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Traditional opera strikes chord among elderly in fight against novel virus

(Xinhua)    15:39, February 04, 2020

GUIYANG, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- Donning a white shirt, a hand-woven jacket and a red scarf, Jiang Wenwu sings an empowering anthem to the clapping sounds of vintage Chinese castanets and the tunes from the traditional musical instrument erhu.

"In the biting cold of winter, Wuhan is hit by a new strain of coronavirus," he sings in a local dialect. "The virus has an incubation period of 14 days, and it can spread via droplets."

The song is called "Win the Battle Against Pneumonia," written and performed by Jiang, 39, an artist and head of the Mabao Farmers' Art Troupe in Puding County, in southwest China's Guizhou Province.

The music style is called Huadengxi, a traditional opera widely performed in southern China. It is extremely popular with the older generation.

A video of Jiang singing the song has been widely broadcast on provincial, city- and county-level television stations, and the song is receiving massive radio plays, as officials try to promote knowledge of combating the novel strain of coronavirus among the local elderly population.

"The elderly quite like listening to Huadengxi, and they are usually the vulnerable group in the prevention and control of the epidemic," Jiang said. "So I thought it would be a good idea to spread the knowledge about combating the coronavirus through the art form."

China is feeling the pinch of the virus outbreak. Chinese health authorities Tuesday said they received reports of 3,235 new confirmed cases of novel coronavirus infection and 64 deaths on Monday from 31 provincial-level regions and the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps. Another 5,072 new suspected cases were reported on Monday.

In Guizhou, confirmed cases reached 56 by Monday, with 26 suspected infections.

Amid the outbreak, senior people are becoming a focus for authorities in Guizhou. By the end of 2018, the population aged 60 and above reached 5.79 million in Guizhou, or 16 percent of the province's total.

Many elderly people have difficulties accessing the latest information and prevention knowledge, and their weak immune system means they are more susceptible to possible infections.

"I saw all these medical staff battling the disease at the front lines, and as an artist, I also wanted to help," Jiang said. "I wanted to use my art to help disseminate information."

Jiang was born in Maguan Township of Puding County. The township has a population of about 46,000, including about 9,000 senior citizens. It is the birthplace of a branch of Huadengxi. For years, Jiang spared no efforts to promote the traditional opera in the locality.

Huadengxi originated during the late years of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). It usually features singing and dancing, and depicts people's daily lives. The lyrics are catchy and easy to understand, and the music is quite upbeat. During its evolution, Huadengxi was heavily influenced by a variety of dialects, folk songs and traditions. China listed the art as a national intangible cultural heritage in 2006.

After the coronavirus outbreak, Jiang spent a whole night crafting the song of more than 360 Chinese characters. In the song, Jiang introduces when the outbreak happened and how to control and prevent the virus. He also invited Zhang Meihua, a seasoned erhu player in the township, to join him in recording the video.

"I hope that the song can strengthen people's confidence and determination against the coronavirus, and teach people how to lower the risk of transmission," he said.

Jiang believes that through the performance, he will not only be able to help battle the epidemic, but also pass on the traditional opera.

"So far, the effect has proven to be quite good, and many people have been sharing the video on social media," he said.

This type of performance matches the taste of old people, said Wu Zhixi, a villager in the township.

"We can not only enjoy Huadengxi, but also learn about preventing and controlling the virus," said Wu, 58. "It's quite helpful."

"I have shared it on my WeChat account," said another villager He Hengquan, 65. "Many of my folks are sharing it on social media, because it is important to know about the epidemic."

Jiang said China will definitely win the battle against the virus with concerted efforts.

"United we stand," he said. "I hope that our country will step out of the shadow of the epidemic as soon as possible."

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Zhao Tong, Liang Jun)

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