Performance Traditions

Performing Artists

Tian Mengyi

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Beijing Sports University’s highly competitive martial arts program was established in 1957 to pass on the traditional sport and its philosophy of mind and movement harmony. Professor Li Qiaoling 李巧玲 graduated and has taught traditional martial arts at the university for over thirty years. Li is the fifth generation of masters in the Shanxi xingyiquan technique, a unique martial arts style. She teaches other styles and routines such as tai chi and animal-mimicking forms. Li was joined by two of her students, Chai Yunlong 柴云龙 and Tian Mengyi 田梦艺, who have both won national and international awards. Chai was the Tai Chi Champion at the Twelfth World Wushu (Martial Arts) Championships.

Zewang Renqing and Geluo Zhaxi, Sichuan Province, 2014.

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The Qiang people live mostly in valleys in western Sichuan Province, which was severely damaged by an earthquake in 2008, thereby threatening the continuity of Qiang culture. Today there are relatively few who can still sing these ancient songs, which document the history of the Qiang people. Zewang Renqing 泽旺仁青 and Geluo Zhaxi 格洛扎西 learned Qiang polyphonic singing while herding cattle with their parents. In 2006, Zewang and Geluo won the bronze prize at the CCTV National Youth Singers’ Competition and have since toured internationally. For the Folklife Festival, they were joined by their wives Shi Maomao 石昴毛 and Lin Macuo 林玛磋 to recreate the atmosphere of local wine parties with songs and dances.

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The Dimen Dong Folk Chorus from southwestern China’s Guizhou Province continues the Dong people’s polyphonic choral tradition known as ga lao or “grand song.” Their songs are inspired by nature, mimicking the sounds of insects, birds, mountains, and streams. The group is organized by the Dimen Dong Cultural Eco-Museum as a part of its award-winning 100 Dong Songs Program, whererin singing masters and village elders teach Dong youth their songs and heritage. The Dimen Dong Folk Chorus performed on the Voices of the World Stage at the 2013 Smithsonian Folklife Festival as a preview for the 2014 Festival.

Ren Hexin 任和昕, Dimen Dong Eco-Museum director
Du Kexin 杜科欣, 100 Songs Program director
Wu Zhangshi 吴章仕, musician and music teacher
Wu Bixia 吴碧霞, singer
Wu Guoying 吴国英, singer
Wu Qianchun 吴前春,musician
Wu Taoai 吴桃爱, singer
Wu Xiuchun 吴秀春, singer
Wu Taonan 吴桃难, singer
Wu Yuanliang 吴元亮, singer

Yue Ying

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Flower Drum Lantern (Hua Gu Deng) is a folk art form that blends dance, songs, drama, and percussive music. It is popular in the area of the Huai River, which is generally regarded as a geographical dividing line between North and South China. Traditionally, Flower Drum Lantern is performed at temple fairs, usually after the autumn harvest. In recent years, it has also been adopted by urban people who gather to dance in communities squares or parks as a daily exercise.

Yue Ying 岳颖 was born in Fengtai, Anhui Province, which is a center of the art of Flower Drum Lantern. Yue started training in Flower Drum Lantern at age nine, and then went on to study choreography at the Beijing Dance Academy, which enabled him to add contemporary choreographic ideas to the traditional art form. Yue has performed in a number of countries, and appeared at the 2013 Chinese American Festival featuring Anhui Province on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Guo Yujie 郭玉洁studied at the Fengtai Flower Drum Lantern Art School before she became a professional dancer with the Jiangsu Provincial Song and Dance Theater. She has performed at such occasions as the opening and closing ceremonies of the Second Asian Youth Games in Nanjing in 2013.

Suonan Sunbin performs in a televised program

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Hua’er is a folksong form popular among several ethnic groups in northwestern China. Literally meaning “flower,” it may have received its name from the image of a flower symbolizing one’s beloved woman. Many hua’er songs begin with metaphoric and symbolic depictions of scenery, before developing into the real theme, which may be young love, the hard work and weariness of the farming life, and the foibles of men and women. The music is drawn from an extensive traditional repertoire named after ethnicities, towns, or flowers. The lyrics are improvised in keeping with certain rules.

