Another essential member of the Li band’s foreign tours is Erqing (formal name Huang Shuangping, b.1978), a son of Li Qing’s oldest daughter, also based in Upper Liangyuan. He dropped out of school at the age of fifteen sui after only one year of junior secondary, and started learning with Li Qing the following year, along with Li Bin.
Physically he reminds me of Li Qing, with his rounded face and occasional wispy whiskers. Apart from singing, he is a fine sheng player, and he’s great on the large bo cymbals in Yellow Dragon. He can play the guanzi well too—he and Wu Mei make a fine team on large and small guanzi on the rare occasions when they use a group of seven Daoists.
Performing with great dignity, Erqing would be a core member of the ritual band, but since 2004 he has mainly been doing temporary labor outside; his long-term absence is unfortunate.
If Wu Mei has been persuaded to remain, they couldn’t hang on to Erqing. Alone among the group, Erqing is widely travelled within China. He moved to the county-town in 2004, working as a driver. In 2005 he began finding temporary work outside—as labourer, electrician, driver, and so on, usually working in a team of around twenty Yanggao men. He has worked as far afield as Jiangsu and distant Fujian. He bought a flat in Yanggao town in 2010. He did a little time as a Daoist on visits home in 2012–13, but was mostly working outside, with stints in Inner Mongolia, Shaanbei, Ningxia, and Shandong. Thus he can speak passable standard Chinese when necessary.
Such labouring trips each last about a month. All the places are the same to him: they go to work on the building site, sleeping in grotty communal dormitories with around twenty men; at least they eat OK in restaurants. They just go there and do the gig and take the money. That’s life. From 2009 the Daoists’ fees were increasing modestly, but Erqing was already making at least 6,000 kuai a month, well over twice as much as he could make as a Daoist at home. Perhaps as he gets older he will return to the more modest earnings to be made from doing rituals back home.
He’s cool about taking time out, and says his fee for this tour will be a little more than he usually earns, so I don’t feel bad about insisting that he comes on tour.
When I ask Golden Noble and Wang Ding why they don’t go off to do laboring work, they say they lack the appropriate skills.
Now Erqing only keeps his hand in on his brief returns to Yanggao. But he’s still brilliant. I’m glad he’s making a good living, and maybe he will come back to ritual when he’s older. In Paris he was useful on the metro too. Along with Li Bin, he’s a bit of a foodie.