Project on folk arts of Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei picks up
In 2015, Qi Yi, a professor of Chinese folk music at Hebei University, led a team of 100 students and teachers from universities in Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province, to launch a project that aims to research and collect folk music material in the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, also known as Jing-Jin-Ji, where the traditional name for Hebei is ji.
They started by visiting Gaobeidian village and Xiongxian county in Hebei's Baoding city－home to Chinese folk arts such as Hebei Bangzi, Pingju Opera, yangko dance and the lion dance. For over a year, the team visited folk musicians and collected photos and videos of their performances, and found out about the history of local art forms.
On June 27, two books, titled Jing-Jin-Ji Intangible Culture Heritage Music Compilation: Gaobeidian Chapter and Jing-Jin-Ji Intangible Culture Heritage Music Compilation: Xiongxian County Chapter, were released in Beijing, published by Hebei University Press.
"The goal was simple and clear. We don't want these traditional art forms to be lost," says Qi, "Many young people are attracted to Western art forms but our traditional folk arts are very valuable, which should be seen by today's audiences rather than being hidden in villages."
One of the folk artists the team visited was Li Yurong, whose family runs a small Hebei Bangzi troupe in Xiongxian. On Jan 20,2016, Qi and his team attended a performance staged by Li's troupe, which was for a funeral. The next day, Qi interviewed Li and other folk artists, as well as recording their performances.
Local folk art troupes perform at ceremonies such as weddings, funerals and birthday banquets.
Hebei Bangzi, a traditional opera, was born during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and is performed in the local Hebei dialect, accompanied by a live band that combines percussion, gongs and cymbals.
Li, born in 1962 in a small village of Xiongxian, was introduced to Hebei Bangzi when she was 12 years old after she was enrolled to study the art form at a local art school. At the age of 25, after getting married, Li started her own Hebei Bangzi troupe and now performs up to 200 shows a year.
"Though the art form, like many traditional art forms, is facing challenges from contemporary entertainment such as movies and pop music, the small troupe still preserves its tradition and performs by touring villages," says Qi, adding that folk artists make their costumes by hand, do their own makeup and usually perform outdoor.
They also drive themselves around in cars that function as "dressing rooms".
"Many of the pieces they perform have been passed down generations. These folk artists are not trained by professional musicians. They learned to sing, dance and play traditional musical instruments from their parents and grandparents, who inherited the art forms from their elders. They preserve something as important as their lives," Qi says.
Qi and his team will embark on a new trip in July to continue the project. They will visit Laishui county, Zhuozhou city, and Xushui district in Baoding, all in Hebei. Qi says the study of traditional folk art requires devotion to research. He expects more young musicians to join his team.
"Though intangible cultural heritage has been in focus in recent years, the speed and effort of preservation is slow," says musicologist Tian Qing, who is the director of the Intangible Cultural Heritage Preservation Center of China. "The traditional sounds are challenged by people's desire to bid farewell to old stuff, which is sad."
Tian was a consultant for the Jing-Jin-Ji intangible culture books launched in June.
"It will take years for Qi and his team to do academic research and collect folk arts material, however, it's definitely a subject worthy of serious study," Tian adds.