New Programs, New Directions

Arts Education

In late 1983, following visits to China by David Rockefeller, Jr., executive committee chairman of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), and executive vice-president of RBF Russell A. Phillips, Jr., the Fund pledged to continue its support of the Center’s ongoing program in arts education. 

The Center and RBF subsequently prepared a proposal for a three-year program that Center director Chou Wen-chung brought to China for negotiation with the Ministry of Culture last December. The proposed program, as approved by the ministry, builds on the results of the first Chinese delegation of music and arts educators to visit the United States in 1980 and the bilateral conference on arts education held in China in fall 1982. (For a report on the conference, see the Summer 1983 issue of this newsletter.)

Starting this fall and running through the summer of 1987, the Center and RBF, in cooperation with the Chinese Ministries of Culture and Education, plan to exchange teams of specialists who will spend periods ranging from three weeks to three months observing arts education at selected schools in the two countries. The teams will also research curricula, teaching methods and materials, and procedures for evaluating and nurturing the creative potential and performing abilities of children.

Howard Gardner, who led the American delegation to the 1982 conference, will direct the ongoing program in consultation with Lonna B. Jones, director of awards in arts education at RBF and consultant for this program since 1982.

Gardner, one of America’s leading child psychologists and foremost scholars in arts education, will begin research on the project this summer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, where he is senior research associate and co-director of Project Zero.

The schedule for subsequent phases of the program is as follows:

Fall 1984: Four Chinese arts administrators and educators who participated in the 1982 conference (Wu Zuqiang, composer and director of the Central Conservatory of Music; Wang Bohua, deputy chief of the Ministry of Culture’s Education Bureau; Ji Junshi, administrator in the Ministry of Education’s Department of General Education; and Lu Zhengwu, an administrative aide in the Ministry of Culture’s Education Bureau) tour selected American schools for three weeks and confer with Gardner, Jones, and Chou.

Spring 1985: Gardner, Jones, and Chou visit schools in China to select suitable sites for in-depth study by American specialists.

Fall 1985: A Chinese team spends three months working with art teachers in secondary schools and observing outstanding curricular and extracurricular programs in the arts available to American schoolchildren.

Spring 1986: Gardner and child psychologist Dr. Ellen Winner, who specializes in studying the development of sensitivity to music, painting, and literature in normal and gifted children, conduct a three-month study of selected Chinese schools, while two Chinese specialists conduct similar research at schools in the United States.

Fall 1986: A second team of American arts educators and a third Chinese team carry out reciprocal three-month visits.

Spring 1987: The third American team spends three months in China.

Summer 1987: At Harvard, a three week seminar, followed by a major week-long conference, brings together all program participants to assess the findings of earlier exchanges. The goals of the program, as articulated and approved by both sides, are to enhance knowledge and understanding of the differing approaches to arts education in the United States and China; emphasize the teaching and learning processes in arts education; maintain a forum for the exchange of ideas and materials in specific disciplines; and to identify relatively young individuals and encourage their interest and long-term commitment to intercultural arts education.

Visual Arts 

In December 1983, the Henry Luce Foundation awarded the Center a study grant to develop an expanded program of exchanges in the visual arts. A previous Luce Foundation grant enabled the Center to sponsor the 1980 visit to the United States of Professor Jin Weinuo, art history department chairman at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing and China’s leading authority on Buddhist cave paintings.

The current grant enables the Center, in collaboration with the Chinese Artists Association and the Ministry of Culture, to identify projects with the greatest potential for bringing visual arts specialists in the two countries to a better understanding of similarities and differences in their creative processes and in contemporary forms of artistic expression.

The Center’s proposal to the Luce Foundation grew out of discussions with the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles (CFLAC), the Center’s official counterpart. CFLAC had expressed concern that not enough Chinese artists have a genuine appreciation of Western artistic traditions or sufficient access and exposure to contemporary developments in the visual arts despite many recent exchanges. On both sides, curators of traveling exhibitions demonstrate little understanding of the artistic trends and preferences of the other country, thus failing to make the most of these opportunities to extend the public’s education in the visual arts.

In approving the grant, the Luce Foundation recognized the Center’s excellent record in promoting exchanges in all the arts and its previous programs in the visual arts. Among these earlier achievements are the 1979 research project at the Central Academy of Fine Arts of Cornelius Chang, former associate professor of art history at Columbia University, and the visits to China in 1981 of sculptors George Segal and Tsai Wen-ying, costume and lighting designer Patton Campbell, and stage set designer Ming Cho Lee. In 1982, the Center also arranged a six-week program in New York for Yuan Yunsheng, associate professor of oil painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts.

Architecture and Planning

A new dimension in the Center’s arts exchange programs with China opened in 1983 when Chou Wenchung brought to Beijing a list of books on architecture and planning donated by the library of the Museum of Modem Art (MOMA) and was invited to meet with senior officials of the Ministry of Urban and Rural Construction and Environmental Protection (MURCEP) to explore the possibility of developing exchange programs in architecture, urban design, and related fields. 

From this initial meeting with Dai Nianci (MURCEP vice-minister and chairman of the Architectural Society of China), Xu Ronglie (director of the China Building Technology Center), Zhou Wenzheng (Chou’s brother, an architect with the Institute of Concrete Technology at the Chinese Academy of Building Research), and from a subsequent meeting last December came an agreement for the Center and MURCEP to collaborate on three separate projects.

The Center will coordinate contributions of architecture-related publications, whether donated by American institutions or purchased with grants for this purpose, to the library of the Architectural Society of China, a professional body founded in 1953 that approximates the American Institute of Architects. The project was inaugurated in January, when eighty volumes donated by MOMA arrived at the society’s library in Beijing. In future phases of this project, which is funded by a special grant from the Albert Kunstadter Family Foundation, the Center’s consultant will be Geraldine Kunstadter, vice-president of the foundation.

