In 1998 a thirteen-year-old boy approached Li Aping, the famous erhu player in Heilongjiang Province, asking for training under him. Although wheelchair-bound due to congenital osteomalacia, the teenager loved music and aspired to live and train like other artists. Four years later, Wang Xuefeng has won the Instrumental Music, Special Honor, and Newcomer awards at the recent State Art Performance of Disabled Persons! His other honors included an interview with the Chairman of the China Disabled Personsí Federation, Deng Pufang, and an invitation to join the China Disabled Personsí Art Troupe.
Wangís story brought to mind another very different performance I viewed two years ago during a trip to south China. The performance of the "Lilliput" Art Troupe, a group of midgets, catered to a coarser audience, seeking novelty and sensationalism. Their gaudy costumes and tasteless dance performance accentuated their physical differences and deformities, in order to make money. In comparison, Wang Xuefeng, rather than seeking notice and sympathy for his physical disability, has sought and achieved respect and acceptance for his musical efforts.
When asked whether he got depressed over his being different from others, Wang surprisingly replied, "That is how normal people think; instead, I always think other people are different from me. Because of my difficulties, success tastes sweeter to me." It seems that his difficulties have brought him not only hardship, but wisdom beyond his young age.
Wang Xuefeng was born in 1985 in Lunhe Township, Hailun City, which is in Heilongjiang Province. His father and brother also had congenital osteomalacia, and the family was supported from the meager income of his father's watch repair and lettering business. After Li Aping had accepted Wang as a student, gratis, the overjoyed Wang suffered a huge loss. His father's death, and the resultant loss of the family income, led Wang to decide to give up his musical studies. Both his mother and brother opposed this decision, however, and the brother took up their fatherís business. At age thirteen, Wang left his family to study in Harbin with his famous teacher. More hardship followed, however. Wang lived in an unheated rental house, paying 200 yuan (US$24) a month; he was only able to afford two packages of instant rice a day for meals. Even a trip to the toilet meant he had to drive his wheelchair for 40 meters. He relied on neighbors to boil his water, and without their help, he had to eat his instant noodle, dry at times. Winter was especially hard; the rental house would get freezing cold, forcing Wang to return home before December each year.
Despite these hardships, Wang has been happy in the company of his erhu and the weekly lessons with Li Aping. He has, after years of strengthening exercises, even learned to walk with crutches and get around in multi-storied buildings. Under Liís tutelage, Wang passed the ninth grade examination for erhu and competed in the Instrumental Music Competition in Heilongjiang Province several times, winning both First Award and Special Award. Last September, Wang obtained three important awards at the Fifth State Art Performance for Disabled Persons. While there, the Chairman of the Chinese Disabled Persons' Federation, Deng Pufang, encouraged Wang to continue to strive, saying that one day he wanted the opportunity to enjoy hearing Wang play the famous piece for erhu, "The Moon Reflected on the Second Spring."
Faced with honor and success, Wang has managed to maintain a calmness lacking in ordinary youth. He plans to earn a living by performing in the Chinese Disabled Persons' Art Troupe, and to continue his study at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing. Finally, Wang aspires to open a free conservatory for handicapped musicians.
(Yang Ningshu for 黑龙江日报 [Heilongjiang Daily], translated by Feng Yikun for china.org.cn, April 1, 2002)