Art Gives Freshness to City
——A Dialogue between He Yong and Zhu Wei
Zhu Wei (hereinafter Z): Your song Bell and Drum Tower is really fantastic. It is a symbol.
Oriental Art · Masters (hereinafter M): How did you create it then?
He Yong (hereinafter H): The Second-Ring Road is mentioned in the beginning of the song. My home is near the road, so I have special feelings towards it. The song was created during late 1980s to early 1990s. After the Student Movement (June 4th Event at the Tiananmen Square) broke out in 1989, I went to Southern China at first and then travelled around the nation. At last I settled down and missed Beijing very much, so I composed the song.
When I was very young, I often held performances in other cities, and upon approaching the Second-Ring Road in Beijing I would have a special feeling in my heart that my home was just nearby. Having returned Beijing from Guangzhou, I went home taking No.44 bus, and my tears were close to rush out when I heard the conductor’s voice. She was speaking with an old Beijing accent, which sounded fairly warm to me. I grew up here. When in elementary and middle school, I often rode my bike and played with my friends in the alleys. However, I cannot find most of those friends, who were living there then, any more.
As a child, I was keen on riding bike through all these alleys and streets, and my life was occupied by bike before moving away. Moreover, many of my works were created on my bike: I pondered and hummed during riding. There have occurred numerous tales and interesting events here, and a lot of my works were shot here. We chose the spot behind the Bell and Drum Tower as the filming location of Dump, which is a vegetable-market now. Then the place was a reconstructed factory where industrial cranes and temples could be found, which had created strong impact. I chose the spot myself.
M: About the Old Beijing, what can you recollect now?
H: I received my primary school education in the Double-Temple district which was rebuilt from a temple. Then I attended No.40 Middle School, a beautiful church in the past. As a child, I did not feel that they were special, while after I grow up I know they are both religious places.
In my childhood I had also seen the last eunuch of China in the breakfast canteen. The experience was interesting. I often saw the old man there but I did not know he was a eunuch then. Later I learnt from Beijing Evening News that there was a Guanghua Temple in Houhai area, and the last eunuch in China just lived there. Thus we can see that Chinese history is fairly intelligible, and Cixi, the famous empress dowager, just lived in an age that is not far from us.
I learnt swimming in the Houhai lake. In the past, the area was rather quiet for there were no bars. Filled with tranquil and blue atmosphere, the Back Sea was not so noisy and busy as now, and who went there were mostly Beijing people. Over these ten years, Beijing, from Luogu Lane to Shishahai Lake, has changed so dramatically that I cannot find its old appearance at all. At that time, when Wang Shuo was still young, Shishahai Ice Rink was a famous place of amusement.
When I was a child, a meal at Barbecue Season, a restaurant in Beijing, would bring me a festival-like joy, and a family would not go to a restaurant without a special reason. I still remember that there was an old waiter, who had suffered a lot in the old society, servicing warmly. The dishes there were also extremely delicious, and my favorite one was fillet cooked with tomato, which was sweet and sour, mixed with water chestnut and rather cheap then.
M: Your songs have much to do with the city of Beijing.
H: Generally speaking, “city” stands for a kind of culture which comes from different people. There is always fresh blood, or people from other regions, infusing into Beijing, a cultural center. Beijing is so charming that all young people long for coming here. Your life in Beijing, during which your spare time is occupied by internet, without art exhibitions, rock and roll, bars and parties, is incomplete.
M: Compared with painting, is rock and roll more popular?
H: Music is more socialized and has a close relationship with mass media, while compare with rock-musicians, painters appear lonely. In terms of paintings, there is an excellent theoretical system on, for example, painters, galleries, exhibitions and lectures. While for music, all forms of music, including rock and roll, have suffered from piracy from the 1980s, which is further promoted by the occurrence of mp3. Therefore intellectual property is essential to cultural industry. Art circles are healthier and increasingly systematic, while the environment for the development of rock and other pop music is poor: music is shared in an illegal way and has stepped into Communist Society too early.
M: What is the most impressive change of Beijing for you?
H: In my memory, Beijing in the 1970s was grey: walls, people’s clothes and the pain brought by the Cultural Revolution were all grey. Then we were very young, so we could not understand that deeply. In autumn, the turning near Silver Ingot Bridge on my way to school would be decorated with golden leaves, which was so charming. However, now the place is rather noisy, and I can only experience the previous feeling when the bars are closed in the early morning or at night. Now the city is rather rackety.
Z: I still remember that we could hardly find a car on the street in 1977. There was a long interval between the emergences of two cars before Tiananmen Square.
H: Rock and roll, which has brought numerous young factors, features largely in Beijing. Music has the greatest impact on people, so I consider that Beijing should support the development of rock. Artists are the soul of this city.
Fortunately, we have music festival and clubs now, which has offered better conditions for developing music than the past when we were dreaming of such a good environment. For me, my ideal in music has been realized through my effort.
M: Do you think the condition now is as good as what you have imagined?
H: Some are better than what I have expected. In the past, the most imaginative child would not dream about one day he will own a car of his own. Then people were easy to feel excited. It was so wonderful if your family bought a refrigerator, a washing machine or a 9-inch colorless TV of the brand “Kunlun”. Life then was fairly interesting. Now we have numerous technological devices such as iphone, but we seldom feel exciting.
As to demolition in Beijing, I feel poignant. Then we practiced rock in Yu Weimin’s home: he was our drummer. The house was in an exquisite court where Beiyang Navy had lived and which has been demolished for the establishment of the Financial Street. Old buildings in Beijing were all with an extraordinary history, each having a story. However, all stories, even the names of the lanes, have disappeared with their destruction.
Now the Olympic Games have finished, and the government should do something detailed: more subways should be built. Last year I went to New York and I felt that the city was planned well. Although subways are complex, you may feel they are clear after you have understood them. All subways there have no air-conditioners, with a history of one century and big rats. Indeed, subway is symbolizing a city’s culture in itself.
Z: There is another standard for measuring a city. You can find a lot of foreign ballad-singers in subways of advanced countries such as Japan, France and Russia. If a city has no room for such singers and street culture, then it may appear so inferior. No Matter how beautiful a city is, it is not attractive if it cannot hold people from other regions.
Sometimes I find that Chinese always feel insecure when getting along with others. For instance, in foreign countries, what follows an eye-contact is surely greeting; however, a Chinese may feel he is threatened if a stranger is looking him in the eye: a city full of such people may lose its attraction. The point is to change people’s state. If all people you encounter are friendly and equable, then the city will become lovely soon.
Published in the “My City and I: City Life and Spiritual Experience” column of Oriental Art◎Masters, the First Semimonthly Issue of April, 2010