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The Last of China's Literati

The Last of China's Literati: The Music, Poetry and Life of Tsar Teh-yun

Bell Yung
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    The Last of China's Literati
    Book Description:

    In this biography of Tsar Teh-yun, centenarian poet, calligrapher, and qin master, Professor Bell Yung tells the story of a life steeped in the refined arts faithful to the traditional way of the Chinese literati. Set in the two cities of Shanghai and Hong Kong, this book recounts the experiences of an individual who lived through war, displacement, exile, and unrequited longing for home and for a style of living lost forever. Yet Madame Tsar sustained, as one of its last exemplars, much of that style of living despite being a woman in the largely male world of the refined arts. The author weaves a picture of an extraordinary but also tragic figure: extraordinary as daughter, wife, mother, and a celebrated musician, poet, and calligrapher; tragic as a member of the literati exiled from Shanghai to Hong Kong and always longing for the lost world of the refined arts. She was known particularly for her accomplishments as a teacher and performer on the qin - instrument par excellence of the literati. The book delves into her teaching method and musical style to a degree rarely found in the literature of this kind, and is thus an important contribution to musicological study.   Through this life of one member of China's last generation of literati, Professor Yung provides rich material for anyone interested in the cultural and social history of twentieth-century China, especially for those with a special interest in qin music, or the place of women in this period.

    eISBN: 978-988-220-531-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures and Photos
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Photo Credits
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    George Shen

    It was in May 2004 that Bell Yung showed me his first draft of my mother’s biography. I was aware that he had been talking to my mother for a number of years with a view of recording her life and works, but never expected a work of such meticulous detail, insight, and magnitude. When he asked me what I thought of the draft, my answer was: “You know my mother better than I do.” Indeed, I was rather surprised that my mother had not only recounted to Bell the story of her life, but confided in him her inner...

  6. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  7. 1 Waters and Mists of the Rivers Xiao and Xiang
    (pp. 1-8)

    When the noted American ethnomusicologist and field recordist John Levy visited China in 1966 seeking authentic music of the people, he sought out Tsar Teh-yun in Hong Kong, a British colony but nevertheless a place steeped in Chinese culture, for permission to record her performance of qin music. The piece Tsar chose to play was “Xiaoxiang Shuiyun” (Waters and Mists of the Rivers Xiao and Xiang), a composition from the thirteenth century. In later years, her students learned that this is her most beloved piece, which she would pass on only to the truly advanced students as the final work...

  8. 2 Calling upon Tsar Teh-yun Laoshi
    (pp. 9-16)

    I first met Tsar Teh-yun laoshi (the form of address for one’s teacher) in the fall of 1978 when I started teaching at The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Shortly after my arrival from the United States in September, I paid a visit to Tsar laoshi with Professor Rulan Chao Pian, who happened to be visiting at the university as well that year.¹ We expressed our wish to study qin with her, and she graciously and readily agreed to accept us as her students and to give us weekly lessons. Professor Pian’s lessons lasted only a few months because she...

  9. 3 Early Years
    (pp. 17-26)

    Tsar Teh-yun (or Cai Deyun)¹ was born, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, on the 30th day of the tenth month, 1905 (November 26th in the Gregorian calendar), in the town of Shuanglin in Huzhou county, Zhejiang province, a town where her parents’ families had lived for many generations. Shuanglin is near the border of Jiangsu province, and about ten miles south of Taihu (Lake Tai), the third largest fresh-water lake in China near its eastern seaboard. (See Figure 1.) Huzhou county is situated in the heart of the Suzhou-Hangzhou axis; the two historic cities and the surrounding region have...

  10. 4 Calligraphy, Poetry, and Music
    (pp. 27-36)

    Early in life, Tsar was exposed to the fine arts practiced by traditional Chinese literati: poetry, calligraphy, and ink-brush painting. She remembers that hanging on the wall at her childhood home were masterpieces of painting and calligraphy by celebrated artists such as Zheng Banqiao (1693–1765), Wu Changshuo (1844–1927), and Wang Yipin (active early twentieth century).¹ She took lessons in traditional ink-brush painting as a schoolgirl from the artist Cai Mengyan and remembers being particularly good at plum blossoms. However, when she proved unable to render butterflies properly, she gave up painting lessons. Nevertheless, painting remains an important part...

  11. 5 From Adolescence to Marriage
    (pp. 37-44)

    Even though she attended the Huzhou Clan Sojourn-in-Shanghai School, Tsar was mainly educated at home in Chinese literature by reading the classics and poetry on her own, tutored by her parents and elder brothers. She spent many hours in her father’s study doing her school work, reading the vast book collection, memorizing poetry of the masters and learning to compose poems herself, practicing ink-brush calligraphy, and dabbling in various musical instruments. Thus the foundation of her education was by no means conventional. Given her inborn talent; her innate interest in the finer arts of poetry, calligraphy, and music; her diligence;...

