Jiang Kun, a famous Chinese crosstalk (a traditional Chinese comedic performance in the form of a dialogue or, much less often, a monologue or, even less frequently, a multi-player talk show to make audience laugh) performer and national Class-A actor, graduated from China Central Radio and Television University (CCRTVU) after majoring in Chinese Language and Literature .
He began to work as an actor with the Central Radio Broadcasting Vocal Art Group in 1976. He was elected vice-chairman of Chinese Ballad Singers Association (CBSA) and head of the China Radio Broadcasting Vocal Art Group in 1985. He served as director of the Chinese Telling and Singing Art Society in 1995 and in 2001 acted as the director of the Folk Art Institute of the Chinese National Academy of Art, acting as CBSA vice-chairman again in 2004. In January 2011, he was relieved of his duties as Secretary of the CBSA Leading Party Group under China Federation of Literary and Art Circles because of his age, but continued to perform the CBSA vice-chairman’s duties. He took the position of vice president and secretary-general of the China Literature and Art Foundation in the same year.
Everyone follows their unique path in life, which represents a process for self-improvement through constant learning, unremitting effort and hard work. I also strive to make consistent improvement as I travel my path, pursuing one life objective after another to realise my own life blueprint step by step. I am convinced that I will reap fine results from my hard work.
My Career is Born in Laughter
After finishing grade 9, I was sent to the Great Northern Wilderness (in northeast China). I spent my golden youth living and working with people holding hoes instead of pens. However, I think every man should have a goal to strive for, including setting his own goals in career development and drawing his own blueprint for life. I began working on my blueprint. When I was a publicist in the military, I always thought of going to work at headquarters; later, when I was working in the propagation team at the regiment headquarters, a poem I wrote was published in the newspaper of the corps, and I was overjoyed. After that, my new goal was to work in the corps and show a little bit of my talent at the provincial level one day. I progressed all the way from the regiment to the division and later to the corps propagation teams. Then I was transferred to the representative provincial team, and finally to the professional art group. This is how I followed the blueprint I set out for my life step by step.
When I entered the China Radio Broadcasting Vocal Art Group, I met mountain-like barriers. I admired all the performers, such as Ma Ji, Hou Baolin, Li Wenhua, Guo Quanbao,and Hao Aimin, with profound respect and humility. I was really afraid of lagging behind, so I did what I could do to work hard and strive forward. I went to Taoyuan (peach orchard) to experience the real life with a creation group made up of masters like Ma Ji, Li Wenhuan, and Tang Jiezhong one week after I got married. I liked singing and learning folk songs. Meanwhile, Master Ma Ji held serious discussions with the local cultural centre’s curator on writing the New Story of the Peach Blossom Valley to show the good situation after smashing the “Gang of Four”. Fifteen days later, the time came for us to return. But Master Ma Ji said, “I haven’t finished writing my works, and I won’t leave.” If he wouldn’t return, neither would I. Someone joked that I was out one week after I got married, that the Spring Festival was only 15 days away, and asked what my wife would do if I didn’t go back home. I didn’t return because I felt that I still had a long way to go at that time. If I didn’t keep striving forward with all my might, I could fall behind and lose the clarity needed to continue in my path. In this sense, I had lit a fire inside myself and pressed myself to move faster to keep up with others. Over the following month, I followed the guidance of Master Ma Ji and created Blooming Winter Jasmine. At that time, I was especially dedicated and was able to get my professional crosstalk career off to a good start. I am always happy when I look back to that experience. I will never forget the desirable land of idyllic beauty in Taohuayuan (the garden with peach blossoms), and I feel lucky to have made the decision to stay. I will always remember how Master Ma Ji took a personal interest in my education.
