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A cultural ambassador

One of Chenyin's first experiences of the West was a two month visit to ten cities in the USA, selected, along with a violinist, a cellist and a player of the er-ho (the traditional Chinese bowed two-string instrument) as one of four Cultural Ambassadors of Music. 'It was very enjoyable, and we played for all kinds of American people from very different backgrounds. A selected group of American young musicians then came and played throughout China -- students from the Juilliard School and a cellist taking lessons with Yo-Yo Ma. We played trios together in China, just for fun. Most of the time as a soloist I'm alone on the stage, but when playing chamber music with really good musicians who truly understand and respond to you quickly, something stays in your memory for ever.'

I asked Chenyin whether in general, in her life now in the West, she feels that she is somehow a cultural ambassador. 'I just feel that I need to keep my own integrity and to be myself, so that people can see through their own eyes what kind of people we Chinese are.'

'One thing which upset me slightly is how people in the West look with interest at China, but mainly only with a political interest. I don't blame people for thinking this -- it's because of the power of the Western media, which for me, has only provided a narrow side-view of China. As an ordinary Chinese person, I wish Western people could be more interested in our people and culture.

'We are also responsible for giving such an impression, because I find a huge gap in my own generation in the adoption of true Chinese culture. The reformation of our language which took place after Mao means that young people now can't read the books from three hundred years ago. It's as if they're written in a foreign language which we don't understand, and they have to be studied and translated. The knowledge and culture from at least five thousand years and carried through books has been lost, and this generation has been cut from its roots. I feel very sad about this.'

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Copyright © 14 February 2002 Keith Bramich, London, UK




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