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A talk by Jindong Cai, Associate Professor, Center for East Asian Studies and Author, Beethoven in China & Sheila Melvin, co-author, Beethoven in China
At the turn of the twentieth century, the foundations of traditional Chinese society were crumbling. Many patriotic and idealistic young people went overseas to seek inspiration and education, determined to learn from the outside world and forge a new path forward for China. Beethoven was introduced to China during this period by a series of remarkable artists and intellectuals who learned about the composer while studying in Japan. The polymath artist, writer, and monk Li Shutong was the first Chinese to write about Beethoven in a short, but revealing, article called “The Sage of Music.” Xiao Youmei was the first Chinese to bring the sound of Beethoven to Chinese people. After his studies in Japan and Germany, Xiao came back to China in 1921 and began promoting music education at Peking University, where he created the first Chinese symphony orchestra to perform Beethoven’s music. Since then, Beethoven has become an iconic figure in China and played a role in many major historical events from the May Fourth Movement to the normalization of US-China relations. Beethoven became a hero to reformers, intellectuals, music lovers, and party cadres alike. The new Penguin Special “Beethoven in China,” by Stanford professor and orchestra conductor Jindong Cai and culture journalist Sheila Melvin tells the compelling story of Beethoven and the Chinese people.