I teach the princess to play the guzheng

  A slender cheongsam, delicate pearl pendants, jet-black long hair and piercing eyes, just like the stars who came out of the old movies of the Republic of China. When I met Li Yang in her studio in downtown Bangkok, Thailand, the reporter could hardly believe that this dignified, quiet and ageless guzheng artist just celebrated her 60th birthday. “I heard that you are going to record a video. I put on some light makeup today to cover up the wrinkles.” Li Yang said with a smile, and tuned the guzheng. The setting sun poured down from the window and sprinkled on the strings, reflecting the dazzling light. With a focused expression on her face, she flipped her hands up and down between strings and pillars, and the melodious song “Colorful Clouds Chasing the Moon” captured people’s hearts. This tune, which has been played countless times, is of great significance to Li Yang. Every note seems to recall her 30-year-long guzheng career in Thailand.
  In 1985, on the tenth anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and Thailand, the Gansu Provincial Song and Dance Troupe went to Thailand for a visiting performance. The 24-year-old Li Yang was a guzheng soloist in the troupe, and it was her first time in Thailand. “That year, the performance venues in Thailand were full. I performed the guzheng solo “Battle of the Typhoon” on the stage, and the audience responded very enthusiastically. They may not have seen the guzheng before, but they remembered that the audience broke the window glass of the theater at that time.” Li Yang recalled.
  This successful performance brought the guzheng into the eyes of Thai audiences for the first time. After the performance, overseas Chinese groups in Thailand invited her to teach in Thailand many times to make up for the gap in the teaching of guzheng in Thailand. After thinking about it, Li Yang was invited to Thailand in 1990 and started his overseas guzheng teaching career.
  When he first arrived in Thailand, Li Yang’s artistic ideal was almost overwhelmed by reality. “In Thailand at that time, almost no one knew the guzheng, and there was no culture of learning Chinese musical instruments.” Li Yang said that his livelihood was a problem because he couldn’t receive students. In addition, it was difficult to adapt to the new environment. By giving up the guzheng and doing other jobs to make a living”. However, she finally chose to stick to her original intention. Although the studio is small and low, and her life is dull and plain, she firmly believes: “I can’t live without the guzheng in my life. Since I have chosen to teach the guzheng, I can’t easily give up halfway.”
  In order to break the situation as soon as possible, Li Yang began to seek breakthroughs with innovation. In terms of teaching content, she adapted local Thai music into guzheng music, and tried to adapt Chinese Hong Kong and Taiwan movie songs familiar to Thai people at that time into guzheng music. She also compiled these contents into the first guzheng textbook in Thailand that she compiled and published. In terms of teaching methods, she flexibly sets up teaching locations, gathers popularity through salons and small concerts, and shows the charm of guzheng through schools, concert halls, family banquets and public performances of celebrities. After unremitting efforts, the guzheng gradually became popular in Thailand. Since 1997, Li Yang has released 15 guzheng albums integrating Chinese and Thai styles, which have been widely acclaimed. She has also become one of the well-known guzheng players in Thailand.
  One afternoon in December 2000, Li Yang was picked up by a luxurious royal limousine. The car drives into the depths of the palace, which is inaccessible to ordinary tourists, where Li Yang will meet for the first time one of her most special students, Princess Chulabhorn of Thailand. In the princess’ study, Li Yang and Zhu Lapong exchanged greetings with a zheng, and played the song “Colorful Clouds Chasing the Moon” for the princess. “After listening to the princess, her eyes lit up and she told me that she visited China not long ago and the first zheng piece she heard was “Colorful Clouds Chasing the Moon”, what a coincidence!”

Above left: Li Yang teaches guzheng at the Chinese Cultural Center in Bangkok in January 2022. Above right: On March 6, 2017, Li Yang (right) and erhu performing artist Li Hui performed at Boren University in Thailand. Below: In December 2009, Li Yang (right) and Thailand’s Princess Chulabhorn performed at the “China-Thailand Family” concert in Beijing.

