The Christian Science Monitor just published an article about the culture clash between China’s young, prosperous urban dwellers and the old guard accustomed to collective activities and neighborhood loudspeakers.
In 1981 we were awakened each morning by the rhythmic squawking of the Happy Drill Sergent, who barked out the numbers one through eight while heroic music played in the background. Good citizens were supposed to do calisthenics to this beat, but in fact most ignored it.
Television and recorded music were rare luxuries. There were barely any bars in China, let alone karaoke, so local people gathered in parks to dance and sing. In Xi’an this meant Qinqiang, Shaanxi opera. People gathered most afternoons just outside the city wall near Heping gate to sing and play the traditional music. A friend told me that everyone knows the stories and songs the way Americans know nursery rhymes or Christmas carols.
When I returned to Xi’an after nearly a quarter century, the city looked completely different. Many of the old style homes within the city wall had been replaced by modern mid-rise apartments. I worried that the place had lost its charm, but when I biked to Heping Gate I was gratified to see that the heart of old Xi’an continued to beat in the center of the city: The Qinqiang tradition continued even then.
Visiting the north side of the city, I came upon a group of women dancing and drumming in the courtyard of an apartment. It was midday, so I assumed it was OK to join them and add to the din. Perhaps the neighbors weren’t so happy!