Cathy Chan's introduction got me a meeting with Mrs. Jiang Wenye
(Wu Yunzhen) on my very first day in Beijing. Jiang Wenye (1910-1983)
was one of the vanguard of contemporary Chinese music. Born in Taiwan
and schooled in Japan (Taiwan was then a colony of Japan), he
eventually settled in Beijing. As professor of composition at the
Central Conservatory, his modern and forward-looking compositional
techniques are astonishingly advanced even in retrospect today.
Unfortunately, because of his affiliations to Japan and Taiwan, he and
his family suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution.
A woman who carried herself with dignity and poise, Mrs. Jiang met
me at the gates of the Conservatory and received me warmly into her
home with special maojian tea. We took an instant liking to each
other and chatted for hours before her daughter, Xiaoyun, came home
for lunch and we dined at the Conservatory's cafeteria.
I was to return several more times to sip maojian tea with
Mrs. Jiang and chat about everything under the sun. I learnt that
there was no such thing as a personal question in China. Boundaries,
like personal space, do not exist here. She wanted to know everything
about me: Why was I here? How old was I? Was I married? Why not?
In turn, she generously shared everything about her life with me. She
told me about how she met her husband, their romantic moments by the
lake right after the first snowfall, her husband's generosity towards
his children, his love for life and photography, her refusal to meet
the various important officials that her friends tried to fix her up
with after his death, her daughter's marriage, her son's struggle with
depression. I felt like we had known each other for years, to be
entrusted with all this personal information.