Song of the Phoenix
Xiao Jianghong, male, studied in the 15th session of the Lu Xun College of Literature’s Advanced Program. His works have been published in People's Literature Monthly, Dangdai Bimonthly, Zhongshan Bimonthly, Chinese Writers Semimonthly, Tianya Bimonthly and Shanhua Semimonthly, some of which have been included in Novel Selection Biannually, Xinhua Wenzhai Semimonthly, Novel Monthly, Novella Selection Bimonthly, etc. He has also written the full-length novel Sunflower. He has won a number of prizes such as the People’s Literature Award, Novel Selection Annual Award and Guizhou Municipal Government Literature and Art Award. The movie adaptation of his novel Song of the Phoenix won the Special Jury Award of China’s Golden Rooster, the Jury Grand Prix of Chinese University Students Film Festival, Huabiao Film Awards and the Five One Project Award, etc.
Song of the Phoenix tells of the suona horn’s passage from generation to generation as well as time’s sweeping transformations. It depicts the genuine affection found between master and apprentice, father and son, as well as in brotherhood, as both old and new generations of suona artists demonstrate their adherence to personal beliefs in an era of social changes and personal anxieties.
The story is set at a time when everything goes by the book – how to give or receive payment, even how to decline payment. In the town of Wushuang (Unparalleled), the time-honored folk art of playing the suona means much more than entertainment. This action actually signifies a type of judgment on their life, as done so during their funeral ceremonies. For a person of lower moral status, only two suonas would be played; of moderate status, four; of superior status, eight. And it is only for the most revered that the Song of the Phoenix be played.
Third Master Jiao is head of the Jiao theatrical troupe. A suona artist of the old generation, he appears cold and stern on the surface, but reveals a warm and passionate inside.
Jiao’s getting advanced in his years, so finding a successor for his craft stays at the forefront of his mind, and the sooner he can find one, the better. But how should he go about picking a candidate and training them? Is there an ideal way to train them? How should he lead himself as role model and teacher? Later on, he meets You Tianming, an apprentice who proves himself a tender and naive person, standing in awe at Jiao. Tianming initially resented being “forsaken” by his father to learn this troupe’s art, but he later shows commitment in honoring his family and winning the appreciation of his master. Those deemed eligible to join the troupe must be straightforward and honest; they must abide by trade ethics and carry forward the spirit of this art; and at long last, Tianming wins over Third Master Jiao with his kindness and loyalty.
However, can one’s faith remain unshaken against time’s ebb and flow?
By the end of the story, You Benshen has been unable to fulfill his lifelong wishes. His son doesn’t play four suonas for him, and one can only hear the howling wind as it rings for his departed soul. Even the once powerful Third Master Jiao has left the yellow land of the countryside, working as a security guard in a big city. The shabby beggar seen playing the Song of the Phoenix in its genuine form becomes the very epitome of suona…
Xiao Jianghong leaves his unmistakable mark once again with his new title, Song of the Phoenix. With a special fondness for the local customs and conventions of his hometown, he is skilled in revealing unique details and incorporating these cultural elements into the psyche and mentality of his characters.
Standing in support of the vulnerable masses, the author sympathizes with them, devotes himself to them, and speaks for them. He sees in them their inner strength and their spiritual value.
The author’s gift for unique narration reaches its height in this coming-of-talent story of a country suona performer. He reproduces, in the form of novel, the traditional life of country folk musicians, of whom may be long gone by now. The author goes to new depths, searching for those exquisite details that lie beyond our knowledge, so as to breathe true essence into his characters, appeal to readers, and bring attention to his novel’s underlying themes. It goes without saying that this is yet another of his high-quality works.
Modern society has brought with it rapid economic growth, severely undermining traditional culture and endangering culture in the countryside. The dying out of these country folk musicians signifies this; their disappearance also embodies the tragedy more and more farmers face everyday – the wandering that comes when they are displaced and seeking their purpose.
Those who read the story will all recognize the awareness of critical realism embedded in this theme. Neither will they fail to see the power of critical realism as demonstrated by the characters in their personalities.