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Bard in China Screens Documentary on Politics and Folk Songs in China

Darren O'Sullivan
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.— On Tuesday, November 13, Bard in China will screen Meera Jaffrey’s documentary, Fine Rain: Politics and Folk Songs in China, at Bard College. The film traces the different eras of modern China, from pre-Communism to the Cultural Revolution, through archival film, photographs, footage of live performances, and interviews with a cast of seven characters. The screening takes places at 4 p.m. in Weis Cinema in the Bertelsmann Campus Center. The event is free and open to the public and is presented by Bard in China, with the support of Bard’s Asian Studies and Music Programs. In 1980, while at Oberlin College, Meera Jaffrey traveled to China. There she met an elderly man on a train from Shanghai to Beijing. He whispered the song “Fine Rain” to her, then added that it was “forbidden to be sung.” Years later, Jaffrey returned to the country to understand the politics of China through its folk songs. This film was commissioned by Ismail Merchant, the legendary producer, before he died. Merchant loved music of all kinds, but Chinese folk songs held a special place in his heart. Upon learning of Jaffrey’s research, he lent her support to travel to China to document this vital piece of history. In the film, Jaffrey meets Professor Wang in Shanghai. He poignantly recalls the brutal Japanese invasion. Through tears, he sings the songs that sustained him. Lady Fen, a retired performer, sings us songs that the refugee children sang to ease the pain of separation from their parents during the Japanese occupation. The proud Dr. Chow wholeheartedly believed in the goals of Mao and the Communist Party, and even renounced the values of his own educated family. He speaks of joining a revolutionary choir that sang throughout China. In the end, Dr. Chow was betrayed by his own idealism, as the songs he sings take on a bitter inflection. As China takes its place as an emerging world power, this film helps us to understand the psyche of its people. What is the significance of the Chinese National Anthem and why were “Yellow Songs” forbidden during the Cultural Revolution? These are questions answered in Fine Rain. Meera Jaffrey is a music teacher and storyteller with an unusual passion for Chinese music and culture. Though her family is originally from India, Meera developed a strong connection to Chinese culture as a teenager and went on to major in Chinese studies at Oberlin College. Jaffrey spent two years studying in Beijing and Taiwan and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. This is her first film. She currently teaches music at Learning Community Charter School in Jersey City and also resides in Jersey City with her husband and son. For more information, contact Katherine Gould-Martin,, 845-758-7388. # # # (10.17.07)

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This event was last updated on 11-14-2007