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The Mountains Sing: Yang Xiao on Documenting Guangxi’s Fading Folk Music

A new film by Guangxi-born director Yang Xiao bends an ear to the region’s dying tradition of ethnic folk ballads

For many Chinese people, the thought of folk songs from Guangxi evokes the legend of Liu Sanjie, a peasant girl of the Zhuang ethnic group, standing in a fishing boat and singing melodiously toward the southwestern region’s green hills.

The image persists today thanks largely to the efforts of the local tourism industry, which has sponsored everything from a popular 1960 film about Liu to a show staged every night by the picturesque Li River. But it’s exactly that stereotype that director Yang Xiao is rebelling against in his new short film, The Mountains Sing.

Yang, a native of the mountainous city of Guilin, previously directed the internationally screened shorts Chronicle of a Durian (2017) and Dancing Together (2015), while also racking up assistant director credits on award-winning productions like Bi Gan’s Kaili Blues. His latest work, a 40-minute documentary, received a special mention at this year’s FIRST International Film Festival in Xining.

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The Mountains Sing: Yang Xiao on Documenting Guangxi’s Fading Folk Music is a story from our issue, “Upstaged.” To read the entire issue, become a subscriber and receive the full magazine. Alternatively, you can purchase the digital version from the App Store.


author Ningyi Xi (席宁忆)

Ningyi Xi is a contributing writer at the World of Chinese. She writes about interesting souls and fascinating places that she encounters during her travels.

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