Migrant worker playing chords on Shenzhen's street gets viral online

(Xinhua) 15:19, July 04, 2023

SHENZHEN, July 4 (Xinhua) -- Kitted out in an orange reflective safety vest and a pair of camouflage pants, a construction worker was tinkling with the piano keys gracefully on a pedestrian street in Huaqiangbei, one of the world's largest electronics markets in the southern Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen.

Still with his yellow hard hat on, Yi Qunlin, a 57-year-old migrant worker from central China's Hunan Province, was an unusual piano player. Crowds soon surrounded him, filming his beautiful rendition, and his video soon became a top trending topic on the Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo in mid-April.

Many Chinese netizens were touched by the scene, leaving comments like "By his hands, high-rise buildings can be built, so can splendid melodies be played!"

A total of eight pianos have been placed on an over 900-meter-long pedestrian street near subway exits and squares in Huaqiangbei, free for any passers-by to play since 2018. Music lovers nickname the municipal government's piano program "Huaqiangbei public piano."

It was first inspired by a British artist Luke Jerram, who has placed more than 2,000 street pianos in over 70 cities over the globe since 2008 and designed the slogan -- "Play me, I'm yours."

Enabling the public to communicate and exchange their ideas through music, the street pianos in Huaqiangbei have also attracted grassroots musicians, including but not limited to senior citizens, nearby young doctors, as well as migrant workers like Yi.

For Yi, the music thing is a teenage dream that has been untouched for over three decades.

When he was six years old, Yi, who hails from an obscure village in Huarong County of Hunan, learned about the Chinese traditional instrument Erhu from some urbanites lodging at his home. When he grew up a little more as a curious teenager, he saw a piano in his cousin's house in downtown Huarong for the very first time.

"My family was too poor to afford a piano for me. So I used to visit my cousin very often, though it took about an hour's bumpy travel over 20 km away from my home -- all for the opportunity to play the piano," Yi recalled.

Throughout his nearly two decades of odd jobs in Shenzhen, Yi often worked in different kinds of factories, construction sites, and kitchens during the daytime, while teaching himself to play musical instruments like harmonica, flute, and saxophone when off work.

Piano, however, is still quite expensive and bulky luggage for the migrant worker and has not been played upon for nearly 30 years. Surprisingly, Yi can still remember details of a classic music score adapted from The Butterfly Lovers, or "Liang Zhu" in Chinese.

"I found the street piano when wandering with my colleagues at weekends," Yi said. "It has been a long time since my last piano practice. I was so excited, wild with ecstasy, that my heart kept palpitating even when I returned home."

During this year's May Day holiday, Yi was invited to perform at the Guangming Culture &Art Center in the city's Guangming District. Inside the center's concert hall, the construction in which Yi once participated, the worker enjoyed his moment, playing more than a dozen songs on the piano, with his colleagues from the construction site among the audience.

"Reveling in the music world, I gradually forgot my nervousness," Yi said, adding that he was glad that he can have the chance to play the piano on stage -- a life experience he had never dared to dream of even as a child.

The street pianos in Shenzhen have brought more miracles than this.

A senior citizen in his seventies even takes the subway every day to come to Huaqiangbei just for the street pianos. Because of the free pianos, he can now guide those interested in music to learn how to play them as well. "Anyone can play the piano here, remedying their childhood regret," said a migrant worker who always comes to practice. 

(Web editor: Zhong Wenxing, Liang Jun)


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