MURCEP and the Center will undertake a comparative study of the problems faced by two cities—one in the United States, the other in China— as they try to preserve their architectural heritage while developing to meet the present and anticipated needs of their residents. This pilot project call for two national teams, composed of experts in architectural design, planning, historic preservation, environmental protection, and new technology and materials in design and construction, to investigate jointly the selected sites and formulate practical solutions to specific problems. The findings and the recommended solutions might then be presented and discussed at a public binational conference and published in English and Chinese.

The two agencies will also seek to establish short-term institutes to be conducted in China by American specialists in the fields of architecture, planning, historic preservation, environmental protection, and new technology and materials of design and construction.

In consultation with Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture and Planning, faculty members at other leading architecture schools, public and private planning and landmarks preservation agencies, and research scientists specializing in environmental protection issues, the Center is  working out the specifics of the latter two projects.

Poster and program cover for Beijing production of Death of a Salesman
Poster and program cover for Beijing production of Death of a Salesman

Arthur Miller’s “Salesman” Travels to Beijing

The Chinese production of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman,” directed by the playwright, opened on May 7, 1983, at the Beijing People’s Art Theatre, and played continuously to packed houses through last fall. The production, co-sponsored by the Chinese Theatre Association and the Center, was hailed in the Chinese press as “the most significant cultural event in China since the Cultural Revolution.”

To celebrate the opening, the Center organized a special tour of China for a delegation of artists and art patrons, including Louis S. and Adele Auchincloss, Daniel P. and Katusha Davison, Leslie Glass, Trudy Golden, Milton A. Gordon, Connie Griffith, Jean Muir, Alex North (composer of the incidental music for “Salesman”) and Annemarie North, and Geraldine Stutz. The Center also arranged for correspondent Bill Moyers and a CBS television news team to film final rehearsals and cover the premiere.

Other distinguished Americans attending the opening night performance included the American ambassador to the PRC, the Honorable Arthur Hummel; historian-writer Theodore H. White and Mrs. White; and David and Diana Rockefeller, Jr.

Miller kept a journal during his six week stay in China. The diary, illustrated with photographs by Inge Morath, was published this spring under the title Salesman in Beijing (Viking Press).  

Chinese Artists in America 

Of Atriums, Ateliers, and Architraves

With a Distinguished Exchange Scholar Fellowship from the Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China (CSCPRC), Zhang Zhizhong, associate professor and chairman of the Architecture Department at the Nanjing Institute of Technology (NIT) spent eight weeks visiting the United States last spring.

At the request of the CSCPRC, the Center arranged and administered Zhang’s program, which included meetings with architects and planners in private firms and government agencies, visits and lectures at universities across the country, and tours of historic districts and contemporary buildings of interest.

Aesthetic and socio-economic concerns and the political processes affecting architectural design and planning were the topics of discussion when Zhang visited the New York City Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA), New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, and the Manhattan office of the Department of City Planning. Zhang shared his initial impressions of American architectural design and planning issues with American architects who have worked on projects in China, notably I. M. Pei, whose firm designed the Fragrant Hill Hotel in the suburbs of Beijing, and Lo-yi Chan and Marjorie Hoog of Prentice & Chan, Ohlhausen, the firm that designed the National Germplasm Center for the Ministry of Agriculture in Beijing.

Dean James S. Polshek, Professor Klaus Herdeg, and other faculty of Columbia’s Graduate School of Architecture and Planning introduced Zhang to American trends in architectural education. The training and licensing of American architects and contrasts and similarities between practices in the United States and China were among the issues Zhang discussed with the presidents of the Association of Student Chapters of the AIA and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture in Washington, D.C. 

In New York Zhang participated in a symposium on traditional Chinese architecture at the China Institute in America and gave two lectures at Columbia, one on contemporary housing design in China and the other on the influence of the American beaux arts tradition on architectural education in China. In the second lecture, Zhang explained how T. P. Yang (Yang Tingbao) and Tong Jun, who had studied with Louis Kahn at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1920s, returned to teach at NIT, where they shaped a whole generation of Chinese architects, Zhang included. One of the highlights of Zhang’s stay was a visit to the University of Pennsylvania’s collection of Kahn’s original sketches and drawings.

Short visits to other architecture schools on the east coast (Yale, Princeton, Harvard, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), in the midwest (the University of Illinois at Chicago, Illinois Institute of Technology, and the University of Minnesota), and on the west coast (the University of Southern California and the University of California at Los Angeles and Berkeley) afforded Zhang a broader base for assessing the different approaches to architectural education in the United States. In each city on his itinerary, Zhang also visited the ateliers of large and small firms to examine drawings, photographs, and models of buildings and talk with the architects and planners who worked on them.

In China, architects seeking solutions to the problems of urban housing face the particularly difficult challenge of blending centuries-old traditional aesthetics with practical contemporary concerns. Zhang was inspired by American efforts at transforming warehouses and industrial lofts into modern housing units in New York’s SoHo and TriBeCa areas, and the successful restoration of landmark buildings in Boston’s historic Back Bay, Beacon Hill, and waterfront districts, and Philadelphia’s Society Hill. He was also enthusiastic about the innovative use of atriums, plazas, colonnades, and pocket parks at the street level of office towers—all of which relieve the monotony of continuous facades and give a dynamic quality to city streets. Impressed by all he saw and learned on his first trip to the United States, Zhang still believes that architects in China must develop their own idiom, appropriate to the country’s needs and level of development, utilizing available materials and technology.

Qin Master Wu Wenguang 

Wu Wenguang is a scholar and acknowledged master of the traditional seven-string Chinese zither, the qin. Luo Jingjing is an award-winning young composer. Both are faculty members at the Conservatory of Chinese Music in Beijing. With funding from the Asian Cultural Council (ACC), they spent over four months in the United States last fall. Their program, arranged by the Center, included recitals and lecture demonstrations, meetings with American composers and performing artists, and attendance at numerous concerts and rehearsals representing virtually every type of music performed in this country.

