breadcrumb

Appalachia Comes to Anhui

Appalachia Comes to Anhui

Abigail Washburn sings at the Coal+Ice Exhibit

This past fall, my colleague Sun Yunfan and I were preparing to bring Coal+Ice, the documentary photography exhibition we produce for Asia Society, to rural Anhui Province to participate in the Yixian International Photography Festival. Upon hearing that Abigail Washburn, a Nashville-based Mandarin-speaking banjo player, would be performing at the Bishan Harvestival coinciding with the Photo Festival, we immediately began thinking about ways to collaborate.

The banjo plays a major role in the folk music tradition of Appalachia, and when coal mining arrived in the region in the late 1800s, it inspired many songs. A concert of American coal mining songs in a Chinese ancestral hall seemed a strong way to present the American contribution to the coal dependency that continues in both the U.S. and China. In preparation for a concert in the Coal+Ice exhibition, Abigail researched the canon of coal mining music and discovered that while some early songs were celebratory, the romanticized notion of mining soon gave way to sorrowful songs with activist intentions.

Our festivals in Anhui were cancelled by the local government, but we had already installed our exhibition and we managed to hold a makeshift festival. Abigail performed a set of coal mining songs for a small group of guests and participants inside the Ming Dynasty-era ancestral hall where Coal+Ice was exhibited, and we also recorded a few songs in the space, Sarah Ogan Gunning’s “Come All You Coal Miners” and Jean Ritchie’s “Black Waters.”

Leah Thompson is a multimedia producer and the Associate Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society. At the Center, she has produced videos on issues ranging from arts and culture...

Earthbound China

04.11.13

Moving House: Preserving Huizhou’s Vernacular...

LEAH THOMPSON & SUN YUNFAN

In 1996, art historian Nancy Berliner, working with the Peabody Essex Museum, purchased a vacant Qing dynasty merchant’s house from the Huizhou region of China and, piece by piece, moved it to the United States to be meticulously reconstructed at the museum in Massachusetts....

Earthbound China

04.11.13

There Goes the Neighborhood

SUN YUNFAN & LEAH THOMPSON

When, in 1996, art historian Nancy Berliner purchased a late Qing dynasty merchants’ house from Huangcun, a village in Anhui province, it was just one ordinary house among thousands like it in the picturesque Huizhou region of China. It took Berliner seven years to oversee the...

Earthbound China

12.17.12

Unlikely Harvest

LEAH THOMPSON

A little over month ago, I found myself traveling to rural Anhui province. Coal+Ice, the documentary photography exhibition I had produced for Asia Society, had been invited to exhibit at the Yixian International Photography Festival. Logistically, this exhibit proved a daunting...

Earthbound China

05.11.12

From Protester to Village Head

ZHANG JIEPING

In September 2011, residents of the village of Wukan in Guangdong province began protesting the illegal seizure and sale of their land by local Party cadres. The protestors demanded fair compensation for the land that had been taken, but officials refused to grant it. Tensions...

Earthbound China

04.18.12

What Wukan Means

OU NING

It began, in the early stages, as a secret mobilization. Then came the protests, marches of ever-larger numbers, direct confrontation, occupations, blockades, anarchy, media exposure, a case of accidental death, the involvement of higher levels of authority, negotiation … until...