Suonan Sunbin 索南孙斌 is a Tibetan singer from Qinghai Province, who has been singing hua’er since age seven. When he was a teenager, he left home and worked at mines, construction sites and restaurants, before he began to study at Qinghai Culture and Arts Academy in 1999. He has since released several albums and performed both nationally and internationally. Cairang Zhuoma 才让卓玛 is a Tibetan singer from Qinghai Province who has won a number of awards, including the Silver Award at the Folksongs Competition of Northwestern China in 2003. From Gansu Province, Kong Weifang 孔维芳 has sung hua’er since childhood. She won the Silver Award at the Western China Hua’er Competition in 2006 and released her first album in 2013.

Members of Ih Tsetsn pose near their studio in Beijing, 2014.

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Originally from the prairie of Inner Mongolia, the seven-member group Ih Tsetsn is based in Beijing, once capital of the Mongol-ruled Yuan Dynasty and now increasingly a center of Mongolian music in China. The name Ih Tsetsn means “broad, inclusive, and wise” in the Mongolian language. Ih Tsetsn performs khoomei throat-singing and long song, two genres that have been inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. They have studied not only Mongolian music but various other genres as well. As a result, Ih Tsetsn is able to perform traditional music in a more contemporary ensemble form.

Zhang Shijun 张世军, morin khuur, khoomei
Jirigala 吉日嘎拉, morin khuur, khoomei
Baiyinmenghe 白音孟和, morin khuur, khoomei
Baoyin 宝音, percussion, khoomei
Boerzhijinfu 博尔之金夫, khoomei
Alatenggaridi 阿拉腾嘎日迪, qobuz, khoomei
Dabuxilatu 达布希拉图, qobuz, long song

Li Lingting and Mo Ming, Leishan County, Guizhou Province, 2014.

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The Miao are an ethnic group residing primarily in the mountainous areas of southern China, especially Guizhou Province. They also live in neighboring countries as well as in the United States and Australia, where they are more generally known as the Hmong. Consisting of six artists from Leishan County of southeastern Guizhou, the Leishan Miao Music and Dance Group consists of lusheng player Yang Zhengchao 杨证超, lusheng maker and player Mo Ming 莫铭, and singers/dancers Liang Xiaoying 梁晓英, Wu Chunhua 吴春花Li Lan 李兰, and Li Lingting 李灵婷.

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Quanzhou, the starting point of the Maritime Silk Road, is famous for its puppet tradition of more than one thousand years. Quanzhou’s marionette repertoire consists of more than 700 traditional plays and some 300 “puppet tunes” played with ancient instruments such as the “foot-pressed drum.” Founded in 1952 as the main inheritor of the city’s marionette tradition, the Quanzhou Puppet Troupe has revived and created a great number of works and toured more than fifty countries and regions in the world.

Chen Luanzhi 陈銮治, string puppeteer
Chen Zhijie 陈志杰, musician, chief drum, traditional Chinese percussion instrument
Dai Xun 戴勋, string puppeteer
Fu Duanfeng 傅端凤, string puppeteer
Huang Dasheng 黄达生, musician, traditional Chinese percussion instrument, guitar, er’hu (string instrument)
Huang Wenjun 黄文君, string puppeteer
Huang Zhenlong 黄贞龙, musician, aizai (string instrument), er’hu
Li Xiaohui 李小惠, string puppeteer
Lin Jianyu 林建裕, string puppeteer, percussion instrument
Shen Suge 沈苏革, string puppeteer
Wang Jinxian 王景贤, director, presenter
Wu Jilian 吴季莲, musician, pipa (Chinese lute)
Wu Weihong 吴伟宏, string puppeteer
Xu Shaowei 许少伟, string puppeteer
Xu Ziming 许子铭, musician, flute
Zeng Kaiyu 曾凯瑜, musician, sheng (pipe wind instrument)
Zhang Gong 张弓,  string puppeteer