  12. 6 A Tale of Two Cities: Shanghai and Hong Kong
    (pp. 45-54)

    Shortly after George was born in 1929, the young family moved from Da’an Fang into their own apartment in Ruihua Fang nearby. Subsequently between 1929 and 1937, the young family changed their residence three more times: first to Runde Li (close to Tsar’s parents); next to No. 19 Yuyuan Cun, off Yuyuan Lu, opposite Zhongshan Gongyuan (English name Jessfield Park); finally to No. 41 Xiangkang Li, just behind the Grand Theatre off of Meibaike Lu, the street at the back of Jing’an Si Lu (English name Bubbling Well Road, today’s Nanjing Xilu). When Honglai left for Chongqing in 1937, Tsar...

  13. 7 Studying Qin
    (pp. 55-68)

    When Tsar started taking qin lessons in 1941, she was thirty-six years old. But she had distant memories of hearing qin music for the first time when she was eight or nine. The principal of the Huzhou Clan Sojourn-in-Shanghai School at the time, wishing to introduce the children to qin, invited a musician to perform and required the entire school to attend. Although Tsar had no idea what was going on, the event left an impression; her main recollection was that the qin player had a long beard.

    She came to study qin with Shen Caonong by happenstance.

    One day...

  14. 8 Elegant Gatherings of Musicians, Poets, and Artists
    (pp. 69-80)

    In 1949, George graduated from the prestigious St. John’s University of Shanghai with a degree in economics. Opposing the communist regime and seeing no future that he wanted to be a part of, he left Shanghai for Hong Kong, with only a HK$5 bill in his pocket, left over from the family’s earlier stay there. Upon arrival, he called upon a friend of his father’s who owned a small shop in the Wanchai area on Hong Kong Island. He was immediately hired and given a folding cot in the shop as a place to sleep. Safely though somewhat uncomfortably settled...

  15. 9 Qin students and the Deyin Qin Society
    (pp. 81-94)

    At first Tsar had no intention of teaching qin. She wrote: “It was quite accidental that I started teaching. One day in the early 1950s, a young man suddenly showed up at my door and requested lessons, saying that Zha Fuxi of the Jinyu Qin Society of Shanghai sent him. I could not refuse. Shortly thereafter, two women also came and wanted lessons in earnest. Then an accomplished qin player came and we played for one another from time to time for several years. At the time I was very aware of the danger of becoming too self-important as a...

  16. 10 Method of Teaching
    (pp. 95-102)

    During the last few decades, as her peers in qin music passed away one by one, Tsar has stood alone as the undisputed senior qin master that all younger players look up to. In recent years, prominent qin musicians and scholars on the Mainland of her son’s or grandson’s generation, upon coming to Hong Kong for conferences, performances, or private visits, have paid their respects to Tsar laoshi in her modest apartment, had their photographs taken with her, and asked her to hear them play.

    What makes Tsar such a special teacher and musician to her students and admirers? Part...

  17. 11 Style of Playing
    (pp. 103-118)

    W What makes Tsar’s music special? What distinguishes her musically from other qin players? Besides her cultural background, ideology, and teaching method, one needs to go to the source: a close examination and analysis of her music and performing style.¹ However, the fact that she has hardly ever played in public, and has very few recordings that are easily accessible, poses a challenge for readers who are interested in finding out what her music is like. For the small number of students who studied with her and played in unison with her for many years, in some cases over a...

  18. 12 The Sojourner and Her Poems
    (pp. 119-134)

    Tsar has long been recognized and revered as a qin musician, which has been further enhanced in recent years through her students and her recently published Yinyinshi Qinpu and the two-CD set Tsar Teh-yun: The Art of Qin Music. In contrast, her poetry is largely unknown. Aside from the yaji activities in the 1940s Shanghai and 50s and 60s Hong Kong, in which a small group of poets shared their work, Tsar has kept her poetry private and seldom made references to them even to her closest students. Only after the publication of Poetry from the Yinyin Study (2003) did...

  19. 13 Qin and Tsar in the Twenty-First Century
    (pp. 135-140)

    As Tsar quietly lived her life in her “humble refuge” amidst poetry, painting and calligraphy, and playing qin with her students, the world of qin music around her underwent drastic changes in a direction diametrically opposite to her philosophy of life and art. It has already been mentioned in an earlier chapter that, since the 1980s, the market economy embraced by China has created an environment for the professionalization and commercialization of qin music. The rise of the recording industry and the growing size of the middle class with ever-stronger buying power have further opened up opportunities for enterprising qin...

  20. Postscript
    (pp. 141-142)

    On June 10, 2007, as this manuscript was going into production, Tsar laoshi passed away peacefully at her home, with George and Jane by her side. One of her students, Tse Chun-yan, a medical doctor who had been attending to her health for over a decade, told us that she had no illness of any kind; all her organs were functioning properly. She simply slipped away because she stopped eating. Her faithful maids, Maria and Anna, told us that she had been quite well until about the middle of May, when she developed a cough that affected her breathing and...

  21. Appendix 1 Titles and translations of qin compositions mentioned in the text, in alphabetical order of the romanized form
    (pp. 143-143)
  22. Appendix 2 Chronology
    (pp. 144-145)
  23. Appendix 3 Poems in Chinese characters
    (pp. 146-152)
  24. Notes
    (pp. 153-164)
  25. Bibliography
    (pp. 165-170)
  26. Combined index and glossary of Chinese characters
    (pp. 171-180)