Guzheng Artist Strikes Right Chord in France

ByWang Shasha March 25, 2021
Peng Jingxuan plays guzheng in Paris, France. [For Women of China]

 

Wearing traditional Chinese clothing and sitting in front of a guzheng, or Chinese zither, a young Chinese woman — on a street in Paris, France — softly, yet swiftly, strokes her fingers along the strings of the traditional Chinese musical instrument. In so doing, she creates an atmosphere, inclusive of bouncing notes, that attracts bystanders, who clearly are enjoying the music. Who is she? Peng Jingxuan, who has been playing guzheng for 18 years. Music has no boundaries. Peng says she hopes more people around the world will have the chance to experience the beauty of guzheng, and Chinese music.

Videos of Peng playing guzheng in Paris have gone viral on the Internet. Her 170-plus videos, on short-video-sharing platform Douyin, have attracted more than 7.79 million followers, and have earned her more than 89 million likes. Peng also has more than 942,000 followers on Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, and more than 158,000 followers on YouTube. 

"That's just amazing! It filled my soul with vitality. I loved the pieces she played, I've only heard this kind of music in Chinese films," a foreign netizen commented. "So beautiful, like a sea glittering in sun and fishes making pirouettes. For me, this sounds like happy music. The performer is beautiful, like a dream, and her clothes and the instrument too. Endlessly thanks," commented a YouTube user, Magdalena.

Most of the videos were shot prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, and Peng posted them online in hopes of cheering people up during these tough times. "Many may be anxious or sad because of the outbreak, and I wanted to post some videos to ease the tension. Music can always heal," Peng says.

Passion Since Childhood

Peng, a native of Central China's Hunan Province, was born in 1995. She began studying guzheng when she was seven years old. 

"When I watched the television series, Princess of Pear, I was impressed by the scene of the heroine playing guzheng. So, I decided to study guzheng. My mother supported my decision. She loves music, and she likes singing folk songs. My mother's love for music has influenced me a lot. She is my strong backing," Peng says.

In 2010, Peng was admitted to the Middle School affiliated with Wuhan Conservatory of Music for professional training. After she graduated from Wuhan Conservatory of Music, with a bachelor's degree in Chinese folk musical instruments, in 2017, she went to Paris to study for her master's degree, in musicology, at Université Michel de Montaigne-Bordeaux 3.

Street Shows

One day, in 2017, as Peng watched a band performing in Paris, she came up with the idea of playing guzheng on the streets. The next year, Peng managed to take her guzheng to Paris. "I've played guzheng for so many years. My studies in France didn't require me to play it, but I didn't want to lose my touch, so I brought it over with me," she says. 

Her first performance, in the square in front of the Bordeaux Grand Theater, was in July 2018. "To be honest, I was nervous at that time, even though I had attended numerous shows and competed in many contests before. But the show was well received. People applauded and I could tell that they enjoyed my show," Peng recalls. 

During weekends, Peng will put on her traditional Chinese clothing and play guzheng on the streets of France, for example, in front of the Grand Theatre of Bordeaux, the Eiffel Tower or along the banks of the Seine. "When I hear people clapping for me at the end of a show, I am always filled national pride. My motherland is strong, and we have these cultural treasures. I always proudly tell them, 'This is a guzheng, and it's from China,'" Peng says.

She always prepares small pamphlets that introduce the history and culture of guzheng, so spectators can learn more about the ancient Chinese instrument. "There are also overseas Chinese watching my shows. They said they felt touched at being able to hear music from home country on streets of a foreign country," Peng says.

Peng is engrossed in playing guzheng. [For Women of China]

 

Bigger Stage

Peng mostly plays traditional Chinese pieces, which are pentatonic, during her street shows, and she also performs her own versions of modern Chinese songs, including Shanghai Bund, Descendants of the Dragon and soundtracks from Chinese films, such as House of Flying Daggers, and the online dramas, like The Untamed. She also plays foreign music, such as Croatian Rhapsody. 

Once, after she played the theme song of a popular Chinese drama, Nirvana in Fire, an elderly couple, from France, chatted with her. "The granny said this song was full of emotion, reminding her of her friends and family too much, to the point that she could not bring herself to leave. She thanked me for bringing such beautiful Chinese music and clothing to them. They have never visited China, and can only rely on their imaginations, but after seeing me perform, they feel like they've been to China themselves. They hope they can visit China someday," Peng says.

She graduated from Université Michel de Montaigne Bordeaux 3 last year. She is currently studying harp at Bordeaux International Music Conservatory. She hopes she will be admitted as a doctoral candidate at the  conservatory this year.

"I hope I can play a bigger role in promoting cultural exchanges between China and foreign countries in the future. I will continue to play guzheng, either on the streets or during chamber concerts. I have accepted an invitation to perform guzheng in Switzerland. I hope to have more opportunities to cooperate with foreign artists, and to participate in performances that combine Chinese and Western cultures and bring guzheng to a bigger stage," she says.

 

Photos supplied by Peng Jingxuan

(Women of China English Monthly January 2021 issue)

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