Last week I walked over with Li Manshan to the Lower Liangyuan temple to take another look at its old (and recent) murals. It’s one of the staging posts of the funky deity Hutu (Elder Hu), whose temples Willem Grootaers wrote about in the 1940s.
In my early days in Hebei we had a couple of harmless run-ins with the constabulary in Hebei, as well as one a bit later in Shaanbei (see under §2 here). I’ve never had any hassles at all in Yanggao, but as we’re walking home a passing police-car stops us and the two cops, friendly enough, ask Li Manshan politely where I’m from and who I am. With great presence of mind (resembling Clifford Geertz’s wonderful story about fleeing from the police in a Bali village after a cock-fight) Li Manshan replies authoritatively,
“He’s from England—he’s a professor of music!”
I’ve heard him call me many things, but never that. Getting the hang of it, I chip in,
“Master Li is an international star!”
Peering sceptically at our incongruous double-act, the cops digest this unlikely information. Easily satisfied, they drive off down the dusty track, leaving Old Lord Li and me to light up and continue our walk home.
So, although my enquiries have less and less to do with music, I seem to be protected by the goddess of music—a Chinese Saint Cecilia.