Professor Dieter Christensen, director of Columbia’s Center for Ethnomusicological Studies, assisted in planning Wu’s activities, while composer and Center director Chou Wen-chung supervised the design of Luo’s professional program.

Wu Wenguang demonstrates his virtuosity on the qin in Center director Chou Wen-chung's office
Wu Wenguang demonstrates his virtuosity on the qin in Center director Chou Wen-chung's office

Wu Wenguang, son of the illustrious qin master Wu Jinglue, holds degrees from the Conservatory of Chinese Music and the Institute of Literature and Arts of China. Between them, father and son have transcribed and compiled a repertoire of works for qin dating back to the sixth century A.D. Before visiting the United States, Wu Wenguang had performed in Japan in 1982 with the Beijing Performing Arts Company and in England with another traditional music ensemble.

Luo Jingjing, a 1979 graduate of the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, was composer-in-residence at the Guangdong Orchestra in 1980-81 before joining the faculty of the Conservatory of Chinese Music. Her compositions for piano, voice, and orchestra and for solo piano have been performed and recorded in China.

Arriving in New York in early August, the musicians plunged into the week-long activities of the twenty seventh conference of the International Council for Traditional Music, held at Columbia. With composers, ethnomusicologists, and performing artists from all over the world, they attended seminars, panel discussions, and workshop performances. At the conference, Wu gave his first recital and lecture-demonstration in the United States.

Wu subsequently gave a lecture demonstration for staff members at the United Nations, where he received a UN peace medal. Later, he shared the stage at the Ford Foundation with musicians from India and Kampuchea in a panel discussion on Asian Traditional Music. His October 6 public concert at St. Paul’s Chapel on the Columbia campus was cosponsored by the Center, ACC, and Columbia’s School of the Arts. His November 6 concert at the Metropolitan Museum of Art was presented in cooperation with the museum’s Music Instruments Division and the Society for Asian Music.

While in New York, Wu was also invited to perform and speak on the history and significance of the qin in China’s musical tradition on WKCRFM and on the nationally televised cable program “Looking East.”

Meanwhile, Luo enrolled as a special student at Columbia’s School of the Arts, studying composition with Chou Wen-chung and auditing a course on twentieth-century styles and techniques and a seminar in music theory. The Center arranged for Luo to attend a session of the  Julliard School’s Composers Forum and a meeting of the New York Chapter of American Women Composers, Inc., at which she discussed her own works and heard new compositions by several of the members.

For Luo, a pianist and devotee of opera, an afternoon at Steinway & Sons and performances of Peter Grimes, Turandot, and Candide were special treats.

Later in the fall, Wu and Luo visited Wesleyan University, Harvard, the New England Conservatory of Music, and the University of Michigan to observe classes and meet with faculty and students. Wu’s performances at each stop drew not only musicians and East Asian scholars, but also members of the general public who were intrigued by the exquisite tones of the little known qin.

On his own, Wu also traveled to the University of Maryland at Baltimore County and to the west coast, where he gave lectures and recitals at California Institute of the Arts, the University of Washington in Seattle, and the University of California at Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, and Berkeley. These extended travels allowed Wu to meet with the handful of qin scholars and performers in this country to exchange notes on technique, repertoire, and recent scholarship. 

Both Wu and Luo sought exposure to the different schools and exponents of contemporary music in America. Luo attended selected events at the New Music Festival in Washington, D.C. and the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. For Wu, classical guitar recitals and jazz performances provided opportunities for close study of Western fingering techniques and playing styles that he found analogous to those developed many centuries ago for the qin. 

Encore for Lin Cho-liang 

When violinist Lin Cho-liang learned he would have a ten-day break in his January tour of the Far East, he asked if the Center could arrange several performances in  China. The twenty-three-year-old virtuoso had brought audiences to their feet during his first Center-sponsored concert tour of China in 1981, which he made with his renowned teacher Dorothy DeLay and pianist Sandra Rivers. The Central Philharmonic Society Orchestra in Beijing and the Shanghai Symphony greeted with enthusiasm the prospect of even a short return visit. 

In 1981 Lin had briefly met Li Jian, the talented Shanghai Conservatory pianist who took second prize that year at the Marguerite Long- Jacques Thibaud International Competition in Paris. Although the two artists did not perform together, Lin was greatly impressed by the then fifteen-year-old Li. Last December, Lin arranged for both of them to be invited by a Japanese television company to appear together in Tokyo. Their joint concert on Christmas Eve 1983 received standing ovations and turned out to be the first in a series of similarly successful collaborations.

In Beijing, on January 14 and 15, Lin and Li performed Beethoven’s Sonata No. 7 in C Minor and Violin Concerto in D Major and Chinese composer Xia Liang’s Fantasia for Two with the Central Philharmonic Society Orchestra under the baton of Han Zhongjie. On January 18 they gave a joint recital at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, and the next day performed with the Shanghai Symphony, conducted by Huang Yijun.

At the press conference following their final appearance in Shanghai, Lin said, “We have actually been together only twelve days, in Japan and here, but it feels as if we have played together for a long time Not only do we have a common understanding of music, but we’re both Chinese and have a unique emotional resonance.”

Lin, who told reporters, “I love to meet young violin players wherever I go in the world,” managed to find time to give classes at the Central Conservatory in Beijing and the Shanghai Conservatory. Before leaving China to resume his concert tour, he observed, “For China to develop her music, the most important thing is to get good music teachers… Many Chinese are studying music in Europe and the United States. They should come here and pass on their experience to the young students. I’m trying my best to help.”

