Zhang Jun, Chinese Indian classical dancer who inspired generations in China

Friction between India and China took a back seat for a while here as large numbers of Chinese flocked to a scintillating spectacle of classical Indian dance performances to pay a moving tribute to Zhang Jun, the legendary Chinese dancer of Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Odissi.

Who was Zhang Jun?

Zhang Jun (1933-2012) inspired generations of Chinese and Indians with his relentless passion to learn Bharatanatyam, Kathak and Odissi and make them popular in China.

Encouraged by the then Chinese Premier, Zhu Enlai, at the height of Indo-Chinese bonhomie, she first visited India in the early 1950s, during which she was captivated by the dance and Indian art forms.

With the exception of Mao Zedong’s disastrous Cultural Revolution (1966-76) in which millions of intellectuals were persecuted, she traveled India seven more times mastering dance forms studied by maestros like Birju Maharaj, Uday Shankar and later at the Kalakshetra, a revered institution of Bharatanatyam. in then Madras, now Chennai.

Later, she helped form the famous Chinese dance troupes, the Oriental Song and Dance Ensemble, which helped figures like Jin Shan Shan go through rigorous training to become professionals.

Born in 1933 into a family of intellectuals in Qichuan, in the Chinese province of Hubei, she was married to Wei Jun, a Chinese classical conductor.
She was diagnosed with cancer in 1996 and died in 2012, leaving her students and admirers in deep sadness.

Tributes to legendary dancer Zhang Jun

Tired of the COVID shutdowns and other restrictions in Beijing, more than 300 Chinese Zhang fans thronged the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) auditorium on Friday night to watch outstanding performances by young people. Chinese children as well as very talented professionals who have dedicated their lives to practicing and playing. Indian classical dance forms in this country.

It was a dream come true for Jin Shan Shan, an ardent student of Zhang and widely acclaimed Bharatanatyam dancer in India and China, who followed in her guru’s footsteps and dedicated her life to popularizing the classical Indian art form. .

The audience included India’s Ambassador to China Pradeep Kumar Rawat and former Vice Finance Minister of China and AIIB Chairman Jin Liqun who vigorously applauded the meticulously performed dances to Tamil and Hindi classical music .

“She wanted to bring the beauty of Indian dance to more people. I hope she will continue to enjoy the joy and beauty that Indian dance has brought to her on the other side of the sky,” Zhang’s son Han Xiao Xia said of her. in a special documentary about the life and times of his mother. , which was screened on Friday’s show.

“I remember when I was young, my mother used to go to India, she went there several times for several years. Every time she came back, the house became lovely. The house was full of Indian music every day. From time to time, there were friends who came to visit him,” he said.

“She taught many outstanding students and she always hoped that her students would surpass her.

“Every day, students came to learn the dance from morning to night, some of them being elementary school students,” Han said.

Rawat, who during her first stays here met Zhang, said she was one of the greatest teachers of classical Indian dances in China.

“I always wondered what attracted her to Indian dance forms, because the attraction was very deep, almost touching. For us, it appeared that probably in her previous birth, she was born in India and carried this link to this birth in China.

“His devotion to Indian art forms was complete. The energy released by this devotion attracted many students even during a phase when our bilateral relations were undergoing turbulence,” said Rawat.

It would be correct to say that Madame Zhang Jun has become a movement in its own right, he said.

“As a teacher, she inspired many young Chinese people and we saw the result of her inspiration in the dances presented today by one of her most famous disciples, Jin Shan Shan.

“Her devotion to Indian art forms is so complete that even during her battle with cancer, she continued to teach her students. She even asked to be cremated with an anklet,” Rawat said.

Among those who inherited her role was Jin Shan Shan, who trained with Zhang from the age of 12 and grew to become China’s most famous Indian classical dancer, especially Bharatanatyam.

Jin joined Peking University’s Hindi Department on Zhang’s advice and later went to study at Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi where she was trained by India’s most famous Bharatanatyam dancer, Leela Samson.

A regular present at Indian Embassy events, Jin runs her own school of Bharatanatyam where she has trained over 100 dancers.

Cared for by Jin, his daughter Jessica Wu, Chinese name Wujing Xi, has already established herself as a star Bharatanatyam dancer, captivating audiences in China.

“Both countries are ancient civilizations. We have many Indian students who have learned the Indian art form. If Indians can also learn our classical and traditional art forms, we can understand each other better,” she said.

“It is remarkable that Jin Shan Shan has made Indian dance a profession,” said Rajashree Behera, First Secretary for Culture at the Indian Embassy.

At the event, Indian Embassy dance teacher Amarjit Kaur performed kathak and his colleague Du Juan performed odissi with famous Chinese Odissi dancer Zhang Jing hui.

The program was sponsored by the Indian Ministry of Culture.

The cultural event took place amid chilling bilateral relations during the two-year military stalemate in eastern Ladakh.

(With PTI inputs)

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