Thursday, June 25, 2009

Professor Deborah Post - Music in China

Allie, a law student from Xia Da (short for Xiamen University), audited most of Sociology of Law and made significant contributions to the discussion of the idea of moral education, a big part of the educational program in China, which we compared to the U.S law schools instruction of law students in the ethical obligations of lawyers and the honor code that governs the conduct of law students.

Allie has been quite generous with her time, and she also has tried to include us in activities she thought might be of interest to us. One day she invited me to the recital for the students graduating from the music school at Xiamen. Xiamen has quite a musical tradition. There is a music park down the road from the stone writing park. There is a median in the highway just alongside the university with musical notes laid over the grass that light up at night. I am told that it is the song of the city. The concert to which I was invited was for the ancient Chinese harp, the guzheng. Two different students took turns playing selections. Sometimes they were accompanied by a pianist but other times it was the pipa (another ancient instrument that looks like a mandolin but is held straight up and down) and a flute or wind instrument that I did not recognize. Robert Anderson and John Bayard also attended.

The costumes were stunning. One was a gold sheer jacket with embroidery over a beautiful purple long gown. Allie said that it was in the tradition of the Han dynasty. One other was the traditional chipao, or the long mandarin dress introduced during the Qing dynasty. The concert included traditional and modern compositions for the harp. What amazes me is that the Chinese celebrate these ancient traditions and culture, to the point of making sure that people can still learn to play and be proficient on ancient instruments that are over 2,000 years old. I wonder whether any of the music schools in the U.S. instruct students in how to play the harpsichord?
All over the city there are signs that the government has put up extolling the benefits of a scientific approach to development. “Scientific” is a phrase that Mary says was popular in 1917, in an attempt to modernize China, then during the Revolution, one of the goals was to do away with superstition and to be more scientific, and finally, during the Cultural Revolution, there was a systematic effort to eradicate the “olds.” And yet, these cultural preferences don’t disappear. We are all grateful for that.

By Professor Deborah Post, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in China

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