  Chulabong is good at playing a variety of Western musical instruments. After listening to the guzheng music, he became very interested in this ancient Chinese musical instrument. Under the recommendation of the Chinese embassy in Thailand, Li Yang became Chulabhorn’s guzheng teacher. In order to teach this “special student” well, Li Yang carefully formulated teaching plans and created and arranged teaching repertoires. Chu Lapon took the guzheng very seriously, cut off his delicate fingernails, and used tape to firmly wrap the prosthetic armor specially used for playing the guzheng. Even under the pressure of busy business, she insists on practicing at least 10 hours a week. After studying for less than half a year, she was able to interpret many difficult songs perfectly.
  In order to realize Chulabong’s wish to “show the friendship between China and Thailand with music”, Li Yang planned the “China and Thailand Family” concert. In August 2001, Zhu Lapong, who had studied Guzheng for 9 months, performed at the concert, leading the performance of “The Liang Zhu” and “Dance of the Yao People”. The theme song “China and Thailand Family” was composed by Li Yang and Zhu Lapong ensemble. The next day, the photo of the Thai princess and the Chinese teacher playing together on the same stage spread all over Thailand. For a time, the Thai people were keen to listen to and learn the guzheng, and the ability to play the guzheng became a symbol of honor. Li Yang also became a well-known court music teacher in Thailand.
  Since then, the “China-Thailand Family” concert has been held for 7 consecutive sessions in the form of touring, with a growing scale and far-reaching influence. The performance was a success, and Chulabong’s enthusiasm for learning the guzheng did not subside, and she continued to practice with Li Yang. Since 2000, Li Yang has followed Chulapong to visit more than 30 countries around the world, and has held more than 100 guzheng performances around the world. “Every time I go abroad to fly, the princess will leave a separate seat for her guzheng. She believes that the musical instrument is alive, and she joked that she may have been a Chinese princess in her last life, so she is so obsessed with the guzheng.” Li Yang told Reporter, as long as the physical conditions allow, the princess still insists on practicing the guzheng every day, and she has been with her for 22 years.
  With the introduction of this teacher-student story into the streets, Thai folk also set off a craze for guzheng learning. Li Yang cooperated with the Bangkok Chinese Cultural Center to set up 8 guzheng teaching classes at different levels. Under her leadership, various guzheng learning classes have sprung up. As a traditional Chinese musical instrument with a history of 2,500 years, the guzheng began to be truly accepted by Thai society. She has taught tens of thousands of students for over 30 years. More and more Thai people are falling in love with Guzheng and learning Guzheng. Li Yang believes that the promotion of Chinese music, to achieve localization, can not be too bright. To this end, she tried her best to integrate the cultural elements of China and Thailand into her teaching materials and music, so that the students would not feel the guzheng is unfamiliar or far away, but felt the similarities between Chinese and Thai music. “Only by bringing guzheng into everyone’s daily life can more people fall in love with guzheng, and guzheng art can blossom and bear fruit in Thailand.”
  Not long ago, Li Yang, who played the Sino-Thai friendship movement with guzheng, was awarded the second session ” Silk Road Friendship Messenger”. The guzheng music, like the murmur of flowing water, came to Thailand along the Silk Road, conveying the best wishes of “China and Thailand as a family”. In Li Yang’s “China-Thailand Family” tailored for Chulabong, the princess wrote the following lyrics: “Mo Dao’s land is not connected, and the sky is thousands of miles apart, and our friendship is constantly separated. China and Thailand are relatives, brothers. Friendship never ends.”
  Li Yang
  was born in Gansu, China in 1961 and graduated from the Wuhan Conservatory of Music. In 1990, he moved to Thailand to promote guzheng, produced 15 guzheng performance albums integrating Chinese and Thai music styles, and published the first guzheng textbook in Thai. Since 2000, he has been the guzheng teacher of Princess Chulapong of Thailand, and co-hosted the concert “China and Thailand as One Family” with Chulapong.

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