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A complex family legacy

By Fang Aiqing | China Daily | Updated: 2023-05-01 10:16

A Yingge dance troupe from Chaoyang district perform in the ancestral hall of demao nei near the ancient port of Zhanglin, in Chenghai district of Shantou, Guangdong province, on April 2. CHINA DAILY

Dance hall

Cai Haisong, an expert in traditional Chaoshan-style architecture, once told Chen Ye that very unusually, demao nei has been kept in use for a century, sometimes privately owned and sometimes as public institutions, which has prevented major damage to the buildings.

Since he took up the deed, Chen Ye has been welcoming communal activities at the ancestral hall and the west study, such as women's gatherings and skills training, free clinics, as well as lectures and panels on culture and history, as a way to revitalize the old buildings.

But now, he and a group of companions, including his junior high school music teacher Chen Nan, are investing their efforts into a 300-year-old folk art, which is a combination of dance, opera and martial arts and is native to Chaoshan.

With painted faces and a pair of short sticks in hand, the performers of Yingge dance jump and swing, tapping the sticks while walking and dancing, accompanied by gongs and drums and shouts.

Since the Zhongjing Yingge dance troupe of Chaoyang district, Shantou, was invited to Zhanglin in early March, local youngsters have shown extraordinary interest in the art form.

Chen Ye says, the strong rhythms and the visual impact of the face paint, usually based on the heroes of classic novels like The Water Margin, seem to appeal to the younger generation, while Chen Nan points out that parents welcome it, as their children put aside their devices, build up their body and inherit traditional culture.

The troupe has visited the hall an additional three times since, teaching for free, with hundreds in attendance.

The duo made up their minds to establish their own local troupe. Chen Ye hopes that, by doing so, it will arouse people's interest and raise awareness of his ancestral home and family history.

The ancient port of Zhanglin, historically one of the starting points of the Maritime Silk Road, has been through prosperity and decline, but the clan culture and sense of home cultivated there remain an important trait of the locals and, as Chen Nan puts it, always drive them to serve the neighborhood with responsibility and without reserve.

"The revitalization of these old buildings and Zhanglin, the hometown of many overseas Chinese, is forged by young people's desire to return to their cultural origin, and the innovation of traditions. We are exploring a new chapter to bring prosperity to the area through culture," Chen Ye says.

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