On his Far East tour, Lin traveled with his American foster parents (Center advisory council member Porter McKeever and his wife Susan) and his mother Yu Kuo-lin. Another parent who witnessed with pride the collaborative achievements of Lin Cho-liang and Li Jian was Li’s mother, violinist Yu Lina.

American Artists In China

Music Exchanges Flourish

Last fall, the Composers String Quartet (CSQ), the Mirecourt Trio, and Grace Wong, principal harpist of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, all visited China for the first time under the Center’s auspices.

For the CSQ (Matthew Raimondi and Anahid Ajemian, violins; Jean Dane, viola; Mark Shuman, cello), quartet-in-residence at Columbia University, China was the first stop on a tour that continued to Indonesia and the Philippines.

At the Central Conservatory in Beijing, the CSQ gave two concerts, one featuring classical composers and the other contemporary ones such as Samuel Barber and Henry Cowell. They also held a master class, with each member coaching a separate string quartet. At the Xi’an Conservatory their concert was recorded live, and at their master class the audience overflowed into the hall and adjoining rooms. In Shanghai the CSQ enjoyed joint playing sessions with the conservatory’s string quartet and heard young students perform on traditional Chinese instruments.

The quartet’s assortment of fine instruments, some dating back to the early seventeenth century, aroused a good deal of interest among Chinese musicians. The CSQ, in turn, asked to visit the instrument-making facilities at conservatories in Beijing and Shanghai. Discussions about design, measurements, and materials with the master craftsmen and conservatory students, who learn to make and repair their own instruments, turned into demonstrations of fingering technique, tone, pitch, and resonance.

Speaking for herself and her colleagues, Ajemian told the Center after her return, “We heard many excellent students and were highly impressed with the level of teaching at  all three conservatories. They are extremely eager to learn, and are highly motivated and dedicated. . . . There  seems to be quite a bit of healthy rivalry between the Beijing and Shanghai conservatories, with both of them anxious to progress rapidly.”

A month after the CSQ came the Mirecourt Trio (Kenneth Goldsmith, violin; Terry King, cello; John Jensen, piano). The trio, which is based at Grinnell College in Iowa, was accompanied by Gayle E. Burdick, associate director of Grinnell’s Office of College Relations, who documented the tour through Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai.*

Of their contact with Chinese musicians, the trio reported, “We were thrilled with the opportunity to present and discuss aspects of musical style and performance on a very high level. The faculty and students were ready to receive these ideas and capable of producing the desired result with technical proficiency and musical understanding. We were touched deeply by the willingness of both students and faculty to make themselves vulnerable in order to accept as completely as possible what we had to offer. The experience was rare and very valuable….”

The Mirecourt Trio did, however, express concern about the Chinese style of playing Western music. Goldsmith commented, “We found the same technical and expressive values indiscriminately applied to all music. Consequently we spent a great deal of time discussing stylistic differences among Baroque, Classic, and Romantic music and how to apply the techniques of ornamentation, phrasing, and tone color in order to create the desired sound and emotional content.”

Prior to the visit, the Mirecourt Trio had shipped sets of their recordings of classical and contemporary composers to the conservatories to familiarize students and faculty with their extensive repertoire. Their concerts and master classes in China were just as wide-ranging. After students and faculty at Beijing’s Central Conservatory learned that Jensen plays jazz piano and teaches jazz history and theory at Grinnell, his lecture-demonstration on the history and theory of jazz became a regular feature of the program at each conservatory.

Grace Wong (far right) conducting master class at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music
Grace Wong (far right) conducting master class at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music

Harpist Grace Wong has been hailed as “a polished and poised young artist, with great technical command of her instrument and artistic awareness of the music she plays” (Washington Star-News, February 1974). Last September, Wong spent twelve days teaching and performing in Beijing and Shanghai, following concerts in Tel Aviv and Hong Kong.

In the company of her father, Dr. Wong Wing-hee, the American-born harpist received an especially warm welcome from prominent musicians such as conductors Yan Liangkun and Li Delun of the Central Philharmonic Society Orchestra, professors Situ Huacheng and Wang Feili of the Central Conservatory of Music, and other longstanding friends of Dr. Wong.

Wong had decided to leave her own instrument behind in Hong Kong due to transportation difficulties, so the first order of business on arrival was to find a harp for her concert and master classes. She discovered that Chinese-made harps are structurally different from harps made in the West: pedals have rotating cylindrical casings at the point where they enter the slots to reduce friction and wear; the edges of pedal slots are rounded instead of squared; and pedals are capped with slick wood rather than rubber. On some instruments, modeled after Russian harps, the modulating discs for sharps and naturals turn in opposite directions rather than all turning counterclockwise. These differences require some getting used to, so Wong was delighted when the Central Conservatory produced a newly acquired Italian model for her Beijing concert.

The harp is seldom heard as a solo instrument in China, yet Wong learned that literature for solo harp is readily available and that Chinese harpists are aware of developments in solo harp repertoire, mostly by way of Europe and the Soviet Union. Wong found, however, that many harpists in China do not know how to execute the new symbols and signs in contemporary music, so she devoted one master class at the Shanghai Conservatory to teaching new sounds and playing techniques. Her demonstrations and varied repertoire, which includes transcriptions of chamber music, generated great interest. At her Beijing master class, professional harpists from various city orchestras and recording studios mingled with conservatory students and faculty; harp teachers from as far west as Xi’an and Xinjiang and as far south as Guangzhou attended her four master classes in Shanghai.

Wong observed that while the twelve-to nineteen-year-old students selected for her master classes “played with verve, accuracy, and a great deal of musicality,” teachers in their late twenties and early thirties “seemed to lack confidence,” in part because of inadequate training, in  part because of infrequent contact with each other and with specialists from other countries. Nonetheless, the teachers impressed Wong by their total dedication to their students. She learned that one harp teacher in Shanghai invited a student to use the harp in her own home when she heard that the student could not gain access to an instrument during school vacations and had begun to construct a harp on her own.

