense.”

The story of women facing physical and psychological abuse is not an easy one to swallow, and Tán Wéiwéi 谭维维, a Chinese singer who is known for her outspokenness on social justice issues, doesn’t sweeten any of the details in her latest single, “Xiao Juan” (小娟 xiǎojuān).

A powerful, heartbreaking anthem, the song explicitly highlights the pervasive problem of violence against women in China. Singing from the perspective of Xiao Juan, a common pseudonym used in Chinese media for unidentified or anonymous survivors of domestic abuse, Tan reckons with the unfair treatment of the victims and the lack of repercussions for their perpetrators, all while telling specific tales of women being assaulted by “fists, gasoline, and sulfuric acid.” Continue reading

Violinist blames China for losing his job

Source: NYT (9/13/20)
A Violinist Lost His Seat and His Job. He Blames China.
In a lawsuit filed in New Jersey, a former member of the well-known Shanghai Quartet said he had been dumped after a remark he made on social media was misinterpreted as an ethnic slur.
By Melena Ryzik

Yi-Wen Jiang, a violinist formerly with the Shanghai Quartet, says in a recently filed lawsuit that he was unfairly forced from the group after a remark he made on social media was mischaracterized. Credit…Amr Alfiky/The New York Times

Yi-Wen Jiang, a violinist who was, until recently, billed as a member of the Shanghai Quartet, an internationally known chamber group with roots in China, says he didn’t give the pig emoji a second thought.

Responding to a post on social media about Chinese-American relations a few months ago, he typed in the image of the smiley pig face — “the cute one,” he said — and went about his day. But his posting soon caused an outcry and he was called a bigot for what his critics said was his effort to deride the Chinese people as pigs.

Within days, Mr. Jiang had lost his job and, he said, his reputation.

Now Mr. Jiang, who has been a U.S. citizen for over two decades, has brought a lawsuit in New Jersey Superior Court, contending his offhand remark on social media was purposely distorted by those who object to his longstanding criticism of the Chinese government. Continue reading

A brief history of HK protest music

Source: LARB, China Channel (7/17/20)
A Song for Hong Kong
A brief history of Hong Kong’s protest music
By Alec Ash

Crowds at Hong Kong’s Umbrella protests, 2014. Parts of this article first appeared on the LARB China Blog in 2017. All photos by the author.

Hong Kong has long been a city of song. In the 60s and 70s it was the music bars of Wan Chai and the neon-lit karaoke joints of Kowloon. In the 80s and 90s, Cantopop became central to the city’s cultural identity (as well being go-to KTV picks in mainland China, an important form of soft power). After the handover to China in 1997 Cantopop lost its mojo – supplanted by K-Pop – but over the last ten years a new musical form has come to Hong Kong: the protest song.

Song is often married to dissent, from Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1939, with its haunting arboreal imagery of lynching, to Bob Dylan’s 1963 ‘Masters of War’ at the height of US-Soviet tensions. In Hong Kong, musicians took up the mantle in response to Beijing’s slow encroachments on their freedoms, from the protest pop of Denise Ho (subject of a New Yorker profile just last year) to the crowd-sourced anthem of last year’s protests (see my LARB piece following a frontline fighter). Now a new security law muscled in by Beijing has muzzled them. To mark the city’s silencing – and in hope that its voice will still be heard – here are personal vignettes of four periods of the city’s recent history, through the prism of three songs and a silent coda. Continue reading

HK bans protest song and political expressions at schools

Source: NYT (7/8/20)
Hong Kong Bans Protest Song and Other Political Expression at Schools
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
Singing “Glory to Hong Kong,” posting slogans and forming human chains as a form of protest are banned under new guidelines issued by the city’s education secretary.
By Gerry Mullany

Students formed a human chain during a pro-democracy protest near their school in Hong Kong last month. Credit…Isaac Lawrence/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Hong Kong’s education secretary on Wednesday banned students from singing the protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong,” posting slogans with political messages or forming human chains, saying “the schools are obliged to stop” such activities.

The statement by the secretary, Kevin Yeung, ratcheted up the pressure on the pro-democracy movement as Hong Kong residents struggle to determine what is acceptable behavior under a strict new national security law that China imposed on the semiautonomous territory last week.

Students, including middle schoolers, have been a driving force in Hong Kong’s protest movement. Beijing’s imposition of the national security law last Wednesday — and the subsequent arrests of teenagers at protests — has led some families to express concerns that their children could be in jeopardy for singing pro-democracy songs or even for expressing such sentiments in their homes. Continue reading

Dongbei vaporwave

Source: China Channel LARB (2/28/20)
Time-Traveling with Your Uncle Gem
Wujun Ke introduces “Dongbei vaporwave”, the electronic music of China’s northeast
By Wujun Ke

When a friend introduced me to the Chinese viral hit “Ye Lang Disco” (“Wild Wolf Disco”) in September last year, I was not sure what the hype was about. Then, like thousands of internet commentators, I fell victim to the earworm. I was captivated by the song’s refreshingly folksy and unassuming sense of humor. Gem (董寶石), a rapper from Changchun, performed the song in the 2019 season of Rap of China, a popular televised rap competition. Soon after, Gem found breakout success on Tik Tok (known in China as “Douyin”) with this vaporwave-influenced track.

