As I struggle to declutter my library, many books were easy enough to hand over to a new home within the CHIME collection in Heidelberg, but I was reluctant to part with a set of nine mimeographed volumes which Li Shigen 李石根 (1919–2010) gave me on my first fieldtrip to China, entitled Xi’an guyue quji 西安鼓乐曲集. So they too make up part of the bulky haul that I’ve just shipped off to Germany.
in advance of my first stay in China, Raffaella Gallio had given me clues to Li Shigen’s work (as I explained in my page on ritual life around Xi’an); and so early in 1986, soon after arriving in Beijing, I took the train to Xi’an to consult him. He made a hospitable, generous teacher, giving me daily seminars as well as taking me to visit and record groups in the city and countryside—my first glimpse of the fabled workers and peasants.
Li Shigen (2nd left) with Yang Yinliu (2nd right), 1953.
Li Shigen had devoted himself to the ritual music of Xi’an and its environs since the 1950s, under the testing conditions of Maoist campaigns. After the end of the Cultural Revolution he was able to salvage his work, while furthering his studies by visiting the urban and rural groups that had revived after the collapse of the commune system.
These volumes, which later formed the core of Li Shigen’s magnum opus Xi’an guyue quanshu (2009), consist largely of cipher-notation transcriptions of the scores in gongche notation handed down in the various groups of the city and surrounding countryside—with social and ritual context a sensitive topic until the 1980s, transcription was the main agenda of early fieldwork. But Li Shigen and others now began publishing articles to augment the purely musical documentation.
Mimeographed on flimsy paper like a more legitimate kind of samizdat, suggesting the tenuity of both folk activity and research, the set has a particular sentimental attachment for me—and I think it makes a valuable addition to the CHIME library, reflecting the resolve of Chinese scholars in the early days of the revival.
On my travels in the days before the monumental Anthology began to be published, province by province, I soon began acquiring many other mimeographed drafts that wouldn’t necessarily make it to the edited volumes. Another one, for the instrumental music of Laishui county in Hebei, would lead me to the ritual associations of Gaoluo village.
Meanwhile as the Music Research Institute in Beijing too me under its wing, at the archive there (cf. Li Wenru) I discovered a wealth of early field-reports from before the hiatus of the Cultural Revolution (Hequ 1953, Suzhou 1956, Hunan 1956, Fujian 1961, and so on), revealing the tenacity of folk music research through the first fifteen years after Liberation.
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