Exchanges in music arranged by the Center continued through this spring with the visits of Michigan State University’s Verdehr Trio and Canadian pianist Julie Holtzman.

The Verdehr Trio (Walter Verdehr, violin; Elsa Ludewig-Verdehr, clarinet; Gary Kirkpatrick, piano) traveled to the Central, Xi’an, and Shanghai conservatories after a tour through Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. Rare in its combination of instruments, the trio aroused great enthusiasm with concert performances of Béla Bartok’s Contrasts, Igor Stravinsky’s Suite from I’Histoire du Soldat, and works by Max Bruch and Jan Vanhal. Master classes featured works expressly written for the trio by Pulitzer Prize-winning composers Leslie Bassett and Karel Husa, and Michigan State University faculty members Jere Hutcheson and James Niblock.

Pianist Julie Holtzman is noted for her solo piano arrangements of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and An American in Paris and for her discovery of the unpublished score of Concerto No. 2, Op. 25 by Franz Xaver Mozart, the son of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The Center arranged for Holtzman to appear as guest soloist with the Central Philharmonic Society Orchestra in Beijing on May 19 and 20. Both concerts, conducted by Han Zhongjie, featured Holtzman in the orchestral version of Rhapsody in Blue.

* The Mirecourt Trio’s trip was made possible by the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. J. Arthur Johnson, Mrs. Joan Kuyper Farver, the Rolscreen Foundation, Agnese N. Lindlep, and MT3, Inc. 

A Celebration of Poets and Writers 

How does one pursue a career as a writer in China? What are the concerns of Chinese writers and to what degree do they reflect the concerns of the society at large? 

These and other questions were raised when Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Galway Kinnell and noted writer E. L. Doctorow met with Chinese poets, writers, critics, editors, and scholars specializing in American literature in Beijing, Xi’an, and Shanghai last October.

Poet and Chinese Writers Association (CWA) vice-chairman Zhang Guangnian personally invited the Center to send a small delegation of writers for “indepth exchange of views” when he stopped in New York on his way to a conference in Canada in the fall of 1982. In Beijing a year later, Zhang made one of his rare public appearances as host of the official welcoming banquet for Kinnell and Doctorow.

For two weeks, the Americans and the Chinese exchanged ideas with candor, warmth, and a genuine desire to bridge the gaps in information and understand the differences in cultural attitudes and social values.

At the first panel discussion, Chinese participants included Wang Meng, novelist, vice-chairman of the CWA’s Beijing branch, and editor-in-chief of Renmin Wenxue (People’s Literature); Bi Shuowang, poet, secretary of China PEN Center, and former director of the CWA’s liaison department; Zou Difan, poet and editor-in-chief of the magazine Shikan (Poetry Monthly); and Wu Taichang, chief critic for Wenyibao (Literary Gazette). Yuan Henian, associate professor and vice-chairman of the English Department at Beijing’s Foreign Languages Institute (BFLI), translated as the visitors learned about writers and writing in China.

The CWA, a professional body under the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles, has 2,300 members at the national level and many thousands more at the provincial and local levels. Only about 200 national-level members maintain “professional” status and draw a salary from the CWA. The others are designated “semiprofessional”— not a reflection of the quality of their work, but a result of the division of labor in the society and the need for editors and teachers. Among China’s factory workers, teachers, and civil servants are numerous “amateur” writers and poets. So-called amateurs may be nominated to membership in the CWA’s branch associations by winning an award in a national poetry or fiction competition, getting published in a literary magazine and noticed by the critics, or by being read and recommended by an eminent literary figure.

Writers in China are paid for the first publication of their work, usually in a literary magazine. Depending on the quality of the work and the author’s renown, the fee ranges between seven and twelve renminbi (one renminbi equals approximately fifty cents in U.S. currency) per thousand words. If the work is re-published as a book or in an anthology, the author receives a second fee that serves as the base for royalty payments calculated according to a system of declining percentages.

The purpose of literature in present-day China “should be to serve socialism… not just by describing the good things, but also by criticizing the bad things, the unhealthy things….” (Examples of “unhealthy things” included sex, violence, and “other things that bring down the people’s spirit.”) One Chinese moderator stressed that, historically, “writers in China have a strong sense of social responsibility…so that there is no way for a writer to alienate himself from political life, political movements or political reality…. However, with the growing stability of the country as a whole, I think there will be a greater variety of literature to meet the needs of the people— even their entertainment needs….”

High schools and colleges in China offer courses in basic composition and essay writing. Literature departments at the university level teach literary theory and train scholars to analyze and critique classical and contemporary literary works. Creative writing programs and writing  workshops per se have no equivalent in China; the prevailing view has been that a writer cannot be taught his craft. In recent years, however, Chinese writers have been exposed to writing programs abroad, such as the writing workshop at the University of Iowa, and interest in writing workshops is growing.

The CWA’s local and provincial branches have begun to organize three-to-six-month programs for promising amateur writers. Wenyibao offers correspondence courses in writing; and the editorial department of Shikan periodically invites small groups of young poets to bring their unpublished works to Beijing to discuss and polish them with established poets and literary critics. Kinnell, director of the Creative Writing Program at New York University (NYU), spoke of his conviction that “poetry is a solitary art which depends on original inspiration,” and expressed concern that “years spent in university writing workshops may lead to a certain uniformity in the works produced.” Doctorow, visiting professor of English at NYU, agreed that “no one can really teach a writer how to write,” but suggested that the writer as teacher should “give the young writer courage to be himself.” Doctorow added that writing workshops are beneficial as “a form of publication for the young writer, allowing him to get into the swim… to enter the community of writers….”

