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Kristi Heim: The World in China

Seattle Times reporter Kristi Heim explores a changing China on the world stage.

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August 20, 2008 9:11 AM

A music revolution in China

Posted by Kristi Heim

Inside the National Center for the Performing Arts, a group of middle-aged Chinese music lovers is rocking out to the Scorpions.

Music club 008.jpg

Their joy is apparent, especially for those who remember the time when they were forbidden to listen to any music from the West.

During the Cultural Revolution, even classical music was considered "a bad influence of the Western world," said Chen Li, a Beijing arts critic who lectures at the center. So Chen listened in secret.

Now he's inside one of the premier arts venues in China, if not the world, transfixed by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra playing a special concert with the Scorpions on DVD. "This is globalization," he said.

Music club 003.jpg

These are a few of the 600 members of a music club launched in the new performing arts center in Beijing. Just west of Tiananmen Square, the colossal ultra-modern dome known as "The Egg" is to the arts what China's Bird's Nest stadium is to sports. The music club is hosted by the arts center and meets here every weekend.

The aim is to give people the space and the means for learning how to appreciate music.

"People have their material lifestyle satisfied, so they need more, something spiritual," Chen said. "China is opening up. and it's opening everyone's eyes. A country's strength doesn't mean just military, it's also economic, it's cultural."

When he was young, Chen listened to classical music by himself behind closed doors and gradually developed a love of opera, especially for the soprano Maria Callas.

"She was singing with her life," he said. "She could bare her soul and shine a light on others with her voice."

Now he can share his love of music openly with others, in the grandest of places.

Music club 020.jpg

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