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Drawing its inspiration from jazz bands in Shanghai during the 1920s and 1930s, the Shanghai Restoration Project is renowned for its creative blend of Chinese culture with Western hip-hop and electronica. The group’s evening performance at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival's Diaspora Day featured Dave Liang, an Emmy award-winning producer who created the group in 2005; Jamahl Richardson, a music and video producer; and Zhang Le 张乐, a jazz singer from Shanghai.

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Abigail Washburn is an American clawhammer banjo player and singer who performs as a soloist and with bands such as Uncle Earl, a bluegrass quartet, and the Sparrow Quartet, combining old-time music with Chinese lyrics and melodies. Named the first U.S.-China Fellow at Vanderbilt University, Washburn is one of the few foreign artists currently touring China regularly and independently. In 2009, she released a fundraiser CD Afterquake with Dave Liang for Sichuan earthquake victims. In 2013, she debuted Post-American Girl, a theatrical work that draws from her seventeen-year relationship with China.

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For the last three decades, performer and composer Wu Man 吴蛮 has been a leading ambassador for Chinese music, blending traditional and contemporary elements through the pipa, a four-stringed plucked lute. Born in Zhejiang Province, she has been featured on two Smithsonian Folkways albums: Music of Central Asia: Borderlands (2012), for which she collaborated with Hui, Tajik, and Uyghur musicians, to explore connections between the musical worlds of China and Central Asia, and The Silk Road: A Musical Caravan (2002). For her Smithsonian Folklife Festival evening performance, Wu Man was joined by Haruka Fujii, an acclaimed percussionist from Japan who has performed with Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road ensemble, and Yang Yi 杨艺, a leading virtuoso on zheng, the Chinese twenty-one-string zither, who directs the Yang Yi Guzheng Academy. 

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With a history spanning more than four centuries, Wu Opera originated in Wuzhou, now Jinhua, in eastern China’s Zhejiang Province. While artists from Anhui Province traveled north to perform in Beijing in the late eighteenth century and laid the foundation for Peking Opera, Wu Opera represented another branch of the same root, which had traveled eastward two centuries earlier. Founded in 1956, the Zhejiang Wu Opera Troupe has both revived traditional works and created new works. The troupe’s performances represent a synthesis of music, dance, and acrobatics. The troupe has performed in Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Cuba, France, Germany, Japan, Romania, Singapore, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States, and Vietnam.

Chen Meilan 陈美兰, vocalist and operatic performer
Chen Xiaojian 陈晓建, operatic martial arts performer
Chen Xingshun 陈兴顺, operatic martial arts performer
Dong Guojian 董国建, operatic martial arts performer
Du Xiangjun 杜湘君, musician, huihu/er’hu (string instruments)
Hu Dongxiao 胡东晓, operatic martial arts performer and face changing, a tradition adopted from Sichuan opera
Jiang Quanqing 姜泉清
Liu Fuming 刘福明, operatic martial arts performer
Lou Sheng 楼胜, vocalist, operatic performer and operatic martial arts performer
Song Baoduan 宋保端, operatic martial arts performer
Tao Yongjing 陶永晶, operatic martial arts performer
Wang Xiaoping 王晓平, director
Wu Yanxing 武延兴, operatic martial arts performer
Xie Linghui 谢玲慧
Yang Xiayun 杨霞云, vocalist, operatic performer, operatic martial arts performer
Yan Jianglei 严江雷, musician, hulusi (bottle gourd flute)/suona (wind instrument)/flute
Zhao Kongjie 赵孔杰, operatic martial arts performer
Zhou Cong 周聪, operatic martial arts performer
Zhu Xinheng 朱新恒
Zou Yiqiang 邹毅强, operatic martial arts performer