Michael Mubaiwa, a 24-year-old Zimbabwean student, received the grand prize in the 2021 China-Africa Video and Photo Competition last October. By displaying his amazing guqin experience, he won the hearts of both the audience and the jury.
Guqin is one of the oldest Chinese plucked string instruments, also known as the “seven-stringed instrument.” Scholars in ancient China believed the guqin zither to be a refined instrument that allowed musicians to transmit emotions, frequently in support of prose. UNESCO registered “the guqin and its music” on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2008.
It is therefore by pure chance that the young Zimbabwean fell in love with the “music of the wise,” as he barely knew the Chinese language and culture when he arrived in the country in 2018 to study clinical medicine at Jiangsu University in Zhenjiang, east China’s Jiangsu Province.
Fortunately, after a year of learning, he was able to understand Chinese. During this period, he also discovered the charm of guqin while perusing the Internet. “I was fascinated by its distinct tone. Even the sweet melody made me nostalgic,” he told ChinAfrica.
Since then, the young man has become so captivated by the instrument that he has committed to study it no matter what it takes. Teachers at his university’s Center for Language and Culture were touched by his devotion to traditional Chinese culture, and introduced him to Li Jie, heiress of the Mei’an guqin school.
Established during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) and one of the most famous schools of guqin, Mei’an presents an elegant performance style with unique regional cultural traits. Zhenjiang is among the many cities where it enjoys fame.
Li refused to accept Mubaiwa as a disciple for fear that he would not be able to play the instrument. Far from being discouraged, he attended her class every weekend as a free listener and practiced on his own using online videos. His perseverance and genius eventually touched the teacher and she changed her mind.
Mubaiwa has received several awards in national and international Chinese language and culture competitions in recent years. He was also appointed the city of Zhenjiang’s ambassador of culture, as well as the China-ASEAN tourism ambassador. He has received a lot of attention. But it was his involvement in a Jiangsu TV presentation about intangible cultural treasures in 2019 that he cherishes the most. He came out on top by using this platform to demonstrate his mastery of guqin.
Mubaiwa continues to practice the instrument in his room for an hour or two each day. He always sets his goals higher. Convinced that music transcends national boundaries, the young man makes no secret of his determination to bring the art of guqin to his countrymen and beyond.
“I hope to serve as a bridge of cultural exchange between China and Africa, so that more people can appreciate Eastern music and learn about Chinese culture,” he said confidently.