on her move to Northern Michigan
By Rick Coates
Li Jin, a music editor and senior journalist with Music Weekly, the Chinese publication that covers the music scene both within and outside the Peoples Republic of China, has been in Northern Michigan for the past week working on an article about Interlochen Center For The Arts. Jin felt the story on Interlochen would be relevant to the 40 million students of music in China and that their parents would be interested in what Interlochen has to offer.
Last week Jin spoke to an audience at Interlochen about life and music and China during their Cultural Revolution, and in particular, life after the death of longtime leader Mao Zedong. Jin said it is an exciting time in China right now as they balance their cultural heritage with many western influences.
This spring in China, Jin is marrying Dr. James Quinlan, an eye surgeon with Traverse Eye. The couple will reside on the Old Mission Peninsula where Jin will continue her writing career; and couple plans to start a family. Here is the second part of her interview and insights on the differences between the cultures of China and the United States.
Northern Express: In general American youth have less interest in classical music today than previous generations, their focus is more on popular music when studying and learning to play musical instruments. Is this happening in China as well?
Li Jin: I think it is a common social phenomenon for all countries that classical music becomes an acquired taste of aged favor. But, I also think that Asian countries have more potential to develop classical music, perhaps especially in China. This is a function of an older culture and consciousness, perhaps, and perhaps this bias is more Confucian.
In the major cities of China, Almost every child studies serious music: no matter (with) western instruments or folk instruments. Please look, we have 40 million children who are actively, seriously, studying music. I think, and I say this seriously, that future of Western classical music is in no small part under the patronage of China, and tied into the future of China.
NE: There seems to be an emerging rock and roll music scene in China.
Li Jin: I think many Chinese do not know what rock and roll means. Yet, in some ways, the same may be true in part as they go to the classical concert hall. Often they may not really know what they really are listening to. With the rise of more Western tastes in China today, people sometimes go to concert hall or go to rock and roll performance just for the superficial reasons they take western music or pop as fashion and trend. And much of it is easy to like: like KFC or the cheeseburger, it sometimes has more appeal than it is truly nutritious.
NE: Okay, but with many western influences making their way into China, why have many rock acts not performed there?
Li Jin: The reason that the Rolling Stones, U2 or other major acts have not been able to perform in China, as far as I know: we just may not have as the broad cultural basis for rock and roll in China as western countries. Rock presumes the centrality of the individual, and is about expectations. Chinese tend to live in linkage, over time and history. These are very different phenomena, though in some ways complementary.
The second reason is perhaps practical, in that our performing/booking agencies have not enough experience to handle such well known, mega-pop acts as big business.
The third reason that rock and roll does not have strong roots in China is that it is hard to let this tree to grow bigger. It is still an exotic, a minority, without true roots in our consciousness or history. It takes time for any tree to grow bigger, and not all trees grow well in all climates.
NE: With so much western influence in China, does the government support music and the arts for open study or are there guidelines and restrictions for performers?
Li Jin: Yes, our government used to support music and art for open study, but now more music and artistic institutions and companies have to be obliged to the market, to market forces. There are certain restrictions for the performers, such as indecent, anti-governmental shows, etc. Many of these values are cultural, often rooted in centuries of traditions, such as the balance and order and harmony of Confucianism, and may be better seen in that light than in merely against the backdrop of current political trends.
NE: You are getting ready to marry Dr. Quinlan and move to the United States. what are your plans for work; will you continue to write for the Music Weekly?
Li Jin: As for planning to move to U.S, I do not have accurate day yet. You know that I have my career here in China; it will take time to prepare for having a new family in a different country. I would like to continue to write articles for my newspaper, also to teach music. I am writing a book on Jewish music; it is an academic book that chronicles Jewish music written by Chinese. I hope to finish the book by the end of the year. I also have some other books I am interested in writing. But first I am looking forward to getting acclimated to my new home here.
NE: Dr. Quinlan, how did you and Li Jin meet?
Dr. Quinlan: Jin and I met through the kind intercession of a third party, a composer friend who had a strong (and accurate) sense that we would make a good match. Jin and I began a tentative, stuttering correspondence over a year ago. She has very good English, is worldly and incisive. At first we each intimidated the other.
NE: When did you propose and how did her family react?
Dr. Quinlan: I proposed to her in Beijing this past November. I met her parents, brother, sisters, brothers-in-law at that time as well. If one is courting the favored daughter/sister, and one is from a different culture and race, then one is always going to need to win approval and acceptance.
I am Irish Catholic, her cultural background is from up Lanzhou way, Buddhist tradition, up on the old Silk Road in the north, west of Beijing several hundred miles and higher in elevation. Fortunately, Jins family proved to be warm, supportive and loving towards me. I think that Jins happiness was my salvation in this process with her family.
NE: Will you get married in China and how do you think Li Jin will like living in Northern Michigan?
Dr Quinlan: We intend to marry in Hangzhou in the spring, with her family, and then go to Beijing to spend time with her comrades and then Traverse City (my mates) for wedding festivities.
I hope that she will find living up in the vineyards and orchards of Old Mission a suitable place to begin her family and new life. Jin is a resilient, flexible and a creative woman, but also one who is used to living in one of the top cultural and artistic centers of the world. I am totally confident that she will find her niche here in this special place. She has more books to write, and I have more than a few years of medicine, surgery and consulting left in me.
We hope for two children and that by speaking Mandarin at home, and by sharing such diverse and loving parents, that our children will be prepared to enter and help to guide a world that is no longer East or West, but is instead the refinement of the best elements of each.