As a music genre, vaporwave arises in the context of post-industrial, heavily-networked societies and has been noted for its nostalgic sampling of Muzak (the background music played in many retail stores)  and early computer aesthetics. As a critique of capitalism, it is more playful than denunciatory. As musician and academic Laura Glitsos writes:

Vaporwave digs up those waste products of consumer culture, that which capitalism discards, and brings them to the fore: old VHS tapes, technologies that never reached the market, the grating tones of corporate instructional videos, advertisements from the 1980s. Continue reading

Faces of Tradition

Levi S. Gibbs, ed. 2020. Faces of Tradition in Chinese Performing Arts. Series: Encounters: Explorations in Folklore and Ethnomusicology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN: 978-0-253-04583-6
Available in Paperback and E-Book

Faces of Tradition in Chinese Performing Arts examines the key role of the individual in the development of traditional Chinese performing arts such as music and dance. These artists and their artistic works—the “faces of tradition”—come to represent and reconfigure broader fields of cultural production in China today. The contributors to this volume explore the ways in which performances and recordings, including singing competitions, textual anthologies, ethnographic videos, and CD albums, serve as discursive spaces where individuals engage with and redefine larger traditions and themselves. By focusing on the performance, scholarship, collection, and teaching of instrumental music, folksong, and classical dance from a variety of disciplines–these case studies highlight the importance of the individual in determining how traditions have been and are represented, maintained, and cultivated. Continue reading

Chen Qiushi silenced

Source: CNN (2/9/20)
He spoke out about the Wuhan virus. Now his family and friends fear he’s been silenced
By Nectar Gan, Natalie Thomas and David Culver, CNN

Chen Qiushi, a citizen journalist who had been reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, could no longer be reached by friends and family since Thursday.

Chen Qiushi, a citizen journalist who had been reporting on the coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan, could no longer be reached by friends and family since Thursday.

(CNN)As people across China mourned the death of a whistleblower doctor in an almost unprecedented outpouring of grief and anger on Thursday, little did they know that another truth-teller of the coronavirus outbreak was being silenced, according to friends and family.

Chen Qiushi, a citizen journalist who had been doing critical reporting from Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the epicenter of the outbreak, went missing on Thursday evening, just as hundreds of thousands of people in China began demanding freedom of speech online. Continue reading

Tibet’s most popular song

Source: SupChina (12/9/19)
Tibet’s Most Popular Song
THE EDITORS

anu

SupChina illustration by Derek Zheng

Not much has changed in the political situation of Tibet since the last peak of international attention in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

But culturally, Tibet continues to evolve, and it’s worth taking note as Tibetan-influenced music has become more mainstream in China in recent years. Bill McGrath, a scholar of Tibet and Chinese religions, writes on SupChina about the most popular song in Tibet in recent years — “Fly,” by the hip-hop duo ANU:

ANU is a pair of young men from Nangchen County in Yushu Prefecture at the southern tip of Qinghai Province. Payag (巴雅 Bāyǎ) and Gönpa (宫巴 Gōngbā) moved to Beijing after studying art and music in western China and released their first EP, ANU, in 2016. ANU is an abbreviation for Anu Ringluk, which literally means “Youthism.” In the modern world of Tibet, already filled with established -isms such as Buddhism, socialism, and capitalism, ANU provides a fresh sound for a new generation…

“Fly” has already captured the hearts of ANU’s fans in their hometown of Yushu as well as the rest of China. Last year they won an “innovation award” at the Tibetan, Qiang, and Yi Original Music Award Show, and this year they entered the Chinese national stage by competing on the popular TV show Singer 2019. Where will “Fly” take them next?

Click through to SupChina to listen to the song, and other notable selections from ANU’s discography.

Why Chinese rappers don’t fight the power

Posted by Magnus Fiskesjö <nf42@cornell.edu>
Source: BBC (11/6/19)
Why Chinese rappers don’t fight the power
Many of China’s best-known rappers have decided to voice their politics, but in contrast to rap’s anti-establishment roots, these artists are asserting a distinctly nationalist tone.
By Yi-Ling Liu. BBC Music

The Higher Brothers are one of a new breed of Chinese hip-hop acts eyeing international success (Credit; Getty Images)

In 2015, Chinese hip-hop group Higher Brothers learned something the hard way: be very careful when your songs turn political.

The source of controversy was an anti-Uber song. “I don’t write political hip-hop,” spat out by the group’s rapper Melo. “But if any politicians try to shut me up, I’ll cut off their heads and lay them at their corpses’ feet. This time it’s Uber that’s investigated. Next time it will be you.” It led to the song being blocked by Chinese censors, and Melo called in for questioning by the local Public Security Bureau.

Since then, Higher Brothers have garnered widespread success both at home and abroad, partly thanks to landing their first American tour to promote their album Journey To The West. Alongside many of China’s rising crop of hip-hop artists, they’ve stormed onto both the local and global stage – and largely steered clear of politics. Continue reading

The sexist music of Yan Lifei

Source: Sup China (9/23/19)
The Sexist Music Of Yan Lifei
THE EDITORS

On the right, Yan Lifei; on the left, Chinese propaganda from the 1950s, when gender equality was championed with Chairman Mao’s famous saying, “Women hold up half the sky.”

“Mommy, don’t go to work. Cuz even if you go, you won’t make much money.” These are not phrases pulled from a Jordan Peterson speech, but the music that millions of Chinese children are listening to these days.

The controversial tune “Mom, Don’t Go to Work” was written by Yán Lìfēi 闫立飞, and was brought to public attention in China earlier this month when it was performed in a singing competition on state broadcaster CCTV. On the show, a little girl, who was one of the contestants in that week’s episode, sung part of the song, which contained a string of problematic lyrics such as:

  • “Mommy, don’t go to work anymore. Otherwise, I have no one to play with.”
  • “Mommy, even if you go to work, you won’t make much money.”
  • “Mommy, look at me. What a poor child I am.”

Continue reading