Episode 138: Chopin in China

Nocturne No. 21 in C minor, Op. posth.

rc-china-200"Asia is the new power on the horizon. There are 30 million young pianists there learning to play the piano." - Waldemar Dabrowski, Head of the Chopin 2010 Celebrations Committee.

If there is any nation outside of Poland – and perhaps France – that most reveres Fryderyk Chopin, it would have to be China, where there are at last count 30 million piano students. Sure, Chopin is the poet of the piano, but it turns out he’s also the muse of the masses: “Chopin’s country was invaded by foreign powers,” Professor Yu Runyang explained recently to the New York Times. “Chinese people related to this because they…had a similar experience.”

Chopin’s music first gained currency in Japanese-occupied Shangai in the 1930’s; his popularity gained favor after the 1949 Revolution led by Chairman Mao. The nationalist fervor of Chopin’s Mazurkas and Polonaises got him a pass during the Cultural Revolution. The official line: “Chopin’s ‘anti-feudalist’ music could be truly appreciated only by citizens of nations like Poland and China, [who] had suffered under Western oppression and then been liberated by Communism.”

Fast forward to the 2000s, and a couple of new generals emerged to lead the Chopin revolution: Lang Lang, and Yundi Li, who at the age of 18 became the first Chinese – and youngest ever – pianist to win the International Chopin Competition in October of 2000.

What the image of an Air Jordan slam dunk has been to sneaker sales in Americas, so has a Chopin Polonaise been for Yundi Li – or Li Yundi, as he’s called in China, or just “Yundi” on his CDs – for the sale of 300 thousand pianos in his native land, for reasons the Chinese find both relevant…and timeless. Says Yundi Li: "A Chopin Polonaise is very heroic, very powerful and very exciting. And Chopin loved his country and loves Poland very much as I love China, love my country and my people very much. So those things are a passion for me." -  Benjamin K. Roe

Radio Chopin Episode 138: Chopin in China



Nocturne No. 21 in C minor, Op. posth.