Building Bridges

 February 29, 2024
Building Bridges
Zheng Xiaohui (right), a Chinese student, plays erhu alongside another Chinese student, Ma Ruomeng, who plays pipa, in Milan, Italy, in September 2023. [China Daily]


Architecture student forges cultural connections in Europe through street performances of traditional Chinese music, Zhao Ruixue reports in Jinan.

Dressed in hanfu and adorned in delicate makeup, Zheng Xiaohui, a Chinese student in Milan, Italy, has been conducting street performances playing the erhu, a traditional two-stringed bowed instrument, to promote her country's culture to the world.

Hailing from Weifang, Shandong Province, Zheng is currently pursuing a master's degree in architecture and urban design at the Politecnico di Milano. In her spare time, however, she has taken to the streets, performing in Italy and France, captivating passersby with her erhu performances.

During her first street performance in Milan in April last year, many sat down to listen to her and some also attempted to play the erhu themselves. The enthusiastic response from the audience cheered her up.

Currently, she does three or four street shows a month.

Zheng's proficiency in playing the erhu has instilled in her the confidence to perform in public.

Building Bridges
Zheng Xiaohui performs the erhu on a street in Milan, Italy, in 2023. [China Daily]


She began learning to play at the age of 9 as her parents sought to cultivate her focus and dedication. Zheng practiced one to two hours a day throughout her childhood. During her time at Xi'an Jiaotong University, she was part of the school's Chinese orchestra, where she honed her musical skills and collaborative abilities.

"The erhu has become an integral part of my life, akin to a close friend," Zheng says.

Her decision to take her talent to the streets was sparked by daily encounters with street performers in Milan, especially after she watched a video of a violinist's street performance that caused many people to dance, creating a great atmosphere.

"I was so touched, and found that music has a great power to bring people together," she says.

Zheng then decided to share the beauty of the erhu with the world, hoping to spark curiosity and appreciation for this traditional Chinese instrument.

She applied for a pitch near a canal in Milan to perform.

Zheng prepares for every performance. She carefully selects a diverse repertoire that combines traditional Chinese folk music with popular Italian classics, such as Jasmine, Horse Racing and a reworked version of Bella Ciao tailored for the erhu.

"I made some simple adaptations to make Bella Ciao more suitable for the erhu," says Zheng.

Building Bridges
Zheng plays the erhu alongside a French musician, Matthieu Lecoq, in Paris in September 2023. [China Daily]


Her performances have received positive responses, with audiences often expressing their appreciation for the enchanting melodies and even dancing or tapping their feet to the rhythm.

Children often dance to the lively tune of Horse Racing, sometimes you see an elderly man swaying to Goodbye, My Friend, and even an Italian woman doing tai chi to Chinese music, says Zheng.

"Music is a bridge for cultural communication, transcending language barriers," she says.

To enhance her performances and expand the allure of Chinese traditional folk music, Zheng collaborates with other musicians, integrating instruments such as the pipa (a four-stringed Chinese lute), cello, and saxophone alongside the erhu.

"I will continue to explore ways of collaboration with both traditional Chinese culture and Western culture, not just musical instruments, but also opera singing, street dancing and bianlian, the traditional Sichuan opera face-swapping performance," she says.

Her efforts extend beyond live performances, as she shares her street performances online to showcase the charm of the erhu to a global audience.

Zheng says that music is a powerful tool for cultural exchange and understanding, fostering meaningful connections.

"Many people asked me about the erhu, such as how many strings it has, and some people have made observations about how I play the instrument," she says.

Through her performances, she has not only sparked curiosity about the erhu, but has also inspired cultural appreciation.

"One Italian woman purchased a traditional Chinese hanfu outfit after being captivated by my winter attire during a street performance," says Zheng.

"Every time the audience appreciates my performance and wants to learn more about the erhu, I am encouraged and feel it is meaningful to spread Chinese culture by doing street performances," she says.

Looking ahead, Zheng has aspirations to organize her own concerts to provide a platform for a wider audience to appreciate the beauty and cultural significance of Chinese folk music.


(Source: China Daily)


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