Getting off to a good start is half the battle, however it doesn’t necessarily guarantee success. The difference between success and failure lies in setting more demanding goals for oneself. I regard the feelings of my heart and my life’s experience as a scale. When I begin to feel successful and proud of myself, I will add another weight or goal to the other side of the scale in my heart; when I feel depressed and begin to lose heart because I can’t keep up, or when I am criticised, I will gently remove a weight from one side of the scale in my heart and encourage myself by saying: You can do it, Jiang Kun. I think the results speak for themselves in that I have been able to keep the balance in my heart over the past few years of hard work whether as an ordinary crosstalk performer, as head of the China Radio Broadcasting Vocal Art Group for more than ten years, or as director of the Folk Art Institute for three years, including my current duties presiding over the work of the National Ballad Singers Association. In fact, everyone’s life is a series of small objectives linked to one another for an integrated major goal. My own major goal is crosstalk. I like crosstalk, and it means everything to me. It is crosstalk that has lifted me to my current social status. Therefore, I spare no effort to dedicate all my energy, including all my capacities, to the art of crosstalk because it belongs to our culture and to the people who are fond of it. Wear a smile often, and you will feel young always. This is my blessing to all and the motive and foundation of my cause.
Learning Enables Me to Stick With Laughter
I began my study at the RTVU in 1985. At the end of 1984, Master Li Wenhua had some trouble with his throat, which was later diagnosed as laryngeal cancer. The biggest problem before me at that time was whether I needed to go on with the performance. If I did, someone had to be chosen to take the place of Master Li Wenhua as my partner, and that would be a threat to him. He was in his fifties when his talents began to be noticed, and he is regarded as a great man for becoming famous late in life. He and I had worked together for five years and the name Li Wenhua was known throughout China as one of the best publicly recognised performers. I thought it over and decided that I couldn’t let him down by abandoning him right after he learned of his illness, especially because I was someone so close to him and someone already known to the national audience. If a speaking disability was a disaster to a crosstalk performer, a blow like “Jiang Kun withdrawal” would be a greater blow than that of laryngeal cancer, in a sense. Thus, I told Master Li Wenhua to take it easy, and to concentrate on his treatment. I told him that I would stay loyal to him during his recovery, that I would perform crosstalk with nobody except him, Master Li Wenhua, and that I would go to the RTVU to study for one to three years. At that time, the RTVUs nationwide offered self-taught audio and visual examinations, and I sat for the examinations in this way.
It was a tradition in my family to study at the RTVU. My father was the first grade of students of the RTVU’s Chinese Language Department in 1962. After the restoration of the RTVU education in 1985, he applied to study in the RTVU for a second time together with us when he saw our love for learning. Thus, he graduated twice from the RTVU. I still remember this experience of his even though it has been over ten years since he passed away. He taught me the ancient story The Book of Songs that he studied in the RTVU when I was twelve or thirteen years old. During the Cultural Revolution, when all the art and literature books were prohibited, I devoured my father’s two sets of textbooks that he had during his studies in Beijing RTVU, including many famous works on the history of literature, such as Ding Ling’s The Sun Over the Sanggan River, Wang Shiwei’s Wild Lily, Zhang Tianyi’s Bao and His Son, Zhao Shuli’s Rhymes of Li Youcai, and so on. All those books and works were unavailable to people of my age at that time. I felt so curious that I carefully studied them all. My father was a teacher, and he was fond of both ancient Chinese literature and calligraphy. Inspired by my father’s example, I had this foundation in literature laid down since my childhood, therefore I chose the Chinese language major in the RTVU. Such courses as Introduction to Literature in my RTVU studies were of great value to my later art practice. After graduation, I even continued to study English in the RTVU as well.
