Merry Christmas: How China made the piano its own

The Economist:

One love story began in the 1930s, on a road of magnificent Western-style villas on the tiny Chinese island of Gulangyu. Cai Pijie, a lad in his 20s, walked daily past the open window of a young lady he had admired from afar. She regularly practised the piano, an instrument then unheard of in much of China, and the notes floated out in the warm southern air. Entranced, Cai wrote her a letter. “Please play Ignace Leybach’s ‘Fifth Nocturne’ if you love me.” Weeks passed before one day her piano answered, and their courtship began. They married. As Cai grew old in the 1980s, his son, Cai Wanghuai, played the nocturne to comfort him. It was the last piece of music he heard before he died.

The younger Cai had by then become deputy mayor of Xiamen, the city of which the island is a part, and helped found Gulangyu’s music school, which opened in 1990. Political grandees have visited, including Xi Jinping, the current Communist Party leader. Jiang Zemin, a classical-music fan who was one of his predecessors, asked students to strike up “O Sole Mio” when he visited, singing it in the original Neapolitan.