One of the great things about learning the Chinese language and studying the country and the culture is that I often am so surprised by how much I love something I unexpectedly encounter.
Among the first things that fascinated me about China was the writing. Before I started studying it, like probably most Americans, Chinese writing looked like gibberish. It was hard to fathom that people could actually read it. Now that I know more about it, though, I think it is beautiful and amazing – even though it is still really difficult.
But one thing that has surprised me even more is that I really like some Chinese music. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of the modern Chinese popular music is just plain bad – terrible imitation rap, vapid love songs, and so on. But some Chinese music is incredibly moving and heartfelt, playful, powerful.
I think my favorite of the Chinese traditional instruments is the “guzheng” – a type of Chinese zither. It has an incredible range and is amazingly expressive. Traditional guzheng music is beautiful, but I am also amazed by how good it sounds in modern arrangements, paired with other traditional Chinese instruments and with Western instruments. One of my favorite musicians recently is Chang Jing (常静). She is enormously talented (and quite beautiful, too).
Listen to this guzheng/piano piece with her and Canadian pianist David Braid, and this New Age piece by Chang Jing called “Breathe” (sorry that the video quality is pretty bad). Maybe you will be surprised, too!