Chinese Sense and Sensibility

We are a country full of surprises. In response to the UK NOW FESTIVAL campaign in China, the 2012 Beijing Music festival had plans to adopt a British theme. The organiser’s original ambition had been to feature a dream line-up of British composers, musicians and classical music pieces.

The plan had been discussed for a year. Excellent musicians and orchestras were pencilled in. But suddenly, overnight, orders came for the programme to be adjusted: no Western orchestras after all, and cut the number of Western artists. It must now be a festival celebrating Chinese artists and Chinese programmes.

The reason this happened is hard to fathom. The music festival will be held in October, and the timing proved inconvenient as China will be welcoming a new era of leadership at the same time. So, it was decided that the top priority is to build a quiet, harmonious environment for a smooth transition of power, as we like to call it.

The conclusion to be drawn is that if fewer Western groups visit in and around October, then the better off we will be. According to unofficial sources, festival venues all across China are receiving this kind of instruction.

I always support Chinese culture, even though my work is very much in the Western field. In fact, I’ve often thought that we don’t protect and develop Chinese culture enough given how America and Europe dominate the market.

However, I never dreamed that we would abruptly run to the opposite extreme. What harm does Western classical music inflict on our society’s harmony? It simply doesn’t make sense. Perhaps when listening, say, to Britten’s music, some hear the sound of the soul while others hear the sound of a ghost?

Such reasoning is why I will never be qualified to work in government. A friend told me I lack political sensibilities. But I counter by saying that this is not something to be ashamed of.

Last-minute cancellations seriously imperil the busy professional schedules of orchestras, artists and agencies. As a result, some even have to cancel their entire tour. Of course, there are always force majeure clauses we can invoke to defend ourselves. Perhaps China is one of the few countries to invoke an exceedingly broad definition of force majeure.

Just like we Chinese look for auspicious days on the calendar, I suggest that Western agencies and orchestras also carefully research official Chinese events before agreeing to perform in China. Apparently in China you need to possess a certain sensibility even if it means you make no sense.

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