Shouldering 'Most Beautiful' Family's Responsibility by Performing Daben Song

ByZhang Jiamin March 27, 2021
Shouldering 'Most Beautiful' Family's Responsibility — by Performing Daben Song
Zhao Piding's family members pose for a group photo.

 

Folk artist Zhao Piding is well known in Dali, in Southwest China's Yunnan Province. For years, Zhao has been dedicating himself to inheriting and promoting a traditional art form of the ethnic Bai people — Daben song. Influenced by Zhao, three generations of his family have established a family's radio broadcasting station, a Daben song workshop and a performing-arts team to spread the charm of Daben song.

Inheritance

Zhao, approaching 80, was born in Zuoyi, a village in Xizhou, a town in the city of Dali. Members of his family, including from previous generations, such as his great-grandfather, were famous performers of Daben song in their hometown. Zhao's parents and brothers were good at singing and playing traditional musical instruments. When Zhao was young, he decided to become a good singer and performer, like his parents and older brothers.

Once, when he was 15, Zhao performed — on a stage in his village — the Daben song version of the classic melody, Liang Zhu (Butterfly Love). His wonderful performance won him applause. In 1974, Zhao was invited by Zhoucheng, another village in Xizhou, to perform a live show of Daben song. That show made Zhao popular in Xizhou. As a result, he began performing more often as a famous ethnic Bai folk artist from Dali.

Shouldering 'Most Beautiful' Family's Responsibility — by Performing Daben Song
Zhao Piding's family encourages local people to help protect Erhai Lake.

 

Performing Daben song not only gave Zhao a successful career, but also introduced him to sweet love. When he was in twenties, he met a beautiful woman, also ethnic Bai, during a performance in Xizhou. Zhao met the woman during a break in his performance. The woman also sang Daben song. The two sang together. Zhao Piding was attracted to the woman, Zhao Lihui, who later became his wife.

They married, in a simple ceremony, in December (Chinese lunar calendar) in 1966. They have four daughters and a son. Zhao Piding earned a living by performing Daben song.

Zhao's left leg has been disabled since he was three years old. He has had difficulty walking. As a result, Zhao Lihui has been taking care of the family. Especially when their children were young, Zhao Lihui took care of the five children virtually herself. She handled almost all of the housework. Zhao Lihui, who also likes Daben song, taught their children to sing and dance when they were little kids.

Influenced by their parents, four of the children (the son and three daughters) became folk artists. Each is good at performing Daben song. Zhao Dongmei, the second daughter, began performing with her father when she was 11. Zhao Fukun, the only son, quit his job outside of his hometown, and returned to his village to help his father promote the traditional art form of Bai people.

During the past five decades, guided by Zhao Piding, his children and grandchildren have rearranged Daben song into dances and dramas, enhancing the forms of presenting the traditional art form.

Protecting Erhai Lake

Shouldering 'Most Beautiful' Family's Responsibility — by Performing Daben Song
Zhao Piding's family encourages local people to help protect Erhai Lake.

 

Zhao Piding is well known in his village for his warmheartedness. When Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Yunnan Province in 2015, he called on people in Yunnan to protect the ecological environment of Erhai Lake. 

To encourage ethnic Bai people to help protect Erhai Lake, Zhao Piding and his children composed several songs. They have used the art form of Daben song to raise the public's awareness of environmental protection. All of his children have supported Zhao Piding's efforts to do good deeds for their village.

In their spare time, Zhao Piding and his children perform — for free — to help local Bai people understand environmental-protection concepts and measures, by listening to their songs. "My father has dedicated himself to protecting Erhai Lake, and to using innovative Daben song, as a method, to spread the importance of protecting our lake," Zhao Fukun says.

The Zhaos established a family performing-arts team, entitled "Hua Shang Hua" (literally translates to "flower atop flower"). Zhao Fukun writes plays and provides services backstage. His second and third sisters areleading performers. His fourth sister provides catering services.

Of the five siblings, Zhao Fukun and his second sister own stores in Dali. When their family gives a performance, the two of them always shut their stores and return to their village to participate in the performance. One of his acquaintances once asked Zhao Fukun, "You have owned your store and you are running a good business. How come you sometimes shut your store to perform for free? Does it make any sense?" Answered Zhao Fukun: "I can still earn money later. But I believe in what my father has said; only if we protect Erhai Lake well, will we be able to attract more visitors to Dali, and then, all of us can run our businesses better, and for a longer time. Protecting Erhai Lake means protecting ourselves and protecting our offspring."

Nowadays, Zhao Piding often sits in a wheelchair while he participates in a Daben song performance given by his family. He has set a good example for young people in his hometown, and he has helped others inherit and promote folk art and culture.

Throughout last year, Zhao Piding's family, as a recipient of the honorary title of "National Most Beautiful Family," participated in Chinese people's fight against novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) epidemic.

"I have seen so many doctors, nurses, police officers, grassroots cadres and volunteers sacrificing themselves to safeguard the health of our people. After I noticed some villagers in my hometown lacked disease-prevention knowledge and awareness, I thought I must do something to help them," Zhao Piding recalls.

He watched TV and listened to radio programs to learn about the policies, measures and health tips issued by the Chinese Government. He collected important information, which he then wrote into songs to help raise people's awareness of disease prevention and health protection.

With his children, Zhao Piding composed three Daben songs for ethnic Bai people in his hometown to help them learn and understand the policies, measures, information and tips. During the special period of combating COVID-19, the Zhaos have added "new vigor" to the inheritance and development of Bai people's traditional Daben song.

Shouldering 'Most Beautiful' Family's Responsibility — by Performing Daben Song
Zhao Piding's family performs Daben song.

 

Photos supplied by Zhang Jiamin and Yunnan Women's Federation

(Women of China English Monthly January 2021 issue)

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