Anna Chen looks at how politics and culture mix at unconscious levels, shaping the way we think.
Chinese decorative arts are revered in the West. From Willow pattern dinner plates to the Brighton Pavilion, their designs are regarded as beautiful and sophisticated. But for the past two centuries European composers and musicians have had no qualms about mercilessly parodying what they thought of as ‘Chinese tunes’.
“I always wondered how it was that those cartoon strains of cod Chinese music used to have me running for cover when I was growing up. Siouxsie And The Banshees’ Hong Kong Garden, David Bowie’s China Girl, Carl Douglas’s Kung Fu Fighting, they’re only a few examples of the sort of orientalism in music that was the bane of my young life. Who needed crude verbal epithets when a few bars of plonkery could do the job?”
She asked Dr Jonathan Walker, a musicologist, how certain configurations of a few notes could be so potent in their effect. They take us on a fascinating journey through the development of a musical trope that was loaded with meaning.
Listen to the programme on BBC Radio 4 here, it is available until Saturday:
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