University breathes new life into Tianjin’s dying folk arts
Jin Wan Bao Overseas Edition  2016/12/31 10:58:48

students joining folk arts performances.

A special folk arts festival was recently held in Tianjin Normal University (TNU), shedding the spot light back upon the local folk artists and their marvelous performances. Both TNU and the government of the city’s Nankai District, sponsors of the festival, believe that bringing folk arts into universities is the best way to help preserve the city’s cultural traditions endangered by China’s rapid modernization.

Various art performances wowed students with cultural richness and the incredible acrobatic charm involved. However, the names of many may sound unfamiliar to young ears.

One was Ding Zhongfan, or Flag Balancing. Zhongfan features a 10-odd-meter bamboo pole with an exquisitely embroidered flag hanging down from the tip. The performer needs to support the pole with his forehead, chest, chin, arms, or feet, keeping it all the time upright during constant jumping and dancing.

Another was Cai Gaoqiao, or Stilt Walking, in which performers walk with a long stilt strapped on each of their feet. Well-skilled artists may even perform complicated maneuvers like splits and somersaults in a humorous way to amuse the audience.

Among the many spectacles was Tai Gangxiang, or Box Balancing, a folk art unique to Tianjin, which fascinated most of the TNU students. Gangxiang refers to a large, heavy wooden box, and two performers cooperate to shoulder a long bamboo pole to carry it all the way in the dexterity of constant rolling, jumping, and even spinning. Performers are not allowed to use hands all through the performance, so their breath-taking presentations amazed everyone with the pole never departing from their shoulders and the box never dropping onto the ground.

The performances attracted many students to join the artists. “I thought that would be easy, but when I was really doing it I found it’s just so hard”, said Wang Han, a TNU student. “The pole was so heavy and it’s simply impossible for me to keep balance. Anyway it’s important for us to know more about traditional folk arts. It’s young people’s duty to keep the folk culture alive.”

Tianjin has rich cultural traditions, but the city's unique folk arts are disappearing at an unbelievable speed with modernity coming into people’s lives.

“Nankai District has been making the most efforts in awakening people’s cultural awareness, but still there’s a long way ahead,” said Zhao Zhenmin from the local government.

“We used to have more than 20 different kinds of folk arts, but now there’re only 8 or 9. The thing is, the performers are all aged over 50, and there’s simply no successor coming up. So we’ve brought such activities into universities and high schools so that young people can actually take actions and make efforts”, Zhao told the reporters.

“In the coming semester we will have our own folk arts community in TNU,” said Zhao Jun, leader of TNU’s School of Physical Education Science. “We will invite folk artists into the classroom and have more folk arts festivals on campus so that we can truly help pass on the cultural treasure to the next generation.”

Photo by Wang Xiaoming, Jin Wan Bao