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Zither player strikes right chord in videos of music | Updated: 2020-04-17 08:35
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Adorned in traditional Chinese red clothing and seated in front of a guzheng, or a Chinese zither, a young Chinese woman in the streets of France softly yet swiftly strokes her fingers on the traditional Chinese musical instrument and fills the atmosphere with bouncing notes from the song Shanghai Bund, attracting a group of bystanders who tap their feet and enjoy the music.

Such videos by the Chinese internet user Pengpengpengpengpeng have gone viral on the internet, sweeping up more than 6 million fans and 60 million likes.

"That's just amazing, it filled my soul with vitality. I loved the pieces she played, I've only heard this kind of music in Chinese films," a foreign user commented. "So beautiful like a sea glittering in sun and fishes making piruets. For me this sounds like a happy music. The performer is beautiful like a dream and her clothes and the instrument too. Endlessly thanks," commented YouTube user Magdalena.

The 25-year-old zither player, whose name is Peng Jingxuan, is a master's degree candidate in France. The videos were shot prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and she posted them in hopes of cheering people up in these tough times. "Many may be anxious or sad because of the outbreak and I wanted to post some videos to ease the tension. Music can always heal," Peng said.

Peng, a native of Central China's Hunan province, began studying for her master's degree in music in 2017 at the Conservatoire de Bordeaux after graduating from Wuhan Conservatory of Music with a major in Chinese folk musical instruments.

"I've played the guzheng for many years. My studies now don't require me to play it but I didn't want to lose my touch, so I brought it over with me."

Each weekend, Peng would put on traditional Han Chinese garb and play her guzheng on the streets of France, leaving her footprints and notes in front of the Grand Theatre of Bordeaux, the Eiffel Tower and near the banks of the Seine. At first she only wanted to test her courage without ever knowing that the "habit" would accompany her for two years.

"I've played nearly 130 songs. When I hear people clapping for me at the end of a show, I am always filled with national pride. My motherland is strong and we have these cultural treasures. So I always proudly tell them 'This is a guzheng, and it's from China, with more than 3,000 years of history.'" Peng always prepares small pamphlets in front of her whenever she plays so her audiences can learn more about the ancient Chinese instrument.

During her interactions with local audiences, Peng realized that many foreign friends cannot distinguish the difference between Chinese culture and other cultures of Asia. "What I'm doing is miniscule but I hope more people can learn about this instrument. I mostly play traditional Chinese pieces that are pentatonic."

Among her repertoire of traditional pieces, she has also performed her own versions of modern songs, including Shanghai Bund, Descendants of the Dragon or soundtracks from films like Shimian Maifu and the online drama Chen Qing Ling.

When she played Hong Yan Jiu from the popular drama Nirvana in Fire, she was stopped by someone in the audience for a chat. "The granny said this song was full of emotions, reminding her of her friends and family too much, to the point that she could not bring herself to leave. She thanked me for bringing such beautiful Chinese music and clothing to them. They have never visited China and rely on their imaginations, but after seeing me perform, they feel like they've been to China themselves," Peng said.

Peng has studied the guzheng since she was 7 years old. She says she practiced for two hours daily, and when she was admitted to the Middle School affiliated with the Wuhan Conservatory of Music for professional training, she practiced nearly eight hours a day.

"If not for this outbreak, I would have been in Spain with my guzheng, playing during a prebooked show. Now I am home day after day." Peng says she received a care package from China with some masks, medication and disinfecting wet tissues. This made her feel proud and safe.

After the fight against COVID-19 is over, Peng says she wants to continue her journey around the globe with her guzheng. "I will continue the street shows, which I have been doing for two years. I will finish my studies in another year, and I hope I can get admitted as a doctoral candidate to carry on my academic work."

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