For the next two weeks Chinese music journalist Li Jin will be visiting the region. Jin is the editor of Music Weekly in China and is on assignment to write a profile about Interlochen Center for The Arts. Express contributing editor Rick Coates interviewed Li Jin via phone from her home in Hangzhou, China (13 hours time difference). While Rick does not speak fluent Chinese Li Jin fortunately speaks fluent English.
By Rick Coates
Li Jin is one of the most respected music journalists in China; she is an editor and senior journalist with the Music Weekly, a top publication that covers music inside and outside of China. An accomplished musician herself, Jins visit will be both professional and personal as she spends two weeks in the region visiting Interlochen Center for the Arts as well as musicians in the region for her article.
On a personal note, Jin is engaged to Dr. James T. Quinlan, an eye surgeon, who moved to Traverse City last year and is in practice at the Traverse City Eye Consultants. In addition to her research, Jin will also be giving a public presentation Thursday, February 18, at 8 p.m. at the Interlochen Center for the Arts Bonisteel Library.
NE: What is the focus of your article and why Interlochen?
Li Jin: I am very interested in music education: even to this day I teach several young students for private piano lessons. I see my work as a music critic and journalist as an educational vocation and that in part brings me to Interlochen. I will write an article on Interlochen for the benefit of readers in the Peoples Republic of China. These readers are hungry for the best education and knowledge, and I am convinced that both parties, i.e., Interlochen and the many serious and talented young students of music in my country, will benefit from educational and cultural exchange. While in the United States, I will visit my dear and esteemed friend, the maestro and composer, Samuel Adler, a kind and wonderful talent who is also well-known to Interlochen. I will also be visiting with the Traverse City Symphony and certain local artists and musical luminaries from the area for my article in Music Weekly.
NE: You are going to make a presentation on Thursday night. what will be your topic?
Jin: I am honored to offer a presentation and talk at the Interlochen Arts Academy. This presentation will focus on my professional life in two parts: 1) life and music in the Cultural Revolution, and 2) cultural life and music after Mao (1979 present time). My music career, Under the Red Flag, as it were. It is open to the public.
NE: What differences are there between American and Chinese music journalism?
Jin: I do not have much direct knowledge of American music journalism, to be frank with you: perhaps I should apologize for that. As far as my own experience, as a Chinese music journalist let me say the following. First of all, we are all dealing with music and art, and in that sense with truth, beauty and true education. So at heart, I think that American and Chinese music journalism does enjoy fundamental similarities, at least of purpose.
However, world-wide, the directions and focus of the two cultures is different. For example, the American Grammy Awards are a subject of some interest for the contemporary Chinese. On the other hand, the Chinese also are concerned with both serious Western music and traditions of indigenous and traditional Chinese music. Americans do not have the sense of China that China has of America because America is such a broad force in the world in terms of popular culture. I think the differences between American and Chinese journalism are ultimately different history, politics, and cultural background. In these areas, America may have more to study and be open to from China, simply because American popular culture is so assertive and pervasive at this moment in history.
NE: Okay much of Americas understanding of culture in China comes from our own propaganda. For example, with the media in China we are led to believe that it is controlled by the government of China. Are you free to write what you want when you are reviewing or putting forth criticism? or are there journalistic guidelines set by the government that restrict your opinions?
Jin: We are, in both cultures, free to show our artistic opinion and social perspective with our reports, criticism and articles, which often is a surprise to the Western presumptions. Ultimately, music has no boundary and nationality, but is the common purview of the human heart, soul and experience. I think that every country, every government, has their own way to control or influence their media. It can be no other way. I do not think any employee will be willing to fight against their boss without very serious reasons.
Our newspaper is supported by our government; we need to follow some rules, some guidelines, of our mentors. In China, with such huge population, it is necessary to have some things under control. Sometimes, it may be important to do education, or guidance, with a population that is not well-educated, and not well-informed. Often people truly need guidance. If you offer the freedom and democracy to those people who do not know what freedom and democracy means, the freedom and democracy would be abused. If the propaganda is used in the right way, as guidance, it will be work very well to elevate standards.
Same way as the way we use money: we all, East and West, use it, no? I think that it is fair to ask how it is used, to what ends, for good, or ill. To be with, or against, fate.
For my experience as music journalist and critic, I feel quite free to show my opinion with my articles and reviews. As my country needs more critical perspective for our social and artistic life, this constructive criticism will help our government to improve their policies; will support the commonweal, as it were. People then get used to having admiration and appreciation for quality, though nobody likes criticism. That is our flaw as human kind, especially for those who get used to controlling other people, be it by tacit or covert means. Art and music, active thought and criticism, help to mentor the critical capabilities of all the people, in many ways, no?
NE: Speak to how and at what age those from China gain access to music instruction. Is learning to play an instrument, singing, music lessons etc. available to all or just a few?
Jin: We love music in China: over 40 million children are currently studying western and Chinese instruments such as piano, violin and folk Chinese instruments. Many others study Chinese literature, arts and culture. Yet also, now, more and more Chinese parents realize that it is important to give their children wider opportunity to study all kinds of arts including music. Many students study music from a very, very young age: for example, some of my students study music instrument from when they were 3 or 4 years old. They are very talented in music and arts, but the Chinese student is also used to working very hard to make achievement, not only in music.
NE: Is music a part of the educational system?
Jin: Our students study music from elementary school to high school, also in the colleges and universities. Yes, music is an important and venerated part of the educational system. Now, today, our government offers an even greater budget for music education than at any time before.
Next Week: Li Jin gives her insights on the emergence of rock and roll in China and on how much artistic freedom musicians have in China along with her view that the youth of China may be the caretakers of the future of Western classical music plus her future life living on the Old Mission Peninsula raising children and writing books on music.