Wang Ying-fen. “Pan Rongzhi’s Nanguan Crossovers in the 1930s in Colonial Taiwan.” Journal of Chinese Ritual, Theatre and Folklore 178 (2012.12): 25-73.
The 1930s was the golden age of music industry in colonial Taiwan. It saw the boom of records and radio as well as of Taiwanese opera and pop songs. How did traditional musicians in Taiwan respond to these changes and negotiate between the old and the new? To answer this question, I will use Pan Rongzhi (1905-1947), one of the leading nanguan musicians at the time, as an example to examine how he crossed musical boundaries through his involvement with radio and record industry.On radio, besides playing traditional nanguan pieces, Pan also jammed with beiguan musicians to perform beiguan pieces and to accompany Taiwanese drama. He also conducted an ensemble featuring modified Chinese instruments to play Han Chinese music and pop songs. One of the radio programs even featured a nanguan-style pop song, Zhengyuenao (Festive January), that Pan created both as the lyricist and the composer.
As an arranger for records, Pan not only produced records of traditional nanguan songs but he also created new nanguan songs to be included on records of Taiwanese operas and of spoken drama. He also blended nanguan instruments with other Han Chinese and western ones to accompany a song he adapted from Taiwanese opera. Most importantly, he composed a pop song that cleverly incorporated nanguan elements with Tango-like dance rhythm, thus resulting in an interesting mixture of nanguan and Jazz.
Despite his in novative experiments to fuse nanguan with other genres, however, Pan adhered to the principle of playing nanguan with nanguan instruments only, albeit sometimes changing its instrumentation. Similarly, he also followed the traditional way of composing new nanguan songs by setting new text to existing nanguan tunes. In other words, Pan was bold to infiltrate nanguan into other genres but kept other genres from invading nanguan.
Thus, Pan’s choice between change and non-change provides us with a good example of how traditional musicians in colonial Taiwan crossed musical boundaries and adapted to the challenges as well as opportunities brought by sound technology.