Also of interest to the Chinese panelists was the American institution of public poetry readings. They urged Kinnell, who is much in demand for his poetry readings, to give a demonstration. His recitation of “First Song” and “The Bear” received such enthusiastic response that he was invited to read at each subsequent gathering.

At a second panel discussion in Beijing, both Kinnell and Doctorow stressed the individual nature of American writing and described the themes and the style of their own work. They also discussed current trends in American fiction and poetry and their shared belief that “the best writing we have seeks to examine the myths by which we think we live.” Among those who participated in the lively question and answer session were Madame Wei Junyi, novelist and editor-in-chief of People’s Literature Publishing House; Feng Yidai, translator of numerous American authors and editor-in-chief of Dushu (Reading); and Yuan Kejia, translator and research fellow at the Institute of Foreign Literature of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Kinnell, who was then president of American PEN, and Doctorow, who serves on the board of the Authors League, also had a chance to discuss professional matters with Zhu Ziqi, executive secretary of the CWA and vice-president of China PEN Center, and China PEN staff member Jin Jianfan. In Zhu’s company, Kinnell and Doctorow visited with the distinguished poet Ai Qing and Ai’s wife, Gao Ying. Ai studied painting in Paris in the late 1920s and early 1930s and traveled extensively in Europe, the United States, Japan, and South America in the last three years. The 73-year-old poet spoke about themes in his work, the influence of life on art, and the international literary figures he has known. After Kinnell recited “First Song” and Ai read one of his poems, the discussion touched on the difficulties of translating any poem into a foreign  language without sacrificing its original cadence and imagery.

Translations were unnecessary at BFLI, where Kinnell and Doctorow addressed students and faculty of the English Department and read from their own works. With BFLI director Wang Zuoliang presiding, and department vice-chairman Yuan Henian moderating, the session ended with a discussion of topics as diverse as the relative merits of contemporary Western writers, the impact of films on fiction, and the differences between Chinese prosody and blank verse. Impressed by the thoughtful and sophisticated questions of the well-informed students, Kinnell and Doctorow found the exchange “as stimulating as any we’ve faced in graduate seminars back home.” Present on this occasion, as in all previous discussions, were three individuals who played key roles in arranging the visitors’ activities through out China: Madame Chen Mingxian,  deputy director of the CWA’s liaison department; Madame Fan Baoci, head of the division for North America in the liaison department; and Wang  Hongjie, CWA staff interpreter. Chen and Wang accompanied the Americans on the rest of the trip.

The stopover in Xi’an was too brief to permit a lengthy discussion with poets and writers in that city. But Kinnell and Doctorow were able to meet with Wang Shengwu, secretarygeneral of the CWA’s Shaanxi Province branch, Yang Weiqin, essayist and head of the administrative office of the CWA’s Xi’an branch, poet Wei Gangyan, and novelist Li Xiaoba.

In Shanghai, the Americans continued the dialogue with senior members of the local literary establishment: novelists Wu Qiang and  Wang Xiyan, both of whom have visited the United States; poet Wang Xindi, who has traveled in Canada; and Ai Mingzhi, a novelist and council member of the Chinese Film Artists Association.

Popular woman novelist Wang Xiaoying talked about the concerns and attitudes of younger writers. Discussions with Tang Yongkuan, secretary-general of the Chinese Association for the Study of American Literature and deputy editor-in-chief of the Shanghai Translation Publishing House, focused on the lack of adequate translations of Chinese literature into English and the arbitrary selection of Western writers for translation into Chinese. Doctorow’s lecture at Fudan University on current trends in American literature rounded out the activities in Shanghai.*

Despite time constraints, the visit carried the dialogue between American and Chinese writers one step further and identified new areas of collaboration. Before the visit ended, the CWA confirmed arrangements to send a delegation to the United States in the spring of 1985 for lectures, readings, and participation in writing and translation workshops. 

*A severe case of bronchitis forced Kinnell to cut short his visit at Shanghai and return to the United States three days ahead of schedule.  

Chinese poet Bi Shuowang translated the essence of Kinnell’s 16-line poem “First Song” into four lines of classical Chinese verse. Kinnell, who has translated into English the poems of Francois Villon and Yves Bonnefoy, was both impressed and fascinated by the result (see below).  

At the reception given by the Center to thank the delegation’s hosts in Beijing, Kinnell’s recitation of “First Song,” followed by Bi’s chanting of the Chinese version, inspired several other poets to recite their poems, some extemporaneous celebrations of the occasion.

First Song
  • Then it was dusk in Illinois, the small boy
  • After an afternoon of carting dung
  • Hung on the rail fence, a sapped thing
  • Weary to crying. Dark was growing tall
  • And he began to hear the pond frogs all
  • Calling on his ear with what seemed their joy.
  • Soon their sound was pleasant for a boy
  • Listening in the smoky dusk and the nightfall
  • Of Illinois, and from the fields two small
  • Boys came bearing cornstalk violins
  • And they rubbed the cornstalk bows with resins
  • And the three sat there scraping of their joy.
  • It was now fine music the frogs and the boys
  • Did in the towering Illinois twilight make
  • And into dark in spite of a shoulder’s ache
  • A boy’s hunched body loved out of a stalk
  • The first song of his happiness, and the song woke
  • His heart to the darkness and into the sadness of joy.

From Selected Poems by Galway Kinnell, published by Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston. Copyright © 1982 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

Bi Shuowang’s rendering of ‘First Song” in classical qi jue verse form. A qi jue is a poem of four lines, with seven syllables to each line, and a strict tonal pattern and rhyme scheme (in this case, A A B A). The last syllable of each line is in color. Note how the poet has positioned them along a diagonal running from the lower right to the upper left of the text.

Kenneth Koch: Firing Young Imaginations

Poet-playwright Kenneth Koch spent a month in China this spring knocking poetry off its pedestal, rendering it accessible, understandable, and enjoyable.

