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The folk finder
22/9/2004 7:39

Shanghai Daily news

It takes a special person to devote himself to the preservation of folk songs and with so many folk songs in China, it's not a small task.
At 72, Xu Shaohua has spent two decades dedicated to the collection of such songs to ensure they're not lost to history.
A former Yangzhou Opera performer, Xu was born into a family of traditional opera in Jiangsu Province and started to learn singing and performing with his uncle when he was only seven years old.
His family owned a local Yangzhou Opera troupe and when it was raining and business was down, he spent time with the troupe crew, amazed by the folk legends, songs and street gossip that brightened a cold and shabby room.
"In the old days music and song was a way to collect and transfer information. Very often it all started with a rumor next door but it developed into verse," Xu recalls.
With love and passion Xu began to collect folk songs in 1987. At that time, he was living in Shanghai where he organized and performed Yangzhou Opera shows at a small local theater.
His work was encouraged by the Ministry of Culture, which established the "Three Collections" project, with the aim of reviving folk art by collecting folk songs, folk stories and adages               around the country.
Xu began a storytelling section in the theater he usually performed, where people could come and share their folk songs and stories - and they came in droves.
"Some folk songs he (Xu) presented were songs I frequently heard as a child. I felt encouraged to contribute my own repertoire and share them with other residents," says 78-year-old Jiang Xiulan.
In just five months, Xu collected over 160 folk songs and more than 100 stories which were compiled for the book, "China Folk Literature Collection - Shanghai Chapter."
Reading these scores and verses is like traveling down a time tunnel. According to Wu Zude, secretary-general of the Shanghai Folk Artists' Association, the songs discovered in Shanghai, cover almost all the major categories of Chinese folk songs. Some creations are vivid depictions of a certain social phenomena or even history.
"The Huangpu Port on Dalianwan Road, soldiers approached on a sun-flagged boat," Xu belts out. The 1930s tune was widely spread during the Japanese invasion.
"The lyric is plain but visual while the rhythm suggests the horrifying atmosphere. Not every composer can write this," Xu says.
To discover more folk songs, the association launched an annual competition 15 years ago which is open to applications from               all over the country.
In rural areas like Jinshan, Fengxian and Baoshan districts, there are folk song collecting stations responsible for daily research and collection.
While so much has been done to discover and protect these old treasure, Xu worries it's not enough.
"I think folk songs in Shanghai will die one day, but I don't want to believe it will happen," Xu says, adding that his pessimism is based on a lack of interest in the young generation.
Xu has even tried to introduce school students to the importance of folk songs with lectures and lessons.
"It is so hard to get their attention because they cannot relate to these 'last century cliches'," he says.
In the recent Second National Folk Song Battle held in Shanxi Province, there were no competitors from Shanghai.
While teenagers don't appear to appreciate his efforts, many do.
"At least we can't lose what we have found and collected," says Wu from the association. "It's a responsibility we can't elude."