Guangxi has new hol­i­day to sing about

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By XIN­HUA

Res­i­dents of the Guangxi Zhuang au­ton­o­mous re­gion are en­joy­ing a new two-day of­fi­cial hol­i­day the lo­cal govern­ment is of­fer­ing in the hope it will en­cour­age par­tic­i­pa­tion in an an­nual eth­nic mi­nor­ity singing fes­ti­val.

On the third day of the third month of the lu­nar cal­en­dar, crowds tra­di­tion­ally gather to sing in the an­tiphonal (call-and-an­swer) style, with the oc­ca­sion a time for lo­cals to find love and make new friends.

It is ob­served by more than 27 mil­lion people of the Zhuang, Yao, Miao, Dong and Mu­lam eth­nic groups in Guangxi, or half the re­gion’s pop­u­la­tion.

How­ever, the 1,300-year-old cus­tom has lost its al­lure in the mod­ern era, prompt­ing govern­ment ac­tion to help it sur­vive and re­gain pop­u­lar­ity.

With the third day of the lu­nar cal­en­dar’s third month fall­ing on Wed­nes­day, the day was a ma­jor test of whether the fes­ti­val could be rein­tro­duced.

Be­fore dawn on Wed­nes­day, the first day of the new hol­i­day, Deng Zhit­ing from Dak­eng got up to take part in a govern­ment-or­ga­nized singing get-to­gether that was at­tended by thou­sands of Zhuang and Yao people.

The 72-year-old dressed in the tra­di­tional cos­tume of the Yao eth­nic group and car­ried a flute­like in­stru­ment made of leaves from pineap­ple and bam­boo trees.

But the high-spir­ited el­derly man frowned af­ter see­ing few young faces in the crowd. “What a lean time for our group’s folk songs. We don’t have young people to in­herit the trea­sure,” he said.

Deng mas­tered folk songs at the age of 12 and later won the heart of his wife with his golden voice. Nev­er­the­less, to­day in Dak­eng, home to 600 Yao people, none of those younger than 35 can sing folk songs, said Deng, whose chil­dren and grand­chil­dren know noth­ing of the art.

He blamed the trend on an ex­o­dus of young people re­sult­ing from China’s ur­ban­iza­tion drive.

“Some who left their home­towns for ur­ban jobs long ago can’t even speak the Yao lan­guage any­more, let alone sing lo­cal songs,” he com­plained.

Also, bal­lads that re­quire au­di­ences to un­der­stand his­tor­i­cal sto­ries and cus­toms have scared off the younger gen­er­a­tion, which grew up with pop cul­ture, said Liang Ke­jian, a se­nior folk artist in Guangxi.

Among his peers, 20-some­thing Pan Long­hai is an ex­cep­tion in that he has cho­sen to pur­sue a ca­reer as a pro­fes­sional folk singer.

Folk songs from the Zhuang eth­nic group are highly sig­nifi in terms of record­ing the 4,000-year his­tory of the Zhuang civ­i­liza­tion, Pan said.

“They con­sti­tute an im­por­tant part of our group’s soul and roots.”

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