Jinghu (京胡) and Dad

Jinghu (京胡) and Dad



(I guess the correct name for this instrument is jinghu. Like I said before, there are a couple other instruments look like it.)

When I grew up, I had never seen Dad play jinghu. I didn’t even know we had one in our house. It was many years later, many years after I came to the U.S., I learned that Dad played jinghu well. Mom said even during the time our family was escaping from the communist, Dad managed to find a group of amateur Chinese Opera singers and played jinghu for the group at evenings.

I don’t think Mom was happy about it. Who would be under the circumstance? Mom had her hands full with 3 little kids and Dad wasn’t home helping. But like many traditional Chinese women, Mom didn’t complain much. Until one day my brother Chris had a fever, Mom carried Chris (Karin was tagging along?) walking a mile or two asking dad to take Chris to see a Dr. Later, whenever Mom talked about this experience, I could still sense a little bitterness in her voice.

Chris told me that when the leader of that amateur Chinese Opera group was diagnosed with lung cancer, he stayed with our family for a month so Mom and Dad could take care of him. When it was clear that he couldn’t live much longer, he left our house and died a month later. I don’t know if this was the reason Dad stopped playing jinghu or it was because after I was born, they have four children, and Dad just didn’t have time to play. Anyway, I had never seen my dad play when I was in Taiwan.

After Dad reached 80, his life became quite simple: reading Chinese newspaper, watching TV news, and watching Chinese Opera. I wanted to find a way to bring some excitement into his life, so I took a quick Chinese Opera lesson (I said “quick”) and sang a couple short ones (very short) for him. Chinese Opera, in a way, is like western opera. You know the melody, and the words, but you still may fail miserably. Dad had a good laugh. I laughed with him.

Seeing how much Dad “enjoyed” my performance, I followed up with a quick jinghu lesson. jinghu is not an easy instrument to play. At the end of two weeks, I only managed to play do-re-mi. Later when I visited Dad, sitting next to him, I couldn’t even find the right position for do-re-mi. Dad shook his head.

I asked him to play for me. He hesitated for a moment and then picked up jinghu, started playing. After so many years, Dad not only remembered how to play, but played amazingly.

Several months before Dad passed away, one day during my visit, Dad said to me, “What should I do with my Jinghu? No one knows how to play.”

I thought for a while, and told Dad that he could either take it with him or leave it to one of his children. I said, “Even though we don’t know how to play, every time we hold your jinghu, it would be like holding your hand.” And I suggested him to give the jinghu to my second brother Shao, because Shao had worshipped Dad all his life.

A couple of days later, Dad told me he wanted me to keep his jinghu.

I wish he had given it to Shao.

(Here is a video of Jinghu performance performed by a famous musician, if you are interested.


About Helen C

A retired computer programmer who loves writing and photographing, and has managed to publish a YA novel "Jin-Ling’s Two Left".
This entry was posted in Memoir, Writing. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Jinghu (京胡) and Dad

  1. treerabold says:

    Thank you for sharing this memory of your dad. I think it is important we keep the memories of our parents alive
    I’ve never heard of this instrument. I’m glad you shared the video


    • Helen C says:

      Good morning, and thank you. I agree — it’s important we keep the memories of our parents alive. That’s why I wrote my YA novel and that’s also why I have made life story videos for several people. I always wish I know more about my grandparents. ;-(


      • treerabold says:

        I looked up Jin-Ling’s Two Left Feet.
        The title gives a great visual for the lessons of the book.
        As for grandparents….I was fortunate to know 3 of my grandparents into adulthood. It was truly a blessing to share adult conversations with them about their lives


        • Helen C says:

          I envy you, what can I say… ;-( I am not even sure if one can get Jin-Ling’s two left feet from Amazon anymore. Sometime, I do think growing up with two cultures is like having two left feet. Hence the title of the book. Thanks.


  2. Amy says:

    … it would be like holding your hand, very touching. How nice of you learn the opera for your dad. Thank you for sharing the story, Helen!


  3. Cee Neuner says:

    I’m listening to the jinghu now. It does look like an extremely hard instrument to play. I’m so thrilled you have it and know, at least, some of the background that comes with it. Your dad left you a piece of himself that was so close to his heart. Many many blessings.


    • Helen C says:

      Thanks, Cee. I treasure my dad’s jinghu a lot. I just know how much it would mean to my brother if Dad left it to him. He needed it more than I did. My dad left 3 things to me: a Chinese brush, a abacus and jinghu. I think those were 3 most important things to Dad. I wanted Dad to be fair, so I suggested him to give two out of three to others (I would keep the brush ;-), but he wouldn’t listen to me. After Dad passed away, I gave the abacus to his grandson and I also told my brother he could have the jinghu, after I get it fixed. I think Dad would understand. Yes?
      (I also have many Dad’s letters, which I treasure the most.)


  4. pambrittain says:

    This is a beautiful story, Helen. I wish I had sound on this computer.


  5. Sue says:

    Watched the video – wow. Your story is very touching – brought tears to my eyes. My parents are in their 80’s and I try to spend at least one day a week visiting them. I’m going to start writing down their stories.


  6. Debbie says:

    Hello Helen, this story of your Dad is very moving.
    I’m sure there was a reason your Dad wanted you to have the jinghu, even though you felt your brother should have it.
    How wonderful you had your book published – maybe the gift of the brush came out in the novel.
    Do you still have the Jinghu, or does your brother have it?
    An Abacus, a Brush, and a Jinghu. sounds like the title of a new novel for you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Helen C says:

      Good morning, Debbie. I still have it. My dad’s jinghu is a very simple one and needs to be fixed. I was going to give it to Shao after I get it fixed, but every time I went back to Taiwan, I was in a hurry and forgot to bring the jinghu.
      To be honest, I don’t think he is in any condition to take care of it, but on the other hand, it may cheer him up a little. I don’t know. I am still hoping to be able to get it fixed.
      Thanks for visiting. Have a great day! Helen


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