This work examines the multiple and conflicting interpretations created around the life of the blind folk musician Abing (1893-1950). Abing is a household name in China, but despite the central place he holds in Chinese music, he is little known and his music rarely heard abroad. This detailed study of Abing, and the accompanying CD compilation of his best-known pieces, reveal much about this unjustly neglected composer, and about the performance and reception of traditional music in contemporary China.
Particular attention is given to the problematic category of the musical "work" in a tradition that relies heavily on improvisation and creative reworking of material. Abing's music has also taken strikingly different shapes since his death, notably in arrangements--some involving Western instruments--that adapt the music to changing tastes and ideological trends in the People's republic of China, Taiwan, and overseas.