Love of Music

Singing to the Heavens: Men and women sit in a semicircle outside as they sing and play instruments

A little over 900 miles southwest of Beijing, China, in the shadow of the Taihang Mountain range, you will find a small openair courtyard. Inside its walls, a musical instrument, tea and tobacco lie on an old table, surrounded by eight blind artists. They are members of the Shanxi Zuoquan Blind Publicity Team, and just beyond them are a group of excited village folks who anticipate the troupe’s performance.

The old men light cigarettes, sucking on their addiction as tobacco smoke swirls over their heads. Some squat next to the courtyard wall to enjoy a lunch of noodles, talking with their mouths full, as the singers warm up. The latter are accompanied by musicians who play bright notes that drift off into the distant mountains. Liu Hongquan, the captain of the group bangs his drum, and the other instruments obediently follow suit, joyously playing to the beat. They sing familiar lyrics:

Pass a county and there’s another village Start playing the huqin (oh God)
And go west all day long
Use the clouds as blankets and mountains as beds With warmth leaving comes the cold (oh God)
I travel the Taihang

The Blind Publicity Team was established in 1938 to protest the Japanese during a military conflict between China and Japan. It was China’s AntiJapanese Democratic Government that allowed the singers to have their very own organization, but back then the troupe also had to fish for information to help out. Today, 75 years later, there are six generations of the Blind Propaganda Team.

Over the course of a year, they walk through 360 villages in Zuoquan County, and wherever they walk, they sing beautiful songs in exchange for a bowl of warm food and shelter from the rain. Zuoquan County has high mountains, deep valleys and mostly rocky roads. Few people with disabilities walk its paths. A single stick leads two people: One holds it, the other other puts a hand on his shoulder and that’s how they are strung together like pearls, carefully moving along. After encountering snow or rain, one slip and they could easily fall into a heap.

They walk for two weeks at a time, trekking through mountain village after village, day after day, year after year. In addition to giving them 200Yuan ($32) to 300Yuan ($48) per performance, the villagers also arrange room and board for the performers. At every home they enter, they are offered food, which they gratefully accept. After eating a homecooked meal, the artists radiate happiness and stand up straighter.

The first 10 years of the troupe’s existence, however, the performers had to beg to survive. When they walked up to a village, they ran the risk of vicious dogs pouncing on them. If the villagers were warm and wanted them to stay, then they would stay and perform. If they said they were busy, then the group would go on to the next village.


“Who says that red are the peach blossoms, white are the apricot blossoms? Living a whole life blindly, I have never seen this.”

The lyrics “red are the peach blossoms/white are the apricot blossoms” is from a Chinese folk song. In the artists group, there is wistfulness when they sing the words.

In a lonely and remote village, a flawed body is considered to be as unimportant as a fallen leaf. Nobody will remember their real names and will just call them “old blind.” But these “old blinds” are all survivors. Captain Wang Zhongyuan, 61, had been a carpenter. While he was digging up a tree root, a detonator went off and he lost his hands and sight.

At 60 years old, Zhang Linqing was originally a very wellknown “Little Revolution Path Breaker.” When he was 21 he was taking part in an agricultural studies competition, when a ditch rock blast injured his hands and sitting-men walking up hill with canes

Liu Shuangming, 44, lost his sight because of optic atrophy. His wife quickly divorced him and took their daughter with her. In the group of 11, nine are alone and do not have a family; some don’t have any relatives at all. ...To read the full article, login or become a member --- it's free! by Feng Huan
This story is part of a series of articles published as an exclusive editorial exchange between China Press for People with Disabilities/Spring Breeze and ABILITY Magazine.

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