Koch, professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, introduced students at Beijing’s Foreign Languages Institute (BFLI) to the work of William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, and Frank O’Hara, and conducted seminars in the composition and translation of poetry. At Shanghai’s Fudan University, he concentrated on the work of William Carlos Williams and succeeded, as he always does, in getting students to respond directly to the imagery and music of the language.

The Chinese Writers Association also arranged Koch’s meetings with poets and writers in Beijing, Xi’an, and Kunming.

For Koch, a particularly exciting experience of his trip was the opportunity to demonstrate his method of teaching children to write poetry. First developed in 1967 at Manhattan’s P.S. 61, his method is to encourage children to express their innermost feelings and thoughts about an idea or an image without worrying about rhyme or meter. His ideas for poems include wishes (every line starts with “I wish”), color (a different color in every line), comparisons (a comparison in every line), and noise (how something sounds in every line). He encourages repetition—which is natural to children—free association, and exuberance in language. The first products of Koch’s experiment at P.S. 61 appeared in the anthology Wishes, Lies, and Dreams (Harper & Row, 1970). He later adapted the method for teaching non-English-speaking children, and tested it with dramatic results in France, Italy, Haiti, and Holland. 

Working through his interpreter, BFLI English instructor Zhu Ciliu, Koch gave a class of 110 youngsters in Beijing ideas for their poems. Each child wrote three poems during a two-hour period. In Shanghai, Koch worked with a class of fifty children between the ages of ten and twelve. He asked them to write a “wish” poem and a “dream” poem (describing a dream, part of a dream sequence, or a composite of several dreams). He then had his Chinese interpreter write on the blackboard four lines from Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai’s poem describing a river leaping and plunging down to the sea. He asked the children to think of a river or a road or a railroad, or anything of which they glimpse only a part but not the whole, then write a four-line poem about it using the same number of characters per line as Li Bai’s poem. The results were equally remarkable.

Poems by pupils at Shanghai’s Hongkou District No 3 Central Elementary School translated by Wu Qianzhi, associate professor of English at Beijing Foreign Languages Institute and currently a doctoral candidate at Columbia University.

The Railroad – Gong Huijie (girl, 11 years)
  • The long, long railroad track comes from Beijing,
  • Section by section it’s neatly laid out.
  • It runs through Jiangsu and Shanghai,
  • It leads towards the paradise in the sky.
Dream – Yue Ying (girl, 12 years)
  • On a miraculous night
  • A flock of penguins suddenly come into my home
  • And start playing games with me
  • I suddenly find
  • Myself wearing father’s jacket
  • Showing off wherever I go.
  • In the blink of an eye
  • I’ve entered a forest.
A Wish Poem – Zhang Wen (boy, 11 years)
  • I wish I were a skinny boy
  • So my classmates will stop teasing me
  • I wish I had a big yellow dog
  • Taking me around all day
  • So the older kids wouldn’t dare bully me
  • I wish I had a beautiful horse
  • So it could take me to the fantasy world.
  • I wish I had a shotgun
  • So I could kill a hundred little birds a day.
  • I wish I could score a hundred on every exam
  • So mother would stop her scolding words
  • And father would stop his whacking hand.

Advisory Council Meets 

Center officers, Advisory Council members, spouses, and other guests enjoyed cocktails at Columbia’s Faculty House on April 19 following a meeting of the Advisory Council. Schuyler Chapin, Dean of Columbia’s School of the Arts and member of the Center’s Board of Managers, chaired the meeting, attended by William A. Delano, Porter McKeever, Waldemar A. Nielsen, Robert B. Oxnam, Russell A. Phillips, Jr., Norman Ross, and Audrey Topping.

At dinner, Columbia Provost Robert F. Goldberger represented the Center’s Board of Managers in welcoming Chinese guests: His Excellency Liang Yufan, Deputy Permanent Representative of the People’s Republic of China to the United Nations, and Madame Zhou Shao-chun; The Honorable Wang Zicheng, Minister- Counselor, Embassy of the PRC; The Honorable Cao Guisheng, Consul-General of the PRC in New York, and Madame Zhang Aihua; First Secretary Shu Zhang, Embassy of the PRC; and Consul for Cultural Affairs Chen Baoshu, Consulate- General of the PRC in New York.

Other distinguished guests were Mr. and Mrs. Louis S. Auchincloss, Professor and Mrs. R. Randle Edwards, Mr. Peter F. Geithner, Mr. and Mrs. John W. Kunstadter, Mr. Richard S. Lanier, and Mr. and Mrs. Henry Luce III. Violinist Lin Cho-liang, painter Chen Yifei, and visiting Chinese architect Zhang Zhizhong also attended. 

New Faces at Center 

Last August, Sarah R. Sills joined the Center as administrative assistant, succeeding Susan E. Sternglass, who left to pursue graduate studies at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. A 1978 graduate of Indiana University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in history. Sills was previously a tour promoter with China Study Tours.

In January 1984, Miles B. Kessler, his wife, and their two-month-old son, moved from New York to Colorado. The new financial assistant, David M. Graifman, is a 1983 graduate of SUNY-Buffalo, where he received a bachelor of science degree in business administration. Graifman has worked at a law firm and at First Investors Corporation, both in Spring Valley, New York. In the summer of 1982, he was an intern in the business office of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Margot E. Landman joined the Center in March in the new position of program assistant. A 1978 honors graduate of Brown University with a double major in history and Chinese language. Landman taught English for three years at Xinxiang Normal Institute in Henan province and for ten months was production assistant and researcher for CBS News in Beijing. Before joining the Center, she worked as an administrative assistant at American Field Service Intenational/Intercultural Programs.

