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Tian Longxin’s musical journey

Updated: 2014-12-30 16:26:00

( China Today )

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 Tian Longxin [Filephoto/ xxnet.com.cn]

The Tujia, the seventh largest Chinese ethnic group, reside in Hunan, Hubei, Guizhou and Chongqing Municipality. The Tujia people have a long tradition of singing and dancing, which they perform at weddings and other rituals as well as in daily life. The most famous Tujia song, the Dragon Boat Song, has been recognized by UNESCO as one of “the world’s 25 best folk songs” in the 1980s.

Tian Longxin is regarded as a prodigy and guardian of Tujia music, not only for his artistic ability but also for his lifetime effort to preserve and continue the Tujia musical tradition. He has declared that his life is devoted to protecting China’s cultural heritage.

Mother as First Teacher

Tian was born in 1941 in Pojiao of Longshan County, Hunan Province, a village inhabited by the Tujia people. His father, an officer in the Kuomintang army, abandoned the family when he was two years old, leaving mother and child to fend for themselves. Tian’s mother did needlework for a living while Tian helped an uncle tend his cows.

Although poor, Tian’s mother insisted on sending Tian to a private school taught by a relative. His mother’s sacrifices inspired Tian to rigorous discipline in his studies, which was to become useful in later life. Immersed in Tujia culture, Tian became fascinated in local folk songs, an interest which his mother nurtured by teaching him to play a homemade reed instrument called the dongdongkui. Tian learned quickly and soon mastered the traditional Tujia instrument. At seven years old, Tian continued to study music from the village elders and learned other instruments from local wedding bands. As he grew older, Tian learned to play bronze bells from village shamans and attended Taoist ceremonies to learn how to play the gong and cymbals. At every wedding or funeral, Tian could be seen watching the musicians to learn their instruments. Thanks to his mother and other villagers, Tian became an expert in Tujia folk music.


Tian was a disciplined student and never failed his mother. He did farm work while attending middle school to help ease his mother’s burden. After school, he worked at a local cooperative.

In his 14 years at the cooperative, Tian never lost interest in his beloved folk music. He collected resources on Tujia art between deliveries, and whenever he saw Tujia artists, asked them for advice and information. His free time was dedicated to art creation and performance, and his artistic works were often published in the county art magazine to great acclaim. His reputation eventually attracted the attention of local cultural authorities, and in 1974 he was given his first professional role in the county art troupe.

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