A look into China’s National Traditional Orchestra

By Eric Biegon in Beijing, China

It is a worldwide spectacle. One that has lived many generations, yet it remains hugely popular among the people of the Republic of China.

The National Traditional Chinese Orchestra is venerated both by the young and the old alike.  What makes it so distinct and unique is the way it captures the feelings of the Chinese people.

Much has been said about this tradition and I was lucky to attend one of the performances at the Concert Hall of the National Center for the Performing Arts, in Beijing to witness it firsthand.

Its mission as I established, after interaction with a few devotees, is majorly to promote and advance China’s musical heritage and its authentic culture. But I discovered that the intention transcends this objective. It’s a glue to the Chinese.

A number of its fans disclosed that the ritual unites and binds them in their drive for nationhood as much as it is an occasion to promote patriotism.

On this day, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army was at hand to entertain. True to their words, from the onset, as I looked through the audience reaction, I realized that the traditional orchestra goes way beyond entertainment.

To many, this is an opportunity to reflect about the history of the country and muse about the future. Of course under the leadership of the Communist Party of China, CPC.

Songs such as “There will be no New China without the Communist Party”, Holy war, Goodbye Mama, Today is Your birthday China, and “Glorious China’’, just to mention a few, rent the auditorium to enormous acclamation and ululation.

At one point as the PLA performed, the audiences, including some of us who did not quite understand the language of composition, were moved to tears.

The passion that was injected to this performance was hugely affective. I recorded numerous standing ovations from time to time since the opening of the concert that evening.

In fact, one of my colleagues from West Africa who was part of the audience confirmed to me that he was “moved by the concert”.

But one interesting characteristic about the performers of the day struck me. Looking through their musical careers, it is easy to see why they perform to perfection. All members of the troupe have had decorated careers spanning many years.

The conductor of the group, Mr. Li Yuning, for instance, is a National First-Class conductor and a member of Chinese Musicians Associations. Since 1995, he has won more than 10 international awards.

Other artistes in the group such as Cheng Zhi (Vocalist), Liu Xiaona (Hostess-Vocalist), Wang Hongwei (Vocalist), Zhang Yingxi (Vocalist), Tsewang Dorjie (Vocalist) and Xiong Qingcai (Vocalist), are regarded as National Grade – A performers.

In its website, the group says it “always insists on expressing common people’s emotions.”

But aside from my observations, an official of the China Africa Press Center, CAPC in Beijing, disclosed to me that at the beginning of China’s opening up, the country didn’t communicate with foreign countries on cultural affairs.”

“At the time, China had not set up a cultural market, based on its large population, and well-educated music professionals to work for this enterprise.” The official said.

This perhaps is another gap that the orchestra and numerous opera groups in the country have come to fill, aided by the ministry of culture, and in the process wowing audiences and winning over hundreds of many young fans.

As I recollected a day later, I came to a realization that that this ritual is one of the avenues to build the “One China” brand. Maybe our nation of diverse communities can “Kenyanise” this tradition to promote the much sought after cohesion and integration. I understand there are numerous ways to achieve this dream, but this could just be one other way to do it.