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Opening a door to a timeless world

By ZHAO XU in Suzhou | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2024-05-30 07:44

Sketche of performers of pingtan, an art form that blends several narrative musical traditions. LIU CHEN/CHINA DAILY

Also in the summer, Hu, the little girl, would be taken by the hand by her father to one of Old Town's little ports to buy watermelons from the boatmen. Sometimes, there was a young woman in the boat who would beckon at her customers with a short song rendered in all the melodic gentleness of the Suzhou dialect.

Other things were transported by boat too. Where Jiang's bookstore is standing, a little canal once ran alongside the Niujia Lane, with boats moving languidly along the waterway carrying a wide range of merchandise. Occasionally there would be one loaded with books.

Hence, the comparison with the old man was made between a book boat and himself, who considers it his lifelong mission "to help a good book and an avid reader reach each other". These days, when he's not feeling particularly inclined to venture out, his 68-year-old son Jiang Yilin will be in the store, helping customers, some of whom have a longstanding ledger, while others, like the Kunqu Opera-loving woman, are there for the first time.

"What keeps the heart of a historical district beating?" prompted the younger Jiang. "Sometimes, it could just be the determined, even dogged, effort of one individual who insists on keeping a door open."

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