China's love affair with "Take Me Home Country Roads"
Jeffrey sez, "The nice responses to my essay on 'Hotel California', has emboldened me to send a follow up on the curious life in China of another American song from the 1970s. Namely, the one that finds John Denver waxing nostalgic about West Virginia."
This is a particularly apt moment to post something about the Chinese love affair with John Denver's music, which I alluded to in passing in that same BOOM article, since the romance began exactly 35 years ago. The starting point for it, which paved the way for Denver touring China later, was his performance of "Rocky Mountain High" at a January 29, 1979, gala held in Deng Xiaoping's honor, during the Chinese leader's famous trip to America in 1979. (This performance can be seen just over a minute into this documentary, which also includes clips of the Harlem Globetrotters playing ball and an American children's chorus singing in Chinese at the same event.)
U.S.-Chinese relations have ebbed and flowed since 1979, a year that opening with ties between the two countries being formally "normalized" (setting the stage for Deng's visit to the U.S.), but the popularity of John Denver and especially his song "Country Roads" across the Pacific has stayed constant. This is demonstrated by the episode of the Chinese version of "The Voice" shown above. I am grateful to the multitalented banjo playing singer and speaker of Mandarin Abigail Washburn (who sometimes tours with her husband Bela Fleck, but has most recently been playing with The Wu Force, an "avant-garde Appalachian-Chinese folk trio" http://wuforce.tumblr.com/ ) for bringing this emotion-packed clip to my attention. She did so, fittingly enough, when she, James Millward (a leading scholar of Chinese and Central Asian history, who is also a talented bluegrass musician), and I were all in Nashville, brought together by the good people of Vanderbilt University for an event focusing on the interesting things that can happen when music flows between China and the United States.