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The Gu Liangguang 'One Man Band'
“When there is no light on Earth I’ll set myself ablaze to illuminate the world. When dreams meet with cruel reality, we must try our best to take a stand against the injustices of life,” said Gu Liangguang. Gu, whose first name (Liangguang) means “light” in Chinese, has never seen what light is during his half century of life. Gu is a blind actor who performs with the Xinfeng County Folk Art Troupe in Jiangxi Province. He can play up to 12 musical instruments at same time. Using his whole body, he himself can replace an entire band. He has been to Jiangxi, Fujian and Guangdong provinces and performed in dozens of counties. The light of his art has shined on millions of countrymen, but only he knows of the hardship endured.

This November, Gu illuminated the stage at the Guinness (China) Unique Skills Contest. He tied a harmonica to the shaft of an erhu (a two-stringed fiddle). At the same time he used his right hand to hold the erhu bow and a drumstick to play a big drum, a little drum and bangzi (wooden clappers). He tied a string to his right arm to control the lever on a bracket used to hit a gong. A cymbal was bound to his left foot, and another stick used to hit a bangzi. A little gong was bound to the big toe on his right foot. Underneath his seat was a pair of big symbols controlled by a lever tied to his thigh. A suona (a woodwind instrument with seven holes on top and one on the bottom) and a dizi (a bamboo flute) were placed nearby and played in turn. His ten-minute performance was harmonious and coherent, sometimes hustling along and other times at ease. His routine greatly reflected the diversity of Chinese folk art, astonishing the review committee and receiving continuous applause from the audience. Gu entered the final round of the competition, eventually taking “top ten” honors for his “one man band.”

Gu was born in September 1952 to a peasant family in the town of Anxi, Xinfeng County. He suffers from congenital blindness and has learnt to understand the world through touch and sound. Gu was interested in music from very young age. During his childhood he would often listen to his grandfather play the erhu for him. In his spare time he would fiddle with this “magic bamboo tube” that could make such beautiful sounds. His grandfather discovered Gu’s interest, and taught him how to play the instrument. Yet after studying the erhu, Gu still wasn’t satisfied. He heard the different sounds of many unusual instruments in his village, and everyday would ask people to teach him. Eventually he could blow, pull, pluck and sing almost any folk instrument in the village. At sixteen, he started to tour with his music taking dozens of instruments wherever he went, performing all over Xinfeng County.

Gu wallowed in the wide world of music. During the “cultural revolution” (1966-76) his music was forbidden. He would deal with his special work group by day and try to play his instruments at night. At first he tried to play the harmonica and erhu at the same time. He then got used to using his arms in this way and his interest became stronger and stranger. Within two years he could play 12 instruments at the same time.

The reform and opening-up policy enabled miserable artist to resurface. The cultural department, at all levels, led people to return to the stage.

There is an important person in Gu’s life named Huang Dongyang, the leader of Xinfeng County’s Folk Art Troupe. The villagers say he’s the “crutch” which Gu leans on. It was he who brought the spring of art to Gu.

After retiring in 1990, Huang established the Xinfeng County’s Folk Art Troupe. The first person to come to mind while thinking about people to recruit was Gu. At that time Gu was performing on tour moving from village to village. Huang looked for him in one village after another, before finally tracking him down. From that point on Huang became Gu’s faithful prop.

The Folk Art Troupe started in Xinfeng and then moved south through Fujian and Guangdong provinces. They performed in villages and towns to millions of people in dozens of counties. The villagers said, “The blind artist brings out the light in art and the brightness of life.” They continued to praise him like this, “Nothing can shield his brilliance. The Gods were too miserly to give him light, so he creates it for others.”

(china.org.cn by Chen Lin, December 13, 2002)

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