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Day 85: Lijiang

Lijiang, China 
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Xuan Ke, Lijiang's local hero, takes his place in the front row of the Naxi Music Orchestra.
Michael Palin - Himalaya'Animal living,' he says, unemotionally. 'No human rights at all. Animal food, animal living and working a lot, from daybreak to the midnight.'

He was nearly 50 when he was released.

With Deng Xiaoping as leader of China, tradition was no longer seen as a threat, and, while working as an English teacher in a local school, Xuan Ke slowly began to pick up the pieces of his musical career. Many of his friends had died and the most precious of their antique instruments had been hidden, some embedded in walls to prevent them being found and destroyed by the Red Guards.

In 1986 Lijiang was opened to foreigners for the first time since the revolution and, as the years went by, traditional Naxi music became a big draw. Now the rump of the old orchestra, invigorated by younger singers and musicians, plays every night, and the top people come along to hear them.

As we walk through Lijiang, Xuan Ke is frequently recognized and breaks off from his story to shake hands, exchange greetings, pose for photographs and tell jokes.

He takes it all in his stride, a man seemingly completely at ease with it all.

'This must be the best time of your life,' I ask him.

He smiles and shakes his head.
Choose another day from Himalaya


  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 85: Lijiang
  • Country/sea: China
  • Place: Lijiang
  • Book page no: 198

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  • China
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