Mao Zedong: Bright Sheng

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In Shanghai, ten years after the end of Japanese occupation and six years into the brutal reign of Mao Zedong, Sheng Zongliang was born. His mother, a trained pianist, began passing on her craft to her young son as early as age four. By the time he was a teenager, however, Chairman Mao had begun the Great Cultural Revolution to purge China of its ancient heritage and political dissent. As a part of the Revolution, government officials came to households across the land, destroying objects and arresting people deemed to be ‘obsolete’. One of these obsolete objects destroyed was the piano on which Sheng received lessons from his mother. The young pianist was then sent to Qinghai, a remote province bordering Tibet, to perform in the provincial …show more content…

He is known by his trademark of fusing Eastern and Western traditions in a modern, cross-cultural aesthetic. This sense of direction was not always so clear for Sheng, though. Upon arrival in America in the early 1980’s and throughout his initial studies at Queens College, he struggled to find a compositional niche or appropriate cultural identity to project through his music. Many times as a student at Queens, he was told that Eastern and Western music were incompatible and could not be fused successfully. Earlier attempts at the fusion that Sheng desired were not very successful or well-received. Composers such as Li Jinhui, Qui Hechou, He Dasha, and Yin Zizhong introduced an art form known as shidaiqu, which was an attempt to reconcile the differing tenets of the two musical systems. Instead of true fusion, however, the result of this movement was more an awkward juxtaposition of ancient Chinese melodies and lyrics over more modern, jazz-influenced Western basslines, chord structures and forms. This overwhelmingly failed experiment set the expectation in academia that successful fusion of Eastern and Western music was largely improbable and

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