I have truly benefited from the RTVU learning experience and feel as if it energised me for life. Later when I worked as director of the Folk Art Institute, I needed to find the right specialised knowledge for further study, to enable me to discuss or compile books in cooperation with theoretical artists all over the country. I found I had done a good job in learning literature and literary theory with philosophy and psychology included, and it could be said that I had a solid foundation. At the same time, learning to work with these experts was also an ongoing process. They are all treasures with the inherent poor but noble style that dwells in the heart of Chinese intellectuals. “A humble room with a man of noble character” is a good description of them. They are clean-handed and dedicated to their studies. I have learnt from their integrity on the one hand and their specialised knowledge on the other. I could see the heritage of former generations in their research, which is of great importance in learning. Many things in the past, such as the connection between bianwen, alternate prose and rhymed parts for recitation and singing from a popular form of narrative literature flourishing in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), and the Chinese folk art form quyi seem to be simple answers now, just like the mathematical theorems and geometrical theorems. However, they were puzzles in the 1960s, and it took a lot of people to work them out! Seeing these folk art theorists devote themselves to research that went unrecognised by the world of that time, I couldn’t help admiring them from the bottom of my heart. That was why the greatest project was being chosen to record the history and write comments for China’s folk arts during my three-year office as director of the Folk Art Institute. Now, the two books, General History of Folk Arts in China and Introduction to Folk Arts in China, have been published and I really feel as if I have fulfilled a major task in showing appreciation for China’s folk arts. It’s not just a personal achievement, but of the entire folk art circle. I was only an organiser and one of the editors. The two books have laid the foundation of China’s folk arts in the literature, culture, art, and theory in China.
Protection and Development of Materials for Laughter
Every part of my life is connected with crosstalk. The postgraduates I have supervised in recent years are almost all engaged in the study of China’s folk arts. Generally speaking, postgraduates themselves need to look for supervisors while I myself would like to seek for and discover my own students. Someone named Hao Yu became very popular on the Internet with his singing “It is a fine day today with light breeze and warm sun, and there are no classes in the afternoon ……”and he became very popular among college students all over the country. I searched and searched on the Internet and took great pains to find this young guy. He knew a lot about western rap music, and it was my hope that he could combine it with China’s most national and traditional folk arts as a modern student and a popular singer. This would be of great significance.
The theme of 21st century folk arts in China is defined as “Protection and Development”. If such national treasures are not protected, they could possibly be lost and fade into obscurity as the world chases after the next popular fad. Time is different with emerging fashions, but good things are common. China’s folk arts are colloquial with accurate use of words. They are close to ordinary peoples’ life and gifted with the glamour of language arts. They are the most precious wealth of the Chinese people. China’s oral folklore and arts were created by our ancestors, and they have been distilled into their purest essence after being processed and refined by numerous artists. Today, a phrase that seems very plain might actually be the result of painstaking efforts of Chinese folk artists over several generations. Only when we have a real understanding of the heritage, weight and value of this kind of culture, can we have respect for them. With this kind of cultural richness, man is equipped with the basics, the basic factors needed to shape one’s success and accomplishment.
People generally pursue success, but actually being useful to society is more important. Being useful to society means great prospects. Especially when one is at the stage of acquiring fundamental knowledge, he should prepare himself well for the future. Some people say I am not willing to study just to gain a diploma, as a diploma is of no use to me. Bill Gates became successful, but he never received a diploma. However, what most forget is that success is also accompanied by numerous failures. Therefore, we can’t only turn our eyes to success; the top priority is to gain knowledge to be a useful person. Only with knowledge can we be successful.
One can’t be successful at everything in the world. I have been involved in many commercial business and succeeded at none of them, but I have almost never failed in organising crosstalk performances. Success is choosy, he who is successful in one field is not sure to be successful in another. When one is laying foundations, more effort should be made to achieve accomplishment before choosing a trade more appropriate and possible for success to the best of his capability. Not everyone is serious-minded and not everyone can make the right choice. Failure is inevitable as competition is fierce under the current market economic conditions, whether in market, talent, or even sometimes in ideas and concepts. That’s why everyone should get fully ready: I may not necessarily succeed, but I am a building block on the way to success.
As far as I am concerned, I owe my success and life to crosstalk and laughter. To protect and develop the most traditional folk arts of our Chinese nationality, to protect and develop the cause of crosstalk, and to create more laughing materials for life, I will face life with smiles forever.
By Yuan Xiao, www.china.org.cn
Origin: Open University of Beijing