Purpose and Organization

The Center for United States-China Arts Exchange is a not-for-profit national organization that promotes and facilitates exchanges of specialists and materials in the literary, performing, and visual arts between the United States and the People’s Republic of China. Its primary objective is to stimulate public interest in the arts of both countries and to encourage collaboration among artists and arts educators on projects of mutual longterm benefit.

Established on October 1, 1978 with support grants from the Ford Foundation and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and a research grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Center receives contributions of office space and general support from Columbia University. The Center is not a funding organization; it relies on contributions of money, materials, and services from foundations, corporations, and individuals to carry out its programs.

A Board of Managers and an Advisory Council, both created in spring 1981, oversee the Center’s programs and policies. A Development Committee, currently comprising two members of the Board of Managers and six members of the Advisory Council, advises and assists the Center in fundraising.

Board of Managers

  • Michael I. Sovern, Honorary Chairman
  • Robert F Goldberger
  • Schuyler G. Chapin*
  • Chou Wen-chung*

Advisory Council

  • A. Doak Barnett
  • Leonard Bernstein
  • John Bresnan*
  • John Chancellor
  • William A. Delano*
  • Milos Forman
  • Porter McKeever *
  • Arthur Miller
  • Waldemar A. Nielsen*
  • Robert B. Oxnam
  • I. M. Pei
  • Russell A. Phillips, Jr.*
  • Arthur H. Rosen
  • Norman Ross*
  • Henry P. Sailer
  • Meyer Schapiro
  • Walter Scheuer
  • Martin E. Segal
  • Isaac Stern
  • Audrey Topping
  • Herman Wouk
  • Yang Chen-ning
  • *Member, Development Committee

Officers and Staff

  • Chou Wen-chung, Director
  • May Wu, Assistant Director, 1982-1984
  • Susan L. Rhodes, Assistant Director
  • Margot E. Landman, Program Assistant
  • David M. Graifman, Financial Assistant
  • Sarah R. Sills, Administrative Assistant
  • Project Interns: Gar-yeu Chiang, Maria Collis, Ray Mahoney.
  • Office Assistant: Wai Ng


The Center is grateful to the following organizations and individuals for general support and program grants received during the past year:

  • Asian Cultural Council
  • Atlantic Richfield Foundation
  • Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation
  • Committee on Scholarly Communication with the People’s Republic of China
  • The Ford Foundation
  • Mr. and Mrs. Mort Gordon
  • Inter-Pacific Tours International
  • The Albert Kunstadter Family Foundation
  • The Henry Luce Foundation, Inc.
  • Rockefeller Brothers Fund
  • The Starr Foundation/American International Group

The Center expresses special appreciation for contributions from members of the delegation to the Beijing premiere of Death of a Salesman:

  • Louis S. and Adele Auchincloss
  • Daniel P. and Katusha Davison
  • Leslie Glass
  • Trudy Golden
  • Milton A. Gordon
  • Connie Griffith
  • Jean Muir
  • Alex and Annemarie North
  • Geraldine Stutz

The Center thanks the following organizations and individuals for contributions of materials, services, and hospitality that enriched its programs in 1983-84:

  • American Institute of Architects, New York Chapter
  • American Music Center
  • American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers
  • American Symphony Orchestra
  • American Women Composers, Inc.
  • Aspen Music Festival
  • Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture
  • Association of Student Chapters/American Institute of Architects
  • Boosey & Hawkes, Inc.
  • Howard Born
  • Bourne Music Company
  • R. R. Bowker Company
  • Broadcast Music, Inc.
  • Brooklyn Academy of Music
  • Caedmon/Arabesque Recordings, Inc.
  • California Institute of the Arts
  • Carnegie Hall Corporation
  • CBS News
  • Chamber Music America, Inc.
  • China Institute in America, Inc.
  • Chinese Culture Foundation
  • Chinese Music Ensemble of New York
  • Mark Churchill
  • College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati
  • College Music Society
  • Cypress Publishing Company
  • Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.
  • Harvard University
  • Houghton Mifflin Company
  • Illinois Institute of Technology
  • I. M. Pei
  • International Music Company
  • Juan Orozco Corporation
  • Juilliard School of Music
  • Phyllis Johnson Kaye
  • Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • Museum of Modem Art
  • National Committee on U.S.-China Relations, Inc.
  • National Gallery of Art
  • New England Conservatory of Music
  • New York City Landmarks
  • Preservation Commission
  • New York City Department of City Planning
  • Nikolais/Louis Foundation of Dance
  • Pan American Airways
  • Cesar Pelli & Associates
  • Poets Audio Center
  • Poets & Writers, Inc.
  • Prentice & Chan, Ohlhausen
  • Random House
  • Mr. and Mrs. Manfred Schoen
  • Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott
  • Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
  • The Society for Asian Music
  • Steinway & Sons
  • United Nations Chinese Book Club
  • University of California at Berkeley
  • University of California at Los Angeles
  • University of California at Santa Cruz
  • University of Illinois at Chicago
  • University of Maryland, Baltimore County
  • University of Michigan
  • University of Michigan Press
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Southern California
  • University of Washington
  • Viking Press
  • Vintage Travel, Inc.
  • Wesleyan University
  • Yale University

The Center is indebted to the following individuals for special assistance during the past year:

  • Charles Abbott
  • Jenny Beck
  • Lance Jay Brown
  • Shyh-ji Chew
  • Yi -an Chou
  • Dieter Christensen
  • David Cohn
  • Dorothy DeLay
  • Kenneth Hao
  • Gordon Hardy
  • Klaus Herdeg
  • Harold D. Laster
  • Danny Lowit
  • Harry Toung
  • Anthony T. Vacchione, Jr.
  • Charles Wu
  • Yee Fou-goul

  • Editors: May Wu and Meg Dooley
  • The Center for US-China Arts Exchange
  • Columbia University

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