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Blind Devotion

By Chen Nan | China Daily | Updated: 2020-07-18 09:15
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Ya Ni's interview with Liu Hongquan (left) in the village of Hongdu. [Photo provided to China Daily]

After a television presenter's mesmerizing visit to a remote mountain village, she embarked on a film project that would preoccupy her for the next 18 years.

In the village of Hongdu in a poverty-stricken county in Taihang Mountains in Shanxi province, 11 men gathered in a yard and sat on the ground. Before long a crowd had gathered around, attracted first by the men's high-pitched singing and then by the sound of the musical instruments each was playing, including the erhu, the sheng and drums.

Among those in this small, intimate audience was Ya Ni, a television producer, director and host in Zhejiang province, and one of the country's most respected television presenters.

"I'll never forget that day," she says."I didn't have a clue what they were singing about, but I was mesmerized, standing there taking in the performance until the end. Somehow I even found myself crying within."

That day in 2002 she had just finished working on a project about a local folk singer and his family, and she was about to leave the village, so at that point another project was the last thing on her mind.

"I asked the locals who these men were and the answers got me really intrigued," says Ya Ni, whose family name is He, but who adopted the other name after the title of a TV program she presented.

Liu Hongquan, leader of the team. [Photo provided to China Daily]

"They were referred to as 'the men with no eyes', 'bachelors' and the 'Eighth Route Army'. That got me curious enough to decide to stay for a few more days to interview them."

That curiosity would upend her life for many years to come, and 18 years after she decided to make a film about these 11 blind musicians it is still to see the light of day.

However, this story goes back much further than the past two decades, to 1938, when some of these men were mere youngsters in the Zuoquan Blind Men's Publicity Team, founded that year in Zuoquan, the county in which the village of Hongdu is located. The county was one of the fields of battle in which the Eighth Route Army fought invading forces in the War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression (1939-45) from the late 1930s and where it maintained a base for about five years in the early 1940s.

Over the past 18 years Ya Ni's efforts to make her film have encountered countless difficulties-a story that itself would be worthy of a feature film-including problems in shooting on location, her fruitless attempts to get funding for her project, the close relationship she developed with the musicians, and her abandoning a stellar television job for what many might regard as a folly.

For all her efforts, something she did manage to produce, four years ago, was a book titled Meiyanren (Men With No Eyes), in which she told of the blind musicians' exploits in the 1930s and 40s making a living by traveling from village to village, individually, mainly in Zuoquan county, and performing for locals.

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