The martial arts blockbuster Hero directed by Zhang Yimou has been a box office hit in China since its premier in late December. Anyone who has watched it may still remember the scene featuring an elderly man playing the guqin, a seven-stringed traditional Chinese instrument that is similar to a zither. But few people know that the man who plays the musician is not a film actor, but a real guqin master hailing from east Chinaís Zhejiang Province.
85-year-old Xu Kuanghua was born to a guqin musicianís family in the provincial capital of Hangzhou. His father was a foremost exponent of the Zhejiang School of guqin. Xu Kuanghua began learning to play the instrument from his father in childhood, and is now widely acknowledged as one of the most eminent guqin players in the country.
ďThe guqin is an instrument that you should play not only with your fingers, but also with your soul. When I play it, I feel Iím having heart-to-heart communication with the instrument. To me, the guqin is more than a musical instrument. Itís an embodiment of traditional Chinese culture and most expressive of the essence of Chinese music. Since ancient times, playing the guqin has been regarded as a good way to cultivate oneís mind.Ē
We are listening to Xu Kuanghua playing a piece entitled High Mountain and Flowing Water, which is one of the best known classical guqin melodies.
The guqin is Chinaís oldest stringed musical instrument: its history can be traced back 3,000 years. In ancient China, the guqin was considered a holy instrument mainly for the literati and nobility, and any truly refined and well educated person was expected to be skilled in playing it. During the three millennia of its existence, a great number of compositions for the instrument have been handed down through the generations.
In recent years, some traditional Chinese instruments have lost their popular appeal. This is largely due to the challenge of many modern arts and forms of entertainment. But the guqin has seen a healthy resurgence, not only in China, but around the world. And Xu Kuanghua is one of those who have been most active in acquainting music lovers with this ancient instrument.
Over the past 20 years, he has devoted considerable effort to introducing the delights of guqin music to the general public. In 1989, Xu Kuanghua established the West Lake Guqin Society, which has now developed into one of Chinaís major organizations for the research and teaching of guqin playing. So far, Xu Kuanghua has taught several hundred students, ranging from the very young to the very old. He also often goes to schools and universities to give free lectures and performances.
Advanced in years, Xu Kuanghua is still in good health and busily engaged in teaching. He says itís music that keeps him always in a happy mood and full of vigor and vitality.
ďI canít live a day without playing the guqin usually for one or two hours each day. Teaching is also an important thing in my life. I never get tired of it, because itís wonderful to see more and more people become interested in the instrument, and I love to share what I know with them.Ē
(China Radio International February 14,2003)