The Secret Piano: From Mao's Labor Camps to Bach's Goldberg Variations

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By Zhu Xiao-Mei

Zhu Xiao-Mei used to be born to middle-class mom and dad in post-war China, and her musical skillability grew to become transparent at an early age. Taught to play the piano via her mom, she constructed fast right into a prodigy, immersing herself within the paintings of classical masters like Bach and Brahms. She used to be simply ten years outdated while she all started a rigorous process learn on the Beijing Conservatory, laying the basis for what used to be guaranteed to be a rare profession. yet in 1966, while Xiao-Mei was once seventeen, the Cultural Revolution started, and existence as she knew it replaced perpetually. one after the other, her relations have been scattered, sentenced to legal or exertions camps. by way of 1969, the paintings faculties had closed, and Xiao-Mei was once on her solution to a piece camp in Mongolia, the place she may spend the subsequent 5 years. existence within the camp was once approximately insufferable, because of awful residing stipulations and in depth brainwashing campaigns. but via all of it Xiao-Mei clung to her ardour for song and her humorousness. And whilst the Revolution ended, it was once the piano that helped her to heal. Heartbreaking and heartwarming, The mystery Piano is the terrific precise tale of 1 woman’s survival within the face of incredible odds—and in pursuit of a strong dream.

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We now not addressed them, both. while I met Professor Pan, I didn’t say whatever and pretended I didn’t recognize him. Now I understood that what he had given me used to be not anything in comparison with the wear he had inflicted by way of instructing me to be an highbrow. a few didn’t live on. Like a few different significant chinese language intellectuals, piano academics from the Shanghai Conservatory—Gu Shengying and Li Cuizhen—decided to take their very own lives. After having been crushed and humiliated in public, Gu Shengying killed herself, with her mom and brother. It was once rumored that she had grew to become at the fuel, sat down at her piano, and performed Chopin’s Funeral March. the inside track of her dying got here as a poor surprise. She used to be a really appealing, gentle girl who had played on the first actual live performance I ever attended. That night, she had interpreted Chopin’s Scherzos with simplicity, fluidity, and lightness of contact. As I listened, I had made a want: sooner or later I was hoping with a purpose to play like her. She used to be by way of one other mythical musician: Li Cuizhen. whilst i used to be very younger, humans frequently requested: “Do you recognize who's the one chinese language pianist to have all of Beethoven’s thirty-two sonatas and Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier in her repertoire? ” She had devoted her lifestyles to song, and used to be a job version for us all. She had wear her most lovable live performance attire—in which she had given such a lot of remarkable concerts—and ended her days. Why may this sort of nice artist refuse to take the trail that was once best us to socialism? Why hadn’t she relied on in Chairman Mao? Her selection used to be an indication of cowardice. each day, at every one assembly and in each one self-criticism consultation, we have been advised: the Revolution is in grave possibility, the category fight needs to proceed. If now not, the traitors of the proletariat will reestablish the outdated order. At 16 years previous, the single factor i may do used to be to think this. It used to be a query of survival, but in addition one in all beliefs: at that age one yearns to provide oneself, physique and soul, to a good reason. And wasn’t the future health of the proletariat a important reason? The Conservatory had drifted into any such country of anarchy that the principal Committee determined to step in. i used to be at the entrance traces, status on the school’s front, whilst twenty squaddies arrived to reestablish order. We cheered them on, calling out our encouragement. the military had now develop into my function version. I popular them—the Chushen hao, people with “good family members backgrounds”—they have been brave, devoted, and selfless. i used to be inspired through their uniforms. For me, like many others who have been fans instead of leaders, the truth that the army had taken cost of the Conservatory used to be greater than simply reassuring: it was once an honor. We have been instantly instructed to gather within the auditorium for a gathering. A soldier instructed us to determine cause: “Order has to be restored right here! scholars, you're not completely answerable for the Revolution! ” A semblance of calm was once restored. every one type used to be put below the authority of a soldier. To calm the extremists’ enthusiasm, the military interrogated them in regards to the information in their personal actions over the “last seventeen years”—as the expression went—that is, considering the fact that 1949.

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