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Zheng Xiaoying: Gifted Woman Who Gives Music to the Public
A brilliant Chinese woman conductor stands in the front of the stage, her eyes greeting everyone in the audience. Behind her, the Xiamen Philharmonic Orchestra is playing a symphony section by section under her baton.

She is the world-class conductor Prof. Zheng Xiaoying, and teaching about the symphony while performing is called "Zheng Xiaoying's system."

"A symphony which represents Western music, is a most complex yet splendid artistic form." She talked about the symphony as she walked along the stone pavement on Gulangyu Islet, where she rents a small flat.

Teachers and students attending the first Chinese College Students' Music Festival sat offstage, as did as usual some local music fans who came especially for "Zheng Xiaoying's system."

Only five years ago, symphony orchestras performing here would have an audience of just 30 in a whole week.

In 1998, Zheng Xiaoying, then chief conductor of China's Central Opera Theater and dean of the Department of Conducting at China's Central Conservatory of Music, was invited to return to her hometown and founded the first symphony orchestra funded by local enterprises.

The original 30-member orchestra has now grown to 80 members, all from famous musical groups and institutes across the country.

"Xiamen is virgin territory for the symphony, yet it promises to be fertile land." The almost 70-year-old conductor has high expectations for her hometown, the same as when she took advanced studies at Russia's National Conservatory of Music in Moscow.

Zheng, the first Chinese conductor of a foreign opera company, received the French Literature and Arts Medal of Honor. She was also the first Chinese musician to make popularizing the symphony her lifelong goal.

So far, her orchestra has played over 290 performances in four seasons, giving weekend, children's and charity concerts. Its repertoire includes 30 symphonies, 30 centos and 40 concertos.

These days, a symphony performance may draw an average audience of 300. "Compared with China's big cities like Beijing and Shanghai, Xiamen, with a population of only 400,000, has done very well, " Zheng said.

People in her hometown have a musical tradition or cultural background, but enough concerts and teachers. Gulangyu Islet is an attraction in this south China coastal city, covering 1.9 sq km and with a population of 16,000. It was once known as "piano enclave," as the residents owned more than 500 pianos.

Zheng emphasizes in her lectures that "Gulangyu owns the only piano museum in China, and brought forth many piano masters, namely, Lin Junqing, Yin Chengzong and Chen Zuohuang." She regards some of them as distinguished experts, and some of her companions share her ideals.

As a daughter of Hakka people, whose ancestors had moved from areas along the Yellow river to southern coastal areas in history, Zheng Xiaoying follows the tradition of valuing education. Nowadays, apart from her lecturing and performing schedule beyond the islet, she virtually stays on the islet and focuses on the symphony.

At a rough estimate she has given more than 1,000 lectures to audiences of 200,000 people.

Zheng has spent half her life in Beijing. From Beijing to Xiamen the distance is 2,000 km and takes three hours by plane. Most of her students have gained wide acclaim, some staying overseas and some returning to their hometowns as she did.

A few days ago, the orchestra moved into a new rehearsal room financed by a local business, having gradually grown out of the previous space of only 100 square meters. A trumpet player completing his study abroad has returned to join the orchestra because of Zheng's reputation.

Zheng Xiaoying wrote a motto on the front wall, which reads: "To give the public music."

(Xinhua News Agency August 1, 2002)

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