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March 5, 2016

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Legend of Chinese opera Zhou Xiaoyan dies at 99

CHINESE opera singer and music professor Zhou Xiaoyan died yesterday at the age of 99 after a long fight with cancer.

Han Liping, executive director of Shanghai Zhou Xiaoyan Opera Center, said he couldn’t believe it when he heard the news.

“I thought it was a joke as we’d seen her in hospital just 30 minutes earlier. And she was always making jokes,” he said.

Liao Changyong, vice president of Shanghai Conservatory of Music and a former student of Zhou, released the news via Weibo.

“I am so sad. She was like a mother to her students,” he wrote in a post.

“It feels like I met her only yesterday.”

Born in Wuhan, central China’s Hubei Province, in 1917, Zhou had a love for music from an early age. In 1935 she was enrolled at the Shanghai State Music College (the predecessor of Shanghai Conservatory of Music).

She returned to her hometown when war broke out with Japan, and her performance of “Changcheng Yao” (The Great Wall Ballad) became a rousing call to people to fight for their country.

“I still remember how China was when I sang the song for the first time,” she said in 1995 at an event to mark the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II.

“Everybody was worried and afraid, but now China is a country that my parents and other people once dreamed of,” she said.

Zhou moved to Paris in 1938 to resume her training. In 1945 she staged “The Bamboo-flute Tune” and “Song of the Red Bean” in her distinctive style. The production earned her the nickname “The Chinese Nightingale.”

In 1949 she was appointed to the position of vocal coach at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music.

“Zhou was a very simple lady. Her only hobby was to be with her students and music,” Liao said.

“She wanted to give all that she had to her students, and even when she was in her 90s she complained of having too few pupils.”

“They made me a lifetime professor, so I will teach until the end of my life,” she once said in an interview.

The songstress was still talking about teaching last year from her hospital bed, Liao said.

Besides Liao, Zhou’s star pupils include Yang Xiaoyong, Ju Xiufang, Ying Guilan and Zhang Jianyi.

In 1988 she set up the Zhou Xiaoyan Opera Center to provide more opportunities for Chinese singers.

With her support, it produced several Western and Chinese operas, including “Rigoletto” and “La dame aux Camélias,” “The Field” and “The River of Spring.”

Zhou always encouraged her students to perform Chinese works.

“Every language has its own features, and so does Chinese. I think we have achieved something great with ‘The River of Spring’ and we will keep going,” she once said in an interview with Shanghai Daily.

Chen Wenjie, a student at the conservatory, said: “She was a legend. I can’t believe that we will never see her smile again. May